Bappi Lahiri, also known in India as “The Disco King,” was born in Calcutta, West Bengal in 1952, to Bengali classical singers Aparesh Lahiri and Bansari Lahari. An only child, his parents trained him at the age of 3 to play tabla, later in classical music and Shyama Sangeet, which is a genre of devotional songs dedicated to Hindu goddess Shyama, or Kali. Lahiri is related on his mother’s side to Kishore Kumar, who who was a prominent multifaceted Indian film artist, and S. Mukheerjee, who was a producer of Indian films. Lahiri’s educational musical upbringing enabled him to begin his Bollywood career at the age of 19, directing music for Bengali film Daadu (1972) and composing music for his first Hindi film Nanha Shikari (1973). He became established in Bollywood for music composition and also playback singing for Tahir Husain’s Hindi film Zakhmee (1975). Lahiri went on to work on music for popular films, Chalte Chalte (1976) and Surakksha (1979) propelling him to stardom as the youngest musical director in the shortest duration of time (bappilahiri.com).
Bollywood cinema began 100 years ago with the film Raja Harischandra, shown on May 3, 1913 in Mumbai with a wet sari, cross-dressing scene. Bollywood cinema is now a multi billion dollar industry. Nasreen Rehman who specializes in South Asian cinema stated, “The term Bollywood is an invention of the late 20th Century after Bombay cinema caught the imagination of the west.” Musical singers who dance accentuate the emotionality of characters starring in Bollywood films and there are an average of five to nine musical numbers in one film (BBC News).
In the 1980s, Lahiri brought the influence of disco beats and synthesizer sounds to Indian music, transforming the popular Bollywood sound known globally today. Lahiri was made famous by his compositions for various songs such as “Hari Om Hari” (1980) and “Ramba Ho Samba Ho,” plus music for the films Pyara Dushman (1980), Wardat (1981), Laparwah (1981), Sahhas (1981) and Disco Dancer (1982), to name a few. He received the China Award in Beijing in 1982, honoring his music composition for Disco Dancer. Lahiri was recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records in 1986 for recording over 180 songs for 33 films in that year alone (wiki). To date he has composed more than 5000 songs in 500 movies in different languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, Oriya, Kannada, Malayalam and Assamese. In addition he has composed music for Bangladeshi and Hollywood films, such as Eyewitness to Murder and Divine Lovers. He has also starred in films, Badhti ka Nam Daadhi, Kalakaar, Geet, Bombay Girls and Om Shanti Om (Guha, 2019).
Lahiri has stated that he has a “constant desire to reinvent himself.” He tries to keep up with the generational dynamic preferences of musical culture. Exampling this, he cut two English albums, Moving Away (1986) and Snake Dance (1990), that were self released, perhaps to appeal to English speakers. Lahiri is the rare complete entertainer, a multifaceted artist who plays tabla, synthesizer, piano, saxophone, guitar, dholak, bongos, and also composes and sings. He generously supports other singers by producing and directing their albums and songs. He has sung duets with Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, helped launch Vijay Benedict and Sharon Prabhakar’s Bollywood careers, and supported Alisha Chinai and Usha Uthup’s stardoms. In 1982 he released a private-press Hindi disco synth pop album with Bangladesh singer Runa Laila named Superuna. In 1986 he released Welcome with Anil Kapoor and Salma Agha, plus one of my favorite albums, Dancing City, which features duets with Hindi actress Mandakini.
He introduced the world to his daughter’s talents in 1987 when she was 9 years old. Rema Lahiri sang the children’s nursery rhyme Little Star, composed and directed to her father’s disco sound. Rema’s song was marketed by HMV, and the single went platinum for best sales among children’s songs for that year in India. Lahiri was also a fan of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album which inspired him to release the video-pop album Bappi Lahiri’s Thriller Live, with eight Hindi songs. He continued supporting his daughter’s career, releasing another LP when she was 12 years old with her singing, Dance Party (1990), plus the songs “Jawani Jawani,” “Night Lovers,” (1992) and “Heatrave” (1993). Dance Party features duets with Rema and her father and Rema singing solo, backed by synth drums and keys arranged to soft rock or fast/mid tempo disco synth sounds, with riffing digital drums, guitar twang solos, psych bells, and clap cymbal fills. I often think Dance Party may be one of the best kids recordings of all time.
In 1994, Lahiri launched his own music company, currently named B9 Digital Studios Mumbai. B9 was formerly BL Sound Sanirema Pvt. Ltd, which also released several recordings (wikiI). In 1995, Lahiri recorded the hits “Yamma Yamma Dance” with Usha Uthup and “Nine Below Zero” (1997).
Because of Lahiri’s dynamic work ethic to fill the need to constantly reinvent himself, he chose to work on reality television shows in the 2000s. In 2006, he starred on the popular television show, ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs,’ as a co-judge with singers Alka Yagnik and Abhijeet. He was also a judge on another show on Zee TV with other music composers, and again for Sony Entertainment Television’s ‘K for Kishor’ reality show in searching for the ‘heir apparent’ to Kishore Kumar (bappilahiri.com).
As of recent, Lahiri voiced the character Tamatoa in the Hindi-dubbed version of 2016 Disney film Moana. He plays the character of a tiny crab who is attracted to shiny treasures. Lahiri identified with Tamatoa’s attraction to shiny things because he also has an attraction to gold jewelry, and Lahiri displays his love openly for all to see. He also composed and sang the title song to Moana, “Shona,” which translates to Gold in English. This was his first time dubbing in an animated film, and of the experience he remarked “It is truly a golden memory” (bappilahiri.com). Lahiri’s prolific career has made many golden memories for audiences and consumers of Bollywood music and film. His incalculable contributions have so transformed the sounds of Indian cinema that it is difficult to remember a time when its music was not influenced by his expertise and enthusiasm.
Bollywood Cinema: 10 lesser known facts https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22349712
Guha, S. Legendary Bollywood Composer Bappi Lahiri Issues Career Defining Album. 1888 Media. Oct 27, 2016.
Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)