Bappi Lahiri is a figure larger than life resembling a cross between a happy golden Buddha and an 80s mafia don with his signature mullet, aviator shades and personal jewelry adornments.
He has the physical capacity to overshadow the likes of flamboyant musical icons Michael Jackson, Elton John and Boy George — all of whom Bappi has worked with as well as MC Hammer and Snoop Dogg. His personal achievements are even more impressive. It would take some serious dedication to make a dent in his vast discography. I caught up with Bappi backstage at RBMA’s LA festival in collaboration with Discostan.
Regarding his jewelry, Bappi says “Gold is my god. Gold is my religion.” “Bling Bling Bappi” narrates the story of each piece like a roadmap of his prolific career and the many blessings he say are gifts from God. “My mother gave me this Hare Krishna Hare Ram medallion after my first picture hit.” The locket around his throat is to protect his throat, which might explain how is voice is still so pristine. A golden letter “B” necklace adds to the collection of lucky items he acquired at The Golden Temple and Vatican City plus a diamond-encrusted gold cuff bracelet.
If anyone is cynical about Bappi’s God-given blessings, his success story might convert you. A child prodigy, he came from a musical family and seemed predestined for greatness. The famous playback singer, Kishore Kumar, was his uncle. At the age of 19, Bappi moved to Mumbai and started working with the great Mohammad Rafi. On his first world tour, he heard “Saturday Night Fever” in a Chicago nightclub which sparked his obsession with Disco. The Bollywood film Surakksha, called for a modern style of music to compliment a new type of hero — “Gunmaster G-9” , a Bond-esque character. Bappi set to work and transported the disco craze to the continent of India, and subsequently changed the musical landscape of Asia and Africa. He had some contemporaries also catching on to the growing popularity of the style but Bappi’s influence was unparalleled. He’s composed over 5,000 songs for over 500 films. He even holds a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for doing 33 films in just one year. His music has been sampled by Dr. Dre, MIA, Masta Ace, Onra, Prodigy, Truth Hurts and influenced countless others including Charanjit Singh and Devo. He toured last year in Amsterdam with Giorgio Moroder, who he sites as an inspiration along with Quincy Jones and Elvis.
The Disco craze took off and dominated India in the 1980s and 90s with his soundtracks for Wardat, Namak Halaal, Dance Dance, Commando, Gang Leader, and Sharaabi among many others. The 1982 film, Disco Dancer brought him widespread fame. For 40 years, he put out non-stop super-hits and collaborated with all the greats — Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, and the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan. He even met Mother Theresa met in 1992 who encouraged his humanitarian efforts. “Slum Stars” was his album that he recorded with Mumbai slum boys to give them a musical platform. He says he is the most proud of this project because he wants to give back to society and hopes to work with slum girls in the future. “I’m a total humanitarian — God is one, man is one, world is one. Music is universal. I respect all religions from the bottom of my heart.”
When I asked Bappi about his affiliation with the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modhi, he says he is 100% in support. Bappi ran for office on the BJP ticket, although he didn’t win. Today Bappi is focused on humanitarian efforts and promoting his latest album, Divine Power. “This is my very special project because it is very different from my other songs. Music is universal and should be used to bring peace.” He is also working on an upcoming album due out next year, which is a fusion of classical Indian music and Jazz. He’s lent his talents to the Hindi adaptation of Moana, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which he dubbed for the role of Elton John. He has future plans on touring the East Coast as well.
Check out highlights from the event below and don’t miss out on RBMA’s last weekend of the fest featuring Ice-T, Uncle Jamm’s Army and a tribute to Alice Coltrane.