A Hindi jukebox for American ears

Updated: Mar 17, 2019, 07:41 IST | Ekta Mohta | Mumbai

For 20,000 listeners in Vermont, Vidhi Salla hosts a Hindi music radio show each week, out of her Mumbai home

Vidhi Salla and her musician-husband Joel 'Veena' Eisenkramer
Vidhi Salla and her musician-husband Joel 'Veena' Eisenkramer

Since they have been married, musician Joel 'Veena' Eisenkramer and music lover Vidhi Salla have been chasing the sun. They spend half the year in Vermont, his home in the US, and when temperatures dip to minus five, they flamingo to Mumbai. An Indian slide guitar player, Eisenkramer and Salla, bonded over music from day one.

"My musical background is only listening to radio in India," says Salla. "Vividh Bharati was on in our house pretty much all the time. So, that's how I absorbed Bollywood music passively. And then, I actively sought out ghazals, bhakti songs, a little bit of classical. By the time I met Joel, I had attended live Indian classical concerts by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Jasraj, and several others." They met in Pondicherry in 2016. "I was managing a heritage hotel, and he had come to play a concert there. Two years later, we were married."

For one of her shows, Salla interviewed piano player Akshay Varma, who trained Ayushmann Khurrana in Andhadhun. Salla's show is also available on vidhiism.com
For one of her shows, Salla interviewed piano player Akshay Varma, who trained Ayushmann Khurrana in Andhadhun. Salla's show is also available on vidhiism.com

Once in Vermont, Eisenkramer told her about the local community radio station. "Community radio is supported by the community, which include three or four neighbouring towns." In this case, about 20,000 people from Brattleboro, Putney, Newfane and Dummerston. "Joel thought it was a good idea for me to host a radio show because he knew my love for Bollywood songs. He wanted to me to have the experience of what living in the community was like. So, that's how it started. I met the radio engineer, Daniel Quipp, who trained me. I had a fair idea of how a radio show is hosted simply by listening to it [so much]."

For two hours every week, listeners of WVEW-LP radio station on 107.7 FM can tune into Vidhi's Bollywood Jukebox. "I started with introducing Bollywood and made a journey with the '50s and '60s and then the '70s and '80s. With each decade, I spoke to my listeners in detail about what the music of that time was like, and how it shifted to funk, then cabaret, then disco."

Of the 23 shows she's done so far, each has had a different theme. "I did a Geetmala special about radio in India from back in the day; a ghazal special; a remix special, in which I played the original song followed by the remix; I did a mountain special, which was extremely well-received because I dedicated it to Vermont. I tried to explain how songs in Bollywood have this feeling of being in the mountains, like Kora Kagaz starts with Kishore Kumar doing an echo aalaap. Joel and I did a raga special, in which we spoke about Isharon Isharon Mein, which is raga Pahadi, and Chandan Sa Badan, raga Yaman."

While looking for new themes, Salla has become familiar with many old numbers. "In the ghazal special I found this song called Dekh Lo Aaj Hum Ko, from Bazaar, which was sung by Jagjit Kaur, the wife of composer Khayyam.

The most famous song from the movie is Dikhayi Diye Yun, but that was a discovery for me." Salla is able to mix her intimate knowledge of Hindi music with her experiences in the West. For instance, she did an Antakshari special, in which she spoke about the importance of the game in long train journeys, with the playlist set in a chain of songs. She did a world music special to show that "Bollywood has been doing fusion way before it became a trend. Eena Meena Deeka is scat-singing and big band. There's an album called Raga Jazz-Style by Shankar-Jaikishan and sitar player Rais Khan, which has raga Kalavati in jazz. I also included recent songs like Aafaton Ke Parinde, from Ishaqzaade, which is a dubstep song."

Due to popular demand, she continues to record her show out of Mumbai, to which she returned in November last year. "Joel bought me a compact mixer, and trained me how to produce my own show, and I started using a software called Ableton Live, which is pretty professional." Salla recently did a romantic songs special from 2017-2018, which included songs such as Nain Na Jodeen (Badhaai Ho), Maana Ke Hum Yaar Nahin (Meri Pyaari Bindu), Aaj Se Teri (Padman), Ikk Kudi (Udta Punjab), Yeh Fitoor Mera (Fitoor), and others, as a personal challenge to unearth these songs, because "I had shut myself to today's music. If I'm driving in Mumbai and listening to the radio, it gets so overwhelming with the incessant chatter and the repetitive songs. It's not just the same song being played over and over again, but the quality of the songs and the composition is the same. It sounds like one digital track with drums and synthesisers [slapped on]." Listening to Salla, you yearn for a curated playlist, not by YouTube or a radio jockey, but by a not-for-profit music lover.

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