Continuing with an on-and-off series of song lists featuring—in the picturisation—various types of musical instruments. This began with my post on women pianists, followed much later by a post on male pianists, and then a post on songs that featured string instruments. It’s time, I decided, to try and compile a list of good songs that feature another important category of musical instruments: percussion instruments.
The word ‘percussion’ dates back to the early 15th century and is derived from the Latin percussionem (a beating or striking). This gives an indication of what percussion instruments are all about: they produce sound by being struck—by sticks, by hands, against each other. It is believed that percussion instruments were, after the human voice, probably the first form of musical instruments to be invented. They include a vast range of instruments, all the way from different types of drums to cymbals, triangles, tambourines, castanets, and more.
But, without further ado: my list. In keeping with my self-imposed rules for the previous ‘musical instruments’ posts I’ve compiled, I’ll restrict the songs in this list to only those songs where the person playing the percussion instrument also sings (which is why one of my old favourites—Madhuban mein Radhika naache re—won’t find a mention here, even though the tabla there is superb). And, to make it slightly less of a walk in the park for myself, I’ve made sure that each of these ten songs feature a different percussion instrument. As always, the songs are all from pre-70s films that I’ve seen.
Here we go, then, in no particular order:
1. Dhol. Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): It seemed appropriate to start this list with a song that doesn’t just feature a percussion instrument, but the lyrics of which too mention the instrument: the dhol. An almost must-have for folk music in North and Central India (with variants in other parts of the country, such as the pung of Manipur), the dhol is a large double-headed drum which is slung by a strap or string around the player’s neck, making it a portable instrument. Since the dhol allows relative freedom of movement, it also allows players to not just walk while playing, but even dance (bhangra is one form where this can be seen). The dhol, incidentally, is the intermediate (as far as size is concerned) of three related instruments, the dholak being the largest and the dholki the smallest.
Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya is a vibrant, joyful song that celebrates the monsoon—and remains true to the very rural theme of Do Bigha Zameen by using distinctly folk instruments. The dhol is very much in evidence here, played by one of the men who lip-synchs to Manna Dey’s voice. And the word dhol itself is used in the song to signify the thunder, drumming and thumping and announcing the arrival of the monsoon. Interestingly, another of my favourite monsoon songs, Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata, also has a dhol being used.
2. Dholki. Jogi hum toh lut gaye (Shaheed, 1965): Very similar to the dhol, but smaller, is the dholki: also a double headed drum which is popular in folk music. One of the most common appearances of the dholki is in Punjabi wedding sangeet (in fact, it’s such an integral part of sangeet that in parts of Pakistan the sangeet celebration itself is called the dholki).
So the song I’ve picked is one, fittingly, from a filmi sangeet. Jogi hum toh lut gaye is quintessential Punjabi wedding sangeet song: the women sit around and sing. The main singer (played by Sarita) sings of falling in love and being devastated as a result of that love, knowing full well that the man she is addressing can actually hear her, since he’s there among the male guests entering the courtyard. You can see here the typical use of the dholki: its drumheads being beaten with the palms while a spoon hitting the side lends a contrasting rhythmic peal.
3. Tabla. Jaa tose nahin boloon Kanhaiyya (Parivaar, 1956): Or rather (according to Wikipedia), the tabla and the baya or dagga—the tabla being the drum on the right and the baya or dagga the drum on the left; the two hand drums together form a composite instrument. Popular legend has it that Amir Khusro invented the tabla sometime in the 13th century by sawing a dholak in half, but since ancient carvings from much earlier do show musicians using tablas, this is almost certainly just a popular myth. Whatever it may be, the tabla has long been a very integral part of Hindustani music. This is, to put it technically, a membraphone percussion instrument (in which the sound is produced by striking a vibrating membrane—in the case of the tabla, usually goatskin).
Tablas appear aplenty in Hindi film songs, especially in classical ones. Almost no dance performance is complete without a tabla being among the accompaniments. And here is a dance performance—a sweetly domestic one, with the wife (Sabita Chatterjee) dancing while her husband (played by Ashim Kumar) doesn’t just play the tabla, but also sings. This is a lovely song—classic Salil Choudhary—and the tabla is very prominent in the music, too.
4. Daf. Dil ka haal sune dilwaala (Shree 420, 1955): The daf, also known as dafli, is a type of frame drum—the width or diameter of the frame across which the vibrating membrane is stretched is much larger than the depth of the drum. This means that the daf can be easily held in one hand, while the other is used to beat the drumhead. The daf is originally from Persia, and was known even in pre-Islamic Persia. Today it is well-known as an instrument across Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent, especially in (unsurprisingly) Iran, Turkey, the Middle East, Azerbaijan, etc.
Hindi film songs feature their fair share of dafs: they appear in several folksy songs as well as in the über patriotic Dulhan chali pehen chali from Purab aur Pachhim. My favourite daf song, however, is the delightful satirical Dil ka haal sune dilwaala. Raj Kapoor carries his daf all through the song, using it as a prop to sing of corruption and nepotism and all the other ills that plague the lives of the poor. A superb song, and a fine display of a daf.
5. Castanets. Thodi der ke liye mere ho jaao (Akeli Mat Jaiyo, 1963): A change, now, from the rather more ‘Indian’ percussion instruments (though the dhol and its variations as well as the tabla aren’t merely Indian, but well-known in other parts of Asia as well, including the Middle East). Castanets are common in more Western music, especially Latin and Moorish. They are an idiophone percussion instrument: the entire instrument produces the sound, rather than the sound being produced by the vibration of a particular part such as a drumhead. Castanets produce a distinctive clicking sound which has been used very effectively in several very well-known Hindi songs (do check out rsbaab’s informative and very interesting post on this—there were some surprises here for me).
Since castanets fold so easily into the player’s hands, they can be a little hard to spot in picturisations. Here’s one song, though, that does show them, even if only briefly: Minoo Mumtaz begins Thodi der ke liye mere ho jaao with castanets. They disappear shortly afterwards—in fact, even before she actually launches into her song—but that brilliant clicking continues to dominate the song, so one can only assume that she’s tossed them to some musician who carries on from where she left off.
6. Manjeeras. Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre (Devdas, 1955): Like castanets, manjeeras are small, handheld percussion instruments—in this case, ‘clash cymbals’ (cymbals that produce a sound by clashing together). Manjeeras are similar to the taal, which is a larger version of the same instrument, used mostly in Assam. Both are frequently used in devotional music, which is why they are often seen in picturisations of bhajans.
…and this one, one of the very few bhajans that I really like, features manjeeras. Dulari holds a pair of them throughout the song, gently clinking them together to create the soft tinkling that forms the backdrop to the vocals of Aan milo aan milo Shyaam saanwre.
7. Tambourine. Yamma yamma yamma tu parwaana main shamma (China Town, 1962): The tambourine is very similar to the daf or dafli in that it consists of a shallow ‘frame drum’ which is held in one hand while being struck with the palm or fingers of the other hand. Where the tambourine differs is in that its frame has metallic rings (called zils) inserted into it, allowing for the addition of a jingling sound. Some tambourines, interestingly, lack the drum head and only have the metal element, making it a purely ‘jingling’ instrument.
The tambourine is very prominent in Yamma yamma yamma tu parwaana main shamma: the song itself begins with a close-up of the tambourine held in Helen’s hand, before she swirls away. After that, other than a brief interlude right after the introduction, Helen dances throughout with the tambourine in her hand. True, it doesn’t look as if she’s really even pretending to play it (how much sound can be produced, after all, with just a forefinger lightly tapping the drumhead?), but the tambourine is here in all its glory, trailing ribbons and all.
8. Sapp. Ainwein duniya dewe duhaayi (Jaagte Raho, 1956): Also known as the chhikka, the sapp is a percussion instrument from Punjab. It’s unmistakable in appearance, since it consists of a series of X-shaped wooden strips joined to each other at their ends and along the middle, rather like the struts on a suspension bridge. The sapp, which is played by pulling apart and pushing together the far ends of the instrument, produces a clapping sound which often accompanies Punjabi folk dances like the gidda and bhangra…
…which is probably why it appears in Ainwein duniya dewe duhaayi. Bhangra exponent Manohar Deepak performs here with his troupe, in this song about corruption and lies and dishonesty. While the sapp is in the hands of one of the ‘chorus’ through most of the song, Deepak takes it into his own hands near the end of the song, and sings with it while dancing.
9. Acoustic drum set. Dil deke dekho dil deke dekho (Dil Deke Dekho, 1959): Not one type of drum, actually, but a set of different drums set up in such a way that they can be played by a single player. These can include over a dozen pieces, ranging from the bass drum (the type on which you see, in old club songs, emblazoned the name of the band: Ted Lyons and His Cubs, The Monkees), floor toms, hanging toms, cymbals, and more (even tambourines, in extended sets). The acoustic drum set is something you see very frequently in Hindi club songs: if an orchestra is shown, there’s invariably one of these around.
Shammi Kapoor played the role of a musician in at least two of his major films—Dil Deke Dekho and Teesri Manzil, and in the title song of Dil Deke Dekho, he spends all his time sitting at an acoustic drum set, singing and playing. The focus isn’t on him all the time—it shifts to the dancers, to Asha Parekh’s friends and the rest of the audience—and even when it returns to him, it’s often just on his face. But there are frames in which he’s ‘playing’ the drums, all right.
10. Maracas. Ghoomke aaya hoon main bandhu (Basant, 1960): Maracas, so very much a part of Latin American music, are (like castanets) idiophone percussion instruments (or ‘side percussion’ instruments, as opposed to the main percussion instruments, like drums). Also known as rumba shakers, maracas are rattles, traditionally made from hollow gourds filled with dried seeds or beans. They are held in pairs, one maraca in each hand, and shaken to produce a pleasing jingle-jingle sound.
I haven’t seen maracas in too many Hindi film songs. One where they do appear—played by a little boy—is the song Dil se milaake dil pyaar kijiye, from Taxi Driver. And here, in Ghoomke aaya hoon main bandhu. Although Johnny Walker enters the scene wielding drum sticks on a large drum, that disappears within moments and he spends the rest of the song holding (not really playing) what looks like a trombone. His companion and colleague, played by Kammo, however carries a pair of maracas nearly all through the song and shakes them every now and then.
There are literally dozens of percussion instrument film songs out there, with dhols and dholaks being among the most frequently seen. Look at, for instance, a song like Honthon mein aisi baat from Jewel Thief (from which the introductory screen shot for this post is taken). That song is almost a showcase of drums: from large dhol-like ones held by the dancers, to the tapered drum Dev Anand holds and plays with his hands, to massive stationary drums played with sticks—and even kettle drums. Not to mention a couple of others. I didn’t include that song because the only drummer who does sing a bit is Dev Anand, and his “Shalu” or the occasional “Ho!” doesn’t really count as full-fledged singing, in my opinion.
But, as I mentioned, there are dozens more which do fulfill the criteria I set forth. Which are your favourites?