“Hot, Hot, Hot! That was one of the songs,” remembers Southern Californian Jackie Kendall of the music at her daughter Sara and Abhishek Belani’s wedding at the Design Center, San Francisco in 2015. Those were most likely the only words she recognized from the musical extravaganza that engulfed her during the many ceremonies. But she says, “The sangeet, mehendi—the entire wedding was fantastic—each group of the extended family performed their own song-dance. My husband played his guitar (interestingly, it was a Turkish tune). I wish we could do it all over again!”
The sangeet had a playlist chosen by the mother of the bridegroom, Vinita Belani from the Bay Area with traditional Punjabi and Sindhi communal singing accompanied by a dholki at the mehndi/uptan ceremony. Of course, Belani remembers every detail. Because they had lived in several countries, they had guests from all over the world and she factored this into the way she chose songs.
“I made a playlist of Abhishek’s favorite Bollywood numbers from each year of his life, songs that he danced to as a kid and teenager. Prominent was the song Amma dekh, Tera munda bigda jaye.” Belani also had Shakira’s Waka Waka song played while she called out names of the countries represented. “People who lived in each of the countries had to get on the dance floor. By the end of the song, we had successfully gotten everyone onto the dance floor and then we alternated American and Indian dance music. Jai Ho was a huge hit! The DJ was responsible for all-on-the-floor dancing after that.”
Indeed, a versatile DJ seems the way to go at inter-racial marriages. Adeeti Ullal, who works in Silicon Valley and her Austrian husband Johannes Reiter got married at the California Academy of Sciences to a playlist largely driven, intuitively, by the DJ duo from Klasikhz. Ullal remembers, “The DJ was awesome! Even without me specifying a lot of songs, he was able to gauge the audience and get a sense of what I liked and what kept people on the dance floor. His mixes of music were flawless for our dances. His brother played at the show which was another element that made the whole experience lively!”
Prema Sriram, a Bay Area resident and a South Indian says, “My Bollywood exposure makes me feel like North Indians have more fun dancing and singing. Hence, I too wanted to bring out the music and dance of South India and it worked beautifully. We had live music for folk dancing and also a short veena recital. The practices for live singing and dancing was enjoyable because everyone was eager to learn!”
Vandana Kumar celebrated her son Tushar’s wedding last year and says, “For the haldi, I tried to retain an authentic Bihari feel; friends sang traditional songs. I also hired a live band (SurPal) that was familiar with Bhojpuri and Magahi folk songs. This was mixed in with golden oldies from Hindi films. I wanted to create a different feel for this event because I knew that these songs would not be featured in the rest of the wedding.”
The bride and the groom—Niki and Tushar organized the other events and they chose Bollywood music that they were familiar with. “The DJ they hired, Parag Shah of Special Events was fabulous,” she continues, “In the way he chose music, there was a different mood that was created—sangeet (fun), baraat (live dhol, teaching and leading basic dance moves to guests), wedding ceremony (only Indian classical), cocktails and reception (western and Indian mix) all had different music.”
A touch of live music, both in North (popular choice being the dhol)—as well as in South-Indian style of weddings is common. New York-based Dr. Sumanth Swaminathan plays the saxophone in the Carnatic style and a review on his website says, “I was so impressed by his soulful music that I requested him to play at my daughter’s wedding. Gifted with a fertile imagination, he wove his music skillfully and seamlessly into the wedding ceremony, giving the process continuity that I have rarely seen in the United States.”
In general though, Bollywood or Bollywood-esque celebratory music seems to do the trick to bring together clans, especially inter-racial communities. Speaking of fusion, Indians seem to have adopted the “bridal entry” phenomenon from our Christian neighbors. Here are some culled-together bests from Bollywood for the grand reveal of the bride in all her finery as she walks to the mandap.
Laal Ishq from RamLeela
Teri Ore from Singh is King
Mast Magan from 2 States
O Re Piya from Aaja Nachle
Raabta from Agent Vinod
For Tamil brides:
Ullam Paadum from 2 States
For Punjabi brides:
Din shagna de Chadeyaa from Phillauri
For Telugu brides
For bridegrooms looking to completely sweep their bride off the floor, this video is a must-watch. Watch Frank sweep Simran with a surprise rendering of Tum Hi Ho as he strikes the piano. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GojJnrqpeE) Unbeievably sentimental—sometimes, the perfect tune can say more than the best prose can! n
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music, and avidly tracks inbtersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.