#HGPlaylist 30: Tanuja Desai Hidier Creates A Musical Map To Navigate Her ‘Bombay Blues’ Protagonist’s World

030 TanujaDesai

 

[Tanuja Desai Hidier will be launching her book and album at Cafe Zoe, Mumbai on the 29th of January. Event Details-- The Solo Sessions are to be a series of bespoke events connecting Music, Art and Culture, each event bringing together individuals from across the arts in an intimate setting.

The Bombay Blues Book/Album Launch Party will include welcome drinks between 5.30 p.m. - 6 p.m., with a short reading by Tanuja and a panel discussion 'Love | Art | Music: Identity from New York to a New Mumbai' moderated by award-winning author and journalist Naresh Fernandes with muralist, artist and co-founder of Kulture Shop Jas Charanjiva, veteran music journalist, DJ, and co-founder of the house & techno label District Fifty Kenneth Lobo and Tanuja Desai-Hidier herself, between 6p.m. - 7.30p.m.

To wrap up the night, the live music session kicks off at 8:30p.m. and goes on till 1AM, featuring Tanuja herself performing from the Bombay Spleen album with Gaurav Vaz of Raghu Dixit Project, Kenneth Lobo aka LoboCop and The3Stlyers-live electro funk swingers with DJ URI, plus one  undisclosed guest you're just going to have to keep your eyes peeled for that night!] 

UK-based Tanuja Desai Hidier, born and raised in the United States, is a writer whose material in the past has wrestled with the tumult of being a part of the Indian diaspora, with her first book ‘Born Confused’, a wistful coming-of-age story that follows an aspiring photographer in New Jersey, through a summer set against the backdrop of the burgeoning South Asian club scene. A story that resonated with many, its sequel ‘Bombay Blues’, that’s raring to hit the shelves, follows the protagonist Dimple Lala back to the motherland, into the chaos of the city of Bombay in an experience that is ultimately immense; in fact, the book is being released along with ‘Bombay Spleen’, Tanuja’s album of songs based on ‘Bombay Blues’.

After three years of what we imagine must have been an incredible, creatively symbiotic process spanning disciplines, Tanuja’s book and album release are just around the corner and while we count down the days, she has been kind enough to do us one better and put together a unique playlist for us, within the context of our standard #HGPlaylist format of course. [You can view last week's playlist with Elton Fernandez here.] Documenting the internal soundscape of the protagonist in ‘Bombay Blues’ as well as her own processes with writing the book, it has only led us further to believe that this hypnosis cast by words and music is a vortex we might be tempted never to leave.

Tanuja Desai

Tanuja Desai Hidier. Image credit: Immortal Light Photography

But first, here’s what the author/musician herself had to say about this playlist and the thought process behind her choices: 

“A very important preface: I must first say that this playlist is composed of the songs/sound that are a part of photographer heroine Dimple Lala’s internal landscape (and thus, naturally, my own as well) as she navigates her way through Bombay Blues. Part of that sonic landscape –and a huge part—will of course be the sounds she carries on with her into new terrain; as well, because she is a character who retains a kind of ‘outsider’ vantage point, or, rather, an in-between space, her internal soundtrack naturally reflects this. This is somewhat different than this playlist being the actual sounds of many of the places (and venues) she explores in Bombay. On this topic, there are so many exciting and inspired musicians homegrowing their melodious goods in India…that I simply cannot narrow it down. They have served as one of the sparks for me, for one vital vibrant layer of this complex and creative city, that helped fuel my writing journey. Many are mentioned in Bombay Blues—and of course, this is not by any means a comprehensive list—including acts such as Sridhar/Thayil, Dualist Inquiry, Menwhopause, Shaa’ir + Func, Bhavishyavani Future Soundz, Kris Correya, Indus Creed, Sky Rabbit and The Raghu Dixit Project. Diasporically homegrown acts are mentioned as well, such as DJ Rekha, DJ Uri, State of Bengal, Talvin Singh, Anjali, Asian Dub Foundation. Karsh Kale is present in spirit (I named my fictitious character Karsh after him). And since the writing of the novel, I’ve been hearing still more sonically super stuff, such as Suman Sridhar’s recent solo work, Sandunes, and Your Chin (these three were introduced to me recently by Sweety Kapoor), MC Kaur, Driving Lolita, Shiva SoundSystem, Still Dirty (whom I just had the enormous pleasure of playing with at Jaipur Litfest), and Nikhil d’Souza.

