Clapping For Percussion

Rhythm or percussion instruments have been with us since times immemorial. Historians inform us that in the prehistoric age, most likely the first rhythm ‘instruments’ were hands clapping together. The human body was the oldest musical instrument in all cultures, including the Chinese, African, Egyptian, and Aboriginal Australian. In essence, along with clapping their hands, our ancestors slapped their legs, and also snapped their fingers. This was followed by other natural ‘instruments’ such as stones and sticks, when struck periodically in some way. As humans evolved, they went on to create dedicated rhythm instruments.

Clapping—usually repeatedly—is done for various reasons. We clap to invite someone’s attention. We clap rapidly to sound our applause for a job done well. A very slow clap is a sarcastic way of sending a message of disapproval. But we also clap in rhythm to match the sounds in music and dance.

Clapping is employed as a percussion instrument in many forms of music. In the Dhuni folk process popular in the Hindu and Sikh faiths, a leader sings a line and the followers repeat that line while clapping keeps the music sparked. Teachings of Christ are found in gospel music which often engages with the clapping of hands. Arabs are particularly in love with clapping, generously spreading the sounds in much of their music. In the Gypsy and Spanish flamenco music genres, the guitar and castanets are as important as clapping is, for it keeps the rhythm sustained in a vital fashion. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), gave us an excellent example of this, as flamenco singer Maria del Mar Fernandez and dozens of others danced and sang with Hritik, Farhan and Abhay Deol, their clapping offering valuable buoyancy in this four-minute sparkler of a song.

For eunuchs, as we all know, clapping is a vital part of their stock-in-trade. But what about qawwals? Surely for them, music without clapping is almost as unthinkable as music without words, both key components in their genre. Gujarat has a long association of clapping too, its percussion keeping time with the music of the garba dance. Do recall in Saraswatichandra (1968), Nutan and her friends sing and dance to Main to bhool chali babul ka des, with their clapping sounding and looking so good, so right. Punjab is full of clapping, and the bhangra would not be bhangra without this mood-elevating percussion instrument. Punjabis have their finger on this pulse, none more than composer OP Nayyar who laid it thick on this idea for so long. We will see a small sampling of his in just a bit. Meanwhile, the main idea is to observe something so traditionally part of the universal language of music, whether it’s a Rock N Roll song or a picnic in the great outdoors. A percussion without frontiers, befriending both history and geography.

Because clapping is treated as percussion, it belongs to the Instrumental group in our book, in much the same way as whistling does. However, humming doesn’t belong there, because it engages the vocal cords.

We look at a few songs composed by OP Nayyar, all featuring clapping.

  • Moonh se mat laga, cheez hai buri (Johnny Walker, 1957)
  • Main hoon Mr. Johnny (Mai Baap, 1957)
  • Sar par topi laal haath mein resham ka roomaal (Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957)
  • Kya kya kya dil mein chhipa hai (Ustad, 1957)
  • Are tauba are tauba (12 O’Clock, 1958)
  • Jo waqt pe kaam aa jaaye (Farishta, 1958)
  • Gora rang chunariya kaali motiyon waali (Howrah Bridge, 1958)
  • Mera naam Chin Chin Chu (Howrah Bridge, 1958)
  • Chanda chaandni mein jab chamke (Mujrim, 1958)
  • Anta fanta oot patanga (Mr. Qartoon M.A., 1958)
  • Sun-sun Madras ke chhore (Mujrim, 1958)
  • Mud-mud humko dekhta (Ragini, 1958)
  • Ee ree ra raaka (Do Ustad, 1959)
  • Duniya pakki 420 (Basant, 1960)
  • Hong Kong cheena meena Singapore (Hong Kong, 1962)
  • Aji qibla mohatarma (Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon, 1963)
  • Humdum mere maan bhi jao (Mere Sanam, 1965)

As if to offer a red carpet to the singers, in all the songs we list today, their maestros thought it fit to include clapping right at the start, before a single word was uttered. Here now are songs tuned by other composers.

  • Kyoon shikwa karen (Snehal Bhatkar/Pagle, 1950)
  • Shola jo bhadke (C. Ramchandra/Albela, 1951)
  • Dum hai baaqi to gham naheen (SD Burman/House No. 44, 1955)
  • Ye hawa ye nadi ka kinaara (Ravi/Ghar Sansaar, 1958)
  • Kehna mera maan ye duniya teri hai naadaan (AR Quereshi/Shaan-e-Hatim, 1958)
  • Beta dar mat dar mat dar mat (N. Datta/ Bhai Behen, 1959)
  • Bade hain dil ke kaale (Usha Khanna/Dil Deke Dekho, 1959)
  • Sheesha-e-dil itna na uchhaalo (Shankar-Jaikishan/Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, 1960)
  • Tu laage mora baalam ye kaise kahoon main (Usha Khanna/Hum Hindustani, 1960)
  • Naacho ghoom ghoom ghoom ghoom ghoom ke (C. Ramchandra/Sarhad, 1960)
  • Milte hi nazar tumse hum ho gaye deewaane (Ravi/Ustadon Ke Ustad, 1963)
  • He jamalo, o wah wah he jamalo (Madan Mohan/Pooja Ke Phool, 1964)
  • Aao twist karen (RD Burman/Bhoot Bangla, 1965)
  • Pyaar karta ja (RD Burman/Bhoot Bangla, 1965)
  • Din hain bahaar ke, tere mere iqraar ke (Ravi/Waqt, 1965)
  • Duniya paagal hai, ya phir main deewaana (Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Shagird, 1967)
  • Dil karta o yaara dildaara mera dil karta (Ravi/Aadmi Aur Insaan, 1969)

Did we miss out gifted maestro Roshan Nagrath in the above list? How could we, especially on his death anniversary today? Here are some of his finest melodies that featured this percussion, right at the start again. 

  • Main to dil ayese ko doon (Raja Beta, 1950s)
  • Nigaah-e-naaz ke maaron ka haal kya hoga (Barsaat Ki Raat, 1960)
  • Khanke to khanke kyoon khanke (Wallah Kya Baat Hai, 1962)
  • Nigaahen milaane ko jee chaahta hai (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963)
  • Parda utthe salaam ho jaaye  (Dil Hi To Hai, 1963)
  • Chaandi ka badan (Taj Mahal, 1963)
  • Vaaqif hoon khoob ishq ke tarz-e-bayaan se main (Bahu Begum, 1967)

Roshan also composed perhaps the most significant Siamese twin qawwalis in the history of Hindi cinema: Na to caarvaan ki talaash hai, and Ye ishq ishq hai ishq ishq, in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960). These two did position clapping bang at the start too, offering us indicators of one of this chef’s many vital spices in his masterly confections.

One pleasantry that did the rounds some time ago had to do with a music performance. A musically-inclined baby mosquito wanted so much to go enjoy it, so he sought his mother’s permission. “You may go”, said his mother, “if it’s not an OP Nayyar or Shakila Banu nite. I fear for your life, my child, for everyone claps too much”.

(Photo: Shola jo bhadke)

Originally published: 16th November 2014



Originally published: 16th November 2014

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