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Popular music in India can often be as cluttered and crowded as its overpopulated cities and towns. Although the mammoth ensembles of session musicians that earlier recorded film music have been replaced by individual programmers who single-handedly summon the sound of virtually any instrument from their workstations and other gadgets, the general tendency is to layer dozens upon hundreds of tracks in one single song. Programmed rhythms and grooves are often garnished with tablas, dholaks, chang, etc., layered on multiple tracks, and the same excess can usually be heard in the melodic arrangements too. The result is the kind of hissing, spitting, thundering, crackling sound that can rattle the rib-cage of any living being in its vicinity. That, perhaps, is the reason why the sound of a child’s voice singing a Kashmiri verse is so undeniably pleasing in a television commercial for the rewards programme of ICICI Bank: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4Q1q0yG2vg

There is a charming innocence about the sound of the Hukus Bukus song recorded in an incredibly sweet artless little voice, at times a trifle quavery, and even with an occasional sniffle muddying the clarity of the lyrics. This certainly isn’t the voice of a little champ or ustad from a reality show. But it is a real voice, and thank heavens for that. An introductory melody played on the rabab (a lute often held to be the precursor of the sarod) leads into the song. All along, a simple skippity-skip groove is maintained on what sounds like the santoor, but I have no way of telling if it is in fact the acoustic instrument or a keyboard-derived sample. That’s about it—the little voice, the santoor and rabab, and the occasional bell, or unobtrusive tanpura in the distance.

Simplicity and innocence can be difficult to capture or simulate. Recording studios, designed for the express purpose of capturing sound and processing and manipulating it with a view to enhancing it, can be tricky spaces. Some voices and temperaments bloom magnificently before a mike, acquiring a magical presence when recorded. Others find it hard to breathe and express in the unfamiliar and at times constricting confines of a studio. Perhaps it is for this reason that adult female playback voices often recorded songs for child actors in Indian films. There are, of course, many examples of film songs recorded in children’s voices, including the popular “lakdi ki kaathi, kaathi pe ghoda" track in the 1980s film Masoom. But earlier, it was quite common to hear the voice of an adult female singer rendering playback for the leading lady in a film as well as for a child actor in the same film. Children’s voices, such as were used for Hindi film songs, often had a tendency to sound sickeningly cute and irritatingly precocious. At times a shrill chipmunk-like tone prevailed in songs recorded by children.

It is for this reason that the beautiful little voice one hears on the Hukus Bukus song is a rarity, and an absolute delight. Thankfully, it has been left ungilded and one can therefore enjoy it in its angelic, innocent reality. Or, if indeed it has been processed, then the needful has been achieved with admirable restraint. I trawled the Net to find out who the little voice belongs to, and who produced the music. At best, the search revealed the agency that has produced the commercial, but the little voice remained a mystery. Neither is it clear who created the soundtrack. Well, little voice, keep singing for us, so that we can enjoy the mystery of simplicity.

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

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