One of the themes in both my book and my album of accompanying songs (Bombay Spleen) is the bigger-than-boxable-or-beatable forms love takes; on Bombay Spleen, the track “Deep Blue She” is the most direct anti-377 song, a kind of call to rise in the name of loving who we want to love, and loving ourselves. I believe there are so many of us working towards this—living this—and the independent arts scene in India is a great kind of home base for this kind of energy.

So, though this following track by Suman Sridhar came out after my research trips to Bombay and when my book and album were nearly finished, when I fell upon it, it immediately and hugely resonated for me—and feels like it was a part of my journey, nonetheless…and also somehow includes the artists that are too numerous to list here in its embrace. It brings together an old India and a new in a stunning (and salty!) revision that allows room for both - as all of you homegrown—and home-growingartists are working towards.

Thank you, and keep on.”

 I. SUMAN SRIDHAR/”EVENING IN GAY MAHARASHTRA”

Because it is that: our Bombay. And Mumbai. Our world. And there is room for all of us, and all of our blood-pumping, love-thumping hearts.

DIMPLE LALA/BOMBAY BLUES WRITING PROCESS PLAYLIST:

I. PATTI SMITH LAND: “LAND: HORSES”/HORSES

My anthem during the writing process; it’s a kind of anthem for heroine Dimple Lala as well. Bombay Blues is filled with horse/cowgirl/indie girl imagery, and water, water, water—sometimes combining in seahorses and centaurides: a kind of reverse take on goldrushing the Western Frontier as Dimple embarks on her own treasure hunt in her own wild east. When I hit send on the (first) beginning-all-the-way-to-end draft of Bombay Blues—after 2.5 years, at nearly 11 pm in a London café where I’d been writing 14 hours—I turned this on to maximum volume on my iPod and cantered around Soho on my way to the tube with a maniacal grin on my face, laughing aloud the whole way. First mention: Bombay Blues Chapter 3: Queens.

 

II. ARCADE FIRE: “DEEP BLUE”/THE SUBURBS

Walk-bus-tube ride to my writing café listening fare. Such an empowering wake-up call—here in my own skin, I can finally begin. Something about this song makes me want to stand up and sing. So I do. And so, nearly, does Dimple in Bombay Blues Chapter 20: L’Arrivee d’un Train en Gare.

 

III. A CAMP: “BEAR ON THE BEACH”/COLONIA

Walk-bus-tube ride to writing café (and back) listening. Nina Persson’s voice is a thing of such fiercely fragile beauty. Her lyrics are poetic and odd and surprising and honest. This track, and it’s goddess-girl-metaphorical Iris, for me expresses the feeling I was inhabiting during much of the writing of Bombay Blues: it’s hard to tell the blues apart, she’s salty just like me. First reference to Bombay Blues’s Indo-goddess Iris: Bombay Blues Chapter 5: Browntown.

 

IV. JENNY LEWIS & THE WATSON TWINS: “RISE UP (WITH FISTS!!)”/ RABBIT FUR COAT

 Funnily, I ended up listening to a lot of this kind of country –twanged Americana during the making of Bombay Blues. I think it also helped me keep Dimple Lala in ‘outsider’ shoes for her journey; once removed from her habitual landscape, her ears are as much tuned in to where she’s been as where she is and might be going. This album for me brings to mind the hills of Lonavala, as I travelled between Bombay and Pune during one of my research trips; it was in my headphones the whole route, and kept me in a weirdly balanced state of semi-longing for my Stateside stomping grounds and utter excitement at my miles-away surroundings…which was a pleasurable and interesting twist on the longing I always feel for India when I’m on the other side of the seas.

 

V. DAVID BOWIE: “LET’S DANCE”/LET’S DANCE

Direct infusion of joy to the system. Bombay Blues is an exploration of blue on every level: the color, yes, but also mood, the music–the wild blue yonder. I certainly had to catch and remain in a state of the blues for the entire writing process; but the blues have many hues, magnificently euphoric ones as well. And two seconds of Bowie—any Bowie!—and I’ve put on my red shoes and danced my way into that zone. Similarly, every trip, every single time when they announced our descent into Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, I got and get that same feeling: such excitement to be back in Bombay, a city so complicated and chaotic and seductive and huge-hearted…and that has been such a challenging and rewarding muse, mother, sister, stranger to me. Bombay Blues: opening quotes.

