A merry mix

Anjali Jhangiani
Sunday, 17 December 2017

With international artists like Sia and Armin van Buuren making modern carols and reviving the trend of releasing special music for audiences to enjoy during Christmas season, Anjali Jhangiani speaks to Indian artists to find out what spin they’ve given, or would like to give, to classic carols

In the ’80s, people played the Boney M carol cassette at family get-togethers and Christmas parties. In the following decade, Mariah Carey came out with her Merry Christmas album, which became an instant hit. I remember growing up listening to Christmas specials; the artists would also cash in on the season. But for quite sometime now, the trend of releasing Christmas specials has been fading away. In fact, it’s quite rare for mainstream artists to release Christmas special songs nowadays.

But this year it’s a different story, and Christmas junkies can’t be happier. For those who wait all year long to get high on the Yuletide spirit, Christmas comes with a host of new songs for you to enjoy. While Australian singer-songwriter Sia launched her album Everyday is Christmas last month, to revive the trend of releasing season specials, Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren claims to be the first DJ to release a Christmas carol. He remixed his track Summer Days with vocals by singer-songwriter Josh Cumbee, and turned it to a Christmas carol titled Christmas Days.

Making a triumphant dance track
The one Christmas carol that singer-songwriter Nirmika Singh, who is also the executive editor at Rolling Stone India, would like to recreate and add a modern twist to O Come, All Ye Faithful. “This is my favourite carol and also the first song ever that I sang as part of my school choir when I was 13 years old. I have fond memories of singing it and remember each and every harmony and vocal arrangement from it,” she says.

The carol was originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles and the manuscript of the oldest version of this carol, which is held at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, dates back to 1751. Many people have tried to add their spin to this carol, a few even added more verses when they translated it to their language.
To make this song her own, Singh shares that she would add groovy funk and electronica elements. “The original song is more of a fluid ballad but my version of this carol would feature a tight drum and bass, and choppy guitar strums and licks,” she says. But that’s not all, Singh has elaborate plans to funk up this carol.

“I would also like to throw in a brass section here and that is the case with most funk songs. The idea would be to make this ethereal composition a dance track that you can shake a leg to — something like Uptown Funk (by Mark Ronson feat Bruno Mars) or Happy (by Pharrell Williams),” she describes, and why not? After all, the hymn is about joyfully celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

A funny tale about Santa Claus
Gaurav Jagwani, a singer-songwriter from Mumbai who makes up half of the duo — The Yellow Pages, shares that he’s been wanting to release a Christmas song for a long time now, but only got around to doing it this year. “I have written a comical tale on Santa and that’s what the song is about. It’s called Christmas Blues, because the music is bluesy. It’s about how it would be if I spotted Santa Claus in real life,” he shares.

The artist, who is known for puns and punchlines in his music, claims that this track is not a regular Christmas carol, and neither is it a typical blues song, but he succumbs to describing it as a bluesy song for the season. “I thought of this song in 2015, but I never got around to getting into a studio and recording it. I was listening to a lot of old folk music and blues at that time and the idea of this song just came to me. There’s a lot of pun-oriented word play, like most of the songs I do. It’s just me singing with my guitar for three-four minutes. There are no drums, no bass, it’s quite simple,” says Jagwani, who will be releasing the song just before Christmas.

He recalls how the festive season always inspires him to give carols his own spin. “I was performing somewhere at Christmas time in 2011 and during my performance, I thought of doing something with carols, so I did a live mash-up of five popular carols like Jingle Bells and Joy to the World and such,” he says.  

Deep house melancholy mood
DJ and dance music producer Anish Sood was born and raised in Goa. “Christmas is really big out there. The school I went to was rather informal. We were taught how to play different instruments and sing and all of that. We  would sit around a tree and eat plum cake during Christmas time,” he recalls, adding that his favourite carol has always been Silent Night. “I like the melancholic feel it has, compared to the other generally upbeat carols. I like its minor chord progression that boosts the flavour and emotion and adds a lot of depth to the song,” says Sood who recently released a single titled Starry Night featuring LA-based musician Zach  Sorgen and hip-hopper rapper Kelechi.
But how would he give this carol a spin of his own? “If I had to make this my own, I would drop deep house beats on it and add a really deep bass line. It would make it a great track to warm up to if you’re  at a Christmas eve party at a club. I would give it a lot of build-up,” he describes, adding that he would retain the element of melancholy in the music of the track, which is what makes this carol different from all the others.

Get Indian indie artists to collaborate for ‘Silent Night’
Rapper Ankur Johar, aka Enkore, who recently released a new single titled Check Me (My Priviledge) mixed and mastered by Wide Octaves, aka Vineeth Jay, talks about having fond memories associated with singing Christmas carols. “Silent Night is my favourite carol. Come to think of it, I would really love to have some of my favourite vocalists from India come together and perform it. In fact, some of the artists that come to mind, who would be perfect for lending their voice for this project, if I undertake it, would be Mali, Soundarya, Arunaja, Aarifah Rebello, Awkward Bong and a couple of others,” he says.

But that’s not all, he would also revamp the music. “ I’d also love to have some slightly dirty synth or drum sounds and a hint of a groove behind the usual keys on the carol,” says Johar, explaining that a dirty synth is when a sine wave turns into a square wave, so the loudness rises towards the end. These edgy sounds were not generally popular in mainstream music, but they seem to be catching on with the creation of various new sub genres. “I think my boy Wide Octaves would do a great job producing this one too,” he ends.

A minimalistic rendition
Sanam, the quartet known for their modern take on old songs, while retaining the essence and soul of the track, released their take on O Holy Night last Christmas. But it is somehow going viral now. People are forwarding the video on various social media and enjoying the soulful track.

Sanam Puri, vocalist, says, “We love the melody of the song O Holy Night and it’s always been a favourite of mine. Since we were short on time when we decided to release this during Christmas in 2016, we made a simple version with guitars, bass and an electronic groove-n-shakers. We also gave it a couple of layers of vocal harmony and added a sort of Ave Maria-esque vocal part at the end of the song. It’s surprising that people are sharing this video a year later — social media works in mysterious ways when it comes to virality.”

The band has also released a cover of the traditional carol Mary Did You Know. Venky S, the bassist, says, “I grew up listening to Christmas carols because a lot of my favourite artists used to do Christmas albums — Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Music videos of songs like Wham’s Last Christmas got me in the holiday mood as a kid. Also, since my brother is Catholic, I’ve always been familiar with the carols. The famous Christmas album of Jim Reeves used to be a holiday staple at every Christian home I would visit.”

The Red-Nosed Reindeer would dance to Nucleya’s beats
I grew up as a Catholic in Goa. Christmas was such a happy time for us. My dad used to play the guitar and all of us  would sing carols, the classics as well as the popular ones,” says singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist-composer-producer Sidd Coutto who is the frontman of indie band Tough on Tobacco, the drummer for bands like Zero and Ankur and the Ghalat Family when he is not making his own music. He has warm memories of this time of the year, and listening to Christmas carols brings them all back in a flash.

“I know too many of them (carols). I like the traditional ones like Silent Night, Joy to he World, and the popular ones too like I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus or Rudolph,” says he.

“But if I had to pick a carol and give it a twist, then I would collaborate with Nucleya on revamping Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. While Nucleya would give the track his signature desi feel with his crazy beats, I would sing on top and play some Indian instruments to pump up the Indian feel,” he says as he gives us a beat-box version of how he would want the carol to sound like.

“I should record it and send it to Nucleya, maybe he’ll even do it!” Coutto grins.

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