For those of you lucky enough to catch this multi-faceted band at WOMAD, Taranaki, a few years back, you’ll know what force they are on stage. Blending Bollywood and Lounge music with James Bond/The Man From Uncle kitsch and an endless array of Indian legends, stories and romance heroes this The Bombay Royale tell unique stories of cultural diversity so wide it almost encircles the globe twice over.
Their latest album, and most easily available on the local market, packs in a ship’s worth of cultural references from gods to exotic locations and once again show cases the group’s phenomenal musicality in each song, jamming them with psychedelic fanfare and juxtaposition.
Before starting, though, a quick intro might be needed. The Melbourne based Bombay Royale is an 11-piece Australian band fronted by singers Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya and is led by (Captain) Andy Williamson. Within their performances, each plays a character. Parvyn is the heroine (often captured and in need of rescue); Shourov the ‘manly’ tiger-villain; and Andy is the Captain (hero) – always up for saving maidens in distress, although the roles often move fluidly between them.
They like to perform original music that blends funk, disco and pop music with the classical and folk music of India, much like the soundtracks of 1960s and 1970s Bollywood movies. The vocal lines and lyrics to their music are written mostly in Hindi, Bengali and English.
Run Kitty Run opens with the pulsating and pounding, and infectious, Ballygunge. The bass groove on this alone is way too danceable for good health! I just love the official patter that describes the song. It sums up the band’s approach, crazy, familiar and sometimes completely bonkers: “…it’s a love song set in a dark sci-fi vision of Kolkata. Familiar landmarks like Gol Park are dwarfed by aerial highways and transmitter towers framed by the plumes of departing spacecraft. Despite the odds love blazes defiantly – whether it can survive is another question!” Brilliant. I have no idea what it means but I love it!
The album’s namesake, Run Kitty Run, feels like the opening credits to a Bollywood police-buddy film – with a slight sprinkle of surf-rock guitars. By contract you get the overtly bombastic Zhooti Naina, which melds traditional Indian tabla with cinematic strings and propelling drums. It’s schmaltzy and almost slightly ‘soupy’ in its approach. This is 5.30 minutes of indulgent Indian melodrama, delivered with Parvyn Kaur Singh very high pitched, almost chant like, mesmerising vocals. Her falsetto vocals, inspired by classical Hindustani styles, delightfully glide over coarse guitar sounds and triumphant horn sections on The Raan of Kutch.
Sometimes they even become another character in the vast array already inhabiting the space. Every line conjours some kind of personification – be it god, beast, myth or real. Shourov Bhattacharya’s more downplayed vocals act as a perfect subtle contrast to Singh’s exquisitely dramatic vocals on other songs like Mauja. Each track varies slightly, but the theme remains constant. Although not being a native speaker of any of these other languages it’s hard to tell what’s exactly going on. It’s worth checking out (Mera Nam Hai) Lucky, which mixes a sitar with synths and sort of reminds me of Nitin Sawhney a little.
There is one song that breaks from the Bollywood mould. Well, Kinda. The Gunslinger’s Lullaby is a tongue-in-cheek Butter Chicken Western, complete with Morricone overtones from the horn section.
The sounds on Bombay Royal’s new album are truly far-ranging, at times disco/grime at times big and cinematic, and always referencing some slice of Indian culture. Always this is a thrilling collection, with different world sounds, outside the common ears, mashed into one 12-track experience. Best delivered on vinyl so you can savour the delicious grandeur of the art work. It could be one of the most exciting albums I’ve heard, so far.