 

VI. JONI MITCHELL: “BLUE”/BLUE

While writing 19-year-old Dimple Lala, I gravitated in part to listening to the music that had moved me most at her age. Possibly due to the combination of having heard an album as open-hearted as Blue at an age as open as my 19 was—well, these songs feel as if they went into my very bones and blood. It was almost painful to return to this album, but it was beautiful too: and this is one of the joys of writing a character who is coming of age. There’s an innocence at this time in life, that comes in part from having many experiences that are firsts, that you are unequipped at digesting….but also unequipped at numbing yourself to. A lot of heartache can accompany this kind of openness—but wonderful experiences of connection as well. This track is the sigh of a seashell; often in Bombay, I get the distinct feeling that rather than being land surrounded by sea, Bombay is water punctuated by land: such an experience of immediate immersion, like we are living within that seashell. Bombay Blues: Bombay Blues coda.

 

VII. BOB DYLAN: “TANGLED UP IN BLUE”/BLOOD ON THE TRACKS

 Again, a part of my return to 19. Lyrics to die for over and over again. And to live for: So specific and yet so mysterious, the song seems to move in some weird kind of time-space continuum, where past present future all flow into each other. Dylan said it took him ten years to live and two years to write. And there’s a lifetime in those few minutes. Bombay Blues Chapter 29: Tangled Up.

 

VIII. IGGY POP: “I WANNA BE YOUR DOG”

Dimple Lala wears this tee in Bombay Blues. And on my first visit to permit room Janata, with dear pal and invaluable Bombay guide Kenneth Lobo, we got a whole singalong going around our shared table: a slew of smiling strangers chanting ‘Now I wanna be your dog!’ while slugging Kingfishers bigger than our own heads. Bombay Blues Chapter 13: Bandra State of Mind.

 

IX. THE B-52S: “ROAM”

Hit play, and a reminder of the fact that writing is FUN (amongst other things!)! Because you get to roam around the world…without wings, without wheels…without anything but the love we feel. I feel so blessed to have gotten to travel for the making of Bombay Blues: not just to India, and to the city of my mother’s birth, my brother’s birth, my parents’ courtship…but also in terms of the sharing of the path along the way with the many, many wonderful people I met: the strangers who became friends, and the friends who grew wonderfully strange when viewed from a new vantage point. Bombay Blues Chapter 11: Room 212.

 

 

X. “HEPTANESIA” /BOMBAY SPLEEN

 I was writing my ‘booktrack’ album Bombay Spleen—songs based on Bombay Blues—at the same time as the novel (the process was so intertwined that in fact both book and album were finished within just days of each other). So during the three years of making both, much of the music in my head was these songs in progress. The track below I wrote (lyrics/melody) with Marie Tueje (music); it was produced by Dave Sharma. Heptanesia is the earliest known documented name for Bombay—from the ancient Greek for ‘cluster of seven islands’. When I discovered this term I knew this semi-mythical place had to be a part of my book and album—as the city that Dimple (and I) were seeking is in many ways semi-mythical –a place of memory, history. There are at least as many cities in a metropolis as there are inhabitants—far more than that, as one doesn’t have to physically live in a place to inhabit it…or be inhabited by it, in a sense. In Bombay Blues, Dimple explores Bombay (a city linked to her family history), but also Mumbai (a modern-day and perhaps future avatar), and a space I’ve called Unbombay (the flux of the present moment)…as well as Heptanesia– the latter at a moment when themes of remembering and forgetting, amnesia, anaesthesia, and, conversely, feeling too much, prevail: both in terms of a relationship with Bombay itself, as well as in her human relationships.

(The street sounds are from a visit to the fishmarket with my beloved Mama during a research trip to Bombay!)

[Tanuja Desai Hidier will be launching her book and album at Cafe Zoe, Mumbai on the 29th of January. Event Details-- The Solo Sessions are to be a series of bespoke events connecting Music, Art and Culture, each event bringing together individuals from across the arts in an intimate setting.

The Bombay Blues Book/Album Launch Party will include welcome drinks between 5.30 p.m. - 6 p.m., with a short reading by Tanuja and a panel discussion 'Love | Art | Music: Identity from New York to a New Mumbai' moderated by award-winning author and journalist Naresh Fernandes with muralist, artist and co-founder of Kulture Shop Jas Charanjiva, veteran music journalist, DJ, and co-founder of the house & techno label District Fifty, Kenneth Lobo, and Tanuja Desai-Hidier between 6p.m. - 7.30p.m.

To wrap up the night, the live music session kicks off at 8:30p.m. and goes on till 1AM, featuring Tanuja herself performing songs from the Bombay Spleen album with Gaurav Vaz of Raghu Dixit Project, Kenneth Lobo aka LoboCop and The3Stlyers-live electro funk swingers with DJ URI, plus one  undisclosed guest you're just going to have to keep your eyes peeled for that night!] 

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