Sunday, December 31, 2006
Tape to tape
It’s been on my to-do list all Christmas: visit that subcontinental music shop in Brick Lane. It’s got so many tapes in the window, by artists I couldn’t even read the names of let alone have known who they’re by, that I just had to pay it a visit.
Late yesterday afternoon a mate and I found ourselves down in Brick Lane so we headed towards it. With rain beginning to fall, we passed the Truman Brewery and I looked up to the window where the old Ammunition offices used to be. It occurred to me that was probably the room where the word dubstep was invented.
We headed up to the shop, further up on the right hand side. We stepped in out of the rain and immediately began looking at the amazing collection of tapes.
“Can I help you?” asked the shop assistant, kind of gruffly.
Brick Lane might be famous for its “Indian” curry, but it’s predominantly a Bangladeshi area. From this, and the shop assistant’s appearance, it was fair to guess he was Muslim.
“We’re just looking at the music tapes…” I replied.
“No music tapes,” he replied equally gruffly.
At first I thought he meant there weren’t any tapes, which clearly wasn’t true. Instead he meant they weren’t music tapes. They were devotional tapes and from his tone, I could tell we weren’t welcome to buy them. I left the shop a bit disappointed that I’d not found any new music, but pleased I hadn’t bought something sacred to Muslims which if subsequently sampled or played inappropriately, might cause deep offence.
My mate had another idea. He lives in Tooting and had bought some Indian music for his Sri Lankan parents. We could try again there, so we headed from east to south.
The place where my mate had bought a Lata Mangeshkar compilation for his dad didn’t prove that useful, which is often – when you don’t know what you’re looking for – a function of how friendly the shop owners are. We headed off to another place I’d seen on the other side of the road. It was exactly what we’d been looking for:
Raj Deep Video’s Ltd
Sales & Hire, Audio, Video, DVD, VCD.
124 Upper Tooting Road
0208 682 1120
Ohmydays: Raj Deep Video’s was a veritable treasure trove. My pupils dilated to take in the sheer expanse of new, unknown CDs, DVDs and most amusingly, tapes. Thousands of tapes.
We began to look around, over the counters at the sea of new music in front of us. Although Tooting is a predominantly Muslim area - “Eid is much bigger than Diwali” mentioned my mate – it became quickly apparent that this was a Hindu shop and more specifically, a Bollywood specialist. It also had one other great asset: a friendly and enthusiastic owner who was willing to put up with inane questions from a lanky blogger who didn’t quite know what he was looking for but was enthusiastic all the same.
I started asking general questions, to work out what they had on offer. One wall was Bollywood DVDs only. The other, music, in tape and CD form, mostly from Bollywood films. Some were grouped by artist. I recognised Lata Mangeshkar and her sister, Asha Bhosle, which I mentioned. This seemed to break the ice. “You know Lata has recorded over 70,000 songs,” said the owner.
Suddenly we were getting somewhere. He showed me the older, classical section, which was tucked away at the back. The front had up to date Bollywood stuff, with the odd “DJ remix” collection too. He didn’t seem to have many Qawwali’s. He also assured me that tapes where a dying format, which made me laugh. “I know,” I said to him, “you’re the one with ten thousand tapes behind you!” He laughed back: “yes, but they’re already paid for.”
I was finding it hard what to choose. The selection was overwhelming. But then the owner started to talk about ‘60s Bollywood. “This is the greatest film ever made of all time,” he enthused, pulling out the soundtrack to Mughal-e-Azam. The CD came in a gold box and had “The Biggest Indian Film Ever” written on it. “It would take £200 million pounds to make this film today,” he added. “You can listen to the songs over and over, same with these ones too.” He pulled out the double CD of Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, both scored by RD Burman. “He’s the best composer,” explained the shop owner. He also got out another double CD, Kaala Patthar and Doosara Aadmi. I couldn’t help but ask if he had the soundtrack to Sholay, after the dubstep stone cold classic by Goldspot and Benny Ill. Of course, our man did.
I bought them all and some tabla tapes for £2 and left the shop a happy man. The other assistants were happy too – my guide had put on the DVD of Kaala Patthar to impress on us how good it was and how great the live orchestras that they don’t use now-a-days were, and the assistants were watching it again for the umpteenth time.
Leaving the shop left me thinking about two things. Firstly on the importance of recommendation. There were tens if not hundreds of thousands of releases in that shop. But without the owners obvious passion for four or five greats, I might have left empty handed or with some third rate also ran CD.
Secondly I wondered about distribution and the power it has on our listening tastes. As big as Raj Deep Video’s selection was, it could have fitted into one corner of HMV Oxford Street. You cant get half those titles in HMV (HMV have the DVD but not the CD it looks like, but then again this is the most famous Bollywood film apparently…), most probably because they’re not distributed to them. The result is they don’t sell many so they don’t reach a wider audience. Distribution matters. So does going that extra mile for new music.