Sifar. And the Rebirth of Hindi Rock Music

Last time the Hindi/Urdu word meaning Zero made waves in Indian music scene was back in 1998 when Lucky Ali released his second album “Sifar”. The word was interpreted thus by the singer on his album sleeve “Sifar – Containing nothing, it encircles everything. Without a beginning, without an end, it stretches from emptiness to infinity and back again”. This time around it resurfaces as the name of an alternative rock band from New Delhi and they sing in Hindi/Urdu. A Hindi Rock band is nothing new there were many before Sifar and many more will come. But Sifar might turn out to be a watershed band in the history of this genre. And here is why I think so.

Hindi rock and roll goes back to Shammi Kapoor and his composers. Our films have been satisfying our Pop music urges for ages and Rock music in it various forms did percolate into our music scene now and then. Thanks to Shanker Jaikishen, OP Nayyar, RDB and Bappi Da to name a few. But out and out rock acts belting out Hindi rock songs had to wait till 90’s.  It is really interesting that it was also in 1998 that a Delhi band called Euphoria released their cassette called “Dhoom” and they had called their music “Hind Rock”. Euphoria arrived on the scene probably at the perfect moment, they had a billion fans to conquer but down the road to fame something happened and Euphoria never became what it could have. And while Dr Palash Sen went on to try his hand at acting and playback singing, Euphoria had started becoming irrelevant. Euphoria has been producing CDs throughout their career and is still going strong, I am looking forward to their new CD “Item” but as a fan they have disappointed me.  Rabbi Shergill and Kailash Kher have also made significant contributions to Hindi Rock through their music.  And if you have started wondering if I have conveniently ignored Indian Ocean, you are mistaken. It is only that I can never slot Indian Ocean into just a Hindi rock band, for me they are much more than that. And bands like Silk Route and Colonial cousins can’t be classified as rock acts either.

A year before Dhoom was released something remarkable happened on the other side the Line of Control, in Pakistan Junoon released their fourth album, Azaadi and unleashed “Sayonee” upon us. This brilliant album almost single handedly created a new genre called Sufi Rock and formed the tip of the Panzerkeil which led the Pak Invasion of Indian pop rock scene. And soon songs by bands like Strings and Jal was regular fare in our music channels and this trend has sustained. And appearances in the movies of a certain serial kisser also helped. Indian fans have openly embraced these songs and have made it their own.

I feel Sifar has their musical precedence in these Pakistani rock bands in terms of the rendition of lyrics, their subject matter and to a large extent the emotion. Have you heard anger or frustration in Kailasa’s or Rabbi’s songs? In terms of sound Sifar is more international and I have read that their influences span classic rock punk, grunge and industrial rock.  For instance “Main Jaaonga” is clearly a Green Day inspired track it starts off slowly like a prayer and the tempo goes up and up. It is a good choice as an album opener and keeps you wanting for more. It is with “Roko na mujhe” that Sifar’s music starts to assert their unique style. There is a very Owl City’s Firefly like sound in the initial seconds of the track and then the drums and bass join in followed by guitars. Amit Yadav’s voice is very sincere and he has managed to sing the lyrics very convincingly. There are no labored accents here, just plain matter of fact singing.  It is called maader tongue influence.

Amit Yadav may not be the best singer in the circuit, in a way it can be seen as boon. Usually bands with classically trained singers tend to take the Fusion route and end up getting lost in the sonic wilderness. Amit’s voice might have been a factor in shaping  Sifar’s musical style.  “Mita Do” reminded me a little of a Cranberries’ Zombie but that key board thingy gives it a life of its own. Gunah is probably the first Industrial Rock song in Hindi, Trent Reznor will be proud of his Indian disciples.  “Kala Aasman” is an anthem sort of a song with nice interludes and melodic shifts. Even though their songs are built around guitars Sifar doesn’t seem to believe in long indulgent solos. These songs are going to be quiet popular among the rookie guitarist crowd, period. “Commonwealth Insaan” is a Greenday style punk song about the fiasco which hit New Delhi last year.

Sifar’s first album has released today by BeatFactory records. It is a promising album which might become a collector’s item after a few years. So go ahead and give it a listen. The band has even put the songs out for free download! I only wish that the cover art was better.

You can download the songs here, in your choice of high quality audio format.


Chunni Babu says:

Sorry missed out the new album part completely in a flurry of nostalgia..the new album is pretty cool..his voice is kind of like Mohit Chauhan..the music is a bit predictable though..

Chunni Babu says:

Very very nice article…MusicAloud is gradually becoming my source of music discussion..:) Please do keep it up. However if I may point out, I think you missed Indian Ocean. Junoon’s album was indeed path-breaking and I even listen to it today with marvel, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Indian Ocean pioneered the Tabla/Guitar/Drum sound that shows up in Junoon’s sound with power chords added. Also if we talk about the Rock scene in India in general, some folks in the “Bangla Modern Songs” have been quite experimental. Mohiner Ghoragulli is one band that comes to mind. I love Euphoria..and I can’t believe I just missed them in NY..Palash Sen. The sound in Sifar album was mind-blowing..the flow was just mesmerizing man..a sound never heard before in India..we grew up on these songs..the video was nothing short of fascinating either..with pictures of Rt 66. etc. I played the cassette over and over till it totally wore out. Don’t know what happened to Lucky Ali..

Praveen says:

Thank you, Shivam!

Shivam says:

Some review man.. Love how you’ve explained the origin, the journey and the present scenario of Hindi rock scene. Sifar seems to be doing justice to it! They have along way to go, indeed.

Shivam | MusicDip