Live Music While You Eat

Have you noticed we are often different people in different settings? When alone, we are completely ourselves, scratching wherever for instance, since no one is watching. On a one-to-one basis, we are different with our spouses, our best friends, our siblings, acquaintances and colleagues. That’s ok, we’re not being a fake. It is in fact a part of being human to have so many facets to us, each making a stronger pitch to make things work for us in specific settings. In fact, when we are in a crowd mixed from the relationships mentioned above, group dynamics take over; we transform into a clinically-sanitized composite of our own persona, offering something like a common-minimum program to make the multiple interactions work. Thus, when someone says, “My life is an open book”, it usually means their sanitized behaviour is on display, the scratching wherever downplayed. In other words, except in very rare cases, there’s no such thing as being an open book. Neither should the statement be taken seriously. Social scientists are only too aware of that.

In India more than in the western world, such a transformation is quite noticeable when we are in a restaurant that has live musicians playing, especially the kinds who do the rounds of every table, stopping to sing a couple of songs and take requests too. You may be the sort who loves the Beatles go Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, or Manna Dey’s Aye meri zohra jabeen, but chances are, when the singer comes around with his guitar slung around his shoulder and the same song on his lips, you will avoid looking too much at him, subsuming your interest under food, drink and conversation. Perhaps the singer is going off-key, perhaps he’s too much in-the-face too. But then again, maybe it’s about you presenting a different face in a milieu in which most people are strangers. Never mind that you may actually be enjoying the music.

That is not to say that all music buffs always enjoy themselves when music is played in a restaurant. Many go out for the food and for sparkling conversation, but if someone trumps their agenda with music—especially the loud kind—they are not going to erupt in applause when a song ends. They find the music too intrusive. Being watched as we eat can also be a turn-off.

Even so, many restaurants offer music to add to the dining experience; ghazals, popular film songs or pop, jazz, country western, etc. A book by Charles Spence of Oxford University, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, announces that music can make our food taste better. It lists many findings, like patrons rate the quality of pasta and pizza higher when listening to Italian Opera. No wonder that a large number of eateries worldwide play recorded music or the radio. Several other restaurants feature even just a guitar or piano played live. There are even restaurants like The Lounge at Mumbai’s National Sports Club of India, where a grand piano is played live, not by a human being, but by a programmed chip. You may hear a good tune and go want to thank the pianist. You will find the keys being pressed down to play the tune, but won’t find anyone sitting on the stool, or any hand doing the playing. This can seem quite spooky!

Back to live music bands which have been around for as long as one can remember, in spite of their detractors. Excluding restaurants and bars that feature cabarets and other dance acts, New York City leads the world with 1500 eateries which feature live music every day. Tokyo has less than 700 such performers. Mumbai clocks in at around 200, and Delhi is behind that figure.

In Mumbai, the Bar at Bombay Gymkhana features a live piano, as does The Yacht Club near the Taj. The Taj itself features a live piano played unobtrusively at the Sea Lounge. Further south on the seafront from the Taj, find the Radio Club, whose bar can turn you into a gagged zombie on Wednesday nights. Such music-as-you-dine places are dotted in many places on our land.

Several musicians have played instruments or sung live in restaurants down the years. Chic Chocolate, who composed amazing songs like Aa teri tasweer bana loon (Talat/Nadaan, 1951), and Koi dard hamaara kya samjhe (Lata/Rangili, 1952), besides playing his awesome trumpet in hundreds of songs, ran an orchestra for years in the Apollo Room of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. Francisco Casanovas who composed Hemant Kumar’s Wo aankh se pila gaye and Jab chaand mera nikla (besides arranging dozens of tunes), played in a band in The Grand Hotel, Calcutta. Biddu sang and played the guitar in Venice restaurant, at Astoria Hotel, Churchgate, Bombay, before going on to international stardom for composing Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye (Nazia Hasan), and Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas). Not far from Venice was a place called Talk of the Town, where Usha Uthup belted out songs for years. She is famous for singing I love you (with Asha in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971), and Ramba ho Samba ho (Armaan, 1981). It is here that Louis Banks played the keyboard and sang away, after having done so at Hindustan Hotel in Calcutta. Among his achievements is his arrangement of the music in Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. The gifted Manohari Singh was Louis Banks’ first cousin; he not only graced hundreds of songs with his euphonious saxophone, flute and mandolin, but also composed songs such as Aa humsafar pyaar ki sej par (Kishore, Lata/Chatpati, 1983) and Dono ke dil hain majboor pyaar se (Lata, Jagjit Singh, non-film), along with his partner Basu Chakravarty. For years did Manohari Singh play the sax, trumpet and flute at the prestigious Firpo’s restaurant in Calcutta. The pianist who put Hindi film songs into instrumental orbit, Brian Silas, played for years at the Dum Pukht restaurant at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton. There have been many others.

Consider these songs where a person was seen singing in a restaurant. Not dancing and singing, because that becomes a story of song and dance. If the patrons themselves dance, that’s ok 🙂

  • Koi kisi ka deewaana na bane (Lata/Sargam, 1950)
  • Mere man ki dhadkan mein koi naache ta ta thai thai (Manna Dey/Hamdard, 1953)
  • Dil chhed koi aisa naghma (Lata/Inspector, 1956)
  • Kaun ye aaya mehfil mein (Rafi/Dil Deke Dekho, 1959)
  • Koi sone ke dil waala (Rafi/Maya, 1961)
  • Ajnabi tum jaane pehchaane se lagte ho (Kishore/Hum Sab Ustad Hain, 1965)
  • Aage bhi jaane na tu (Asha/Waqt, 1965)
  • Rut jawaan jawaan raat meherbaan (Bhupinder Singh/Aakhri Khat, 1967)
  • Hai preet jahaan ki reet sada (Mahendra/Purab Aur Pashchim, 1970)

Not all restaurants can afford live musicians. A restaurant in Madrid, Spain has been in the news for charging patrons during breakfast and lunch, then giving away free meals to the poor at dinner. They have named themselves, not inappropriately, Robin Hood restaurant, even if they don’t actually rob the rich to pay the poor. While lunch tables are booked for months, the place still cannot afford live music. That is unromantic to some, so a message outside says you can sing inside, as long as you don’t disturb the others. After such a meal, maybe the deprived diners sing Hasta Manana, a popular ABBA song, in Spanish meaning see you tomorrow.


Featured image on top: Naqi Jahan and Bhupinder Singh in Rut jawaan jawaan

originally published in DNA Jaipur 12 August 2018 page 11

14 thoughts on “Live Music While You Eat

  1. Manek – “My life is an open book” – rings true in your case as every Sunday we turn the page to a riveting new chapter in that book! Loved this one too. Understanding human behaviour in the presence of food, music and musicians and drawing multiple conclusions. ..kya kehne! I certainly enjoy the combination, and yes, the meal does taste better 🙂 Am partial to the piano so shall head for the ‘spooky’ one when in Mumbai ? Didn’t know of so many reputed musicians and singers performing in various restaurants in our metros. The only one we’ve seen live is Brian Silas on the piano and that too at a condolence meet.
    Aap yun hi likhte rahein, blessed rahein ?

    1. Madhur, thanks! Partial to the piano…many of us are, something so unobtrusively charming about it, at least at a distance. But if it’s Simi going ye kaun aaya, or Rajendra Kumar singing Tumse izhar e haal kar baitthe…but even Neil Sedaka 🙂

  2. The two great arts music and cuisines are so interrelated that