78 rpm Records of Indian Music: V. Balsara

The keyboardist and composer V. Balsara was responsible for a great many releases of light music, including some film scores, orchestral projects and novelty recordings. These two sides present his harmonium virtuosity with ensemble accompaniment.

“Dance Tune 1”

“Dance Tune 2”

Born in June 1922, Balsara learnt music from his mother Nazamaye, and gave his first solo performance at the age of six with the pedal harmonium, in use in those times, at a packed C. J. Hall in Mumbai.

Barely ten years later, the young lad was assisting famous Music Director Ustad Mustaque Hussain, in a Bombay film production ‘Baadal’.Link

He died in 2005:

V. Balsara, synonymous with the sound of music in the city, died on Thursday afternoon. The legendary pianist and composer was 83.

Balsara, known for his versatility with an array of musical instruments, had been suffering from geriatric problems for the past few months and was undergoing treatment at his nephew’s residence in Ballygunge Park.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Thursday expressed grief over the death of the virtuoso, who had been honoured with a D.Lit by Visva-Bharati, among a number of other awards.


A thin, frail man, Balsara always amazed with his verve and energy and went on composing music for Bengali as well as Hindi films till the end.

Though essentially a western composer, Balsara traversed the Indian classical terrain with consummate ease.


Balsara would often fuse eastern and western elements of music but was loath to call it fusion. “I merge pure Indian classical music with the most modern rhythms,” Balsara had told Metro during an interview at his Bowbazar house late last year. “In fact, I am allergic to the word fusion,” he had insisted.

He was from all accounts a genuinely nice person and a fine musician. That said, to my compositional ears, Balsara’s work tended to the insipid:

He was not afraid to be simply silly:

Or even sillier:

78 rpm Records of Indian Music: The Manhattan Jazz Band

Here’s a change of pace: a disc from the “Manhattan Jazz Band,” released on the Calcutta-based Zonophone label. My best guess is this was from some point in the 1920s or 30s; the music is what was called jazz at the time — by people who didn’t know what jazz was.

In the late 1990s I picked up a great many 78s at a small store in Bombay’s Chor Bazaar. Among them were a few of these recordings of “English Music.” Apparently these were mostly recorded in England and released in India, for the enjoyment of the Brits. I had a brief fantasy that these were Indian musicians hired to play this repertoire, which would have been ethnomusicologically fascinating. Turns out that’s not what happened. Ah, well.

The amount of crud on the surface of the disc is beyond imagination.

Enjoy “Everybody’s Jazzing Now”:

And here’s “That Big Jazz Band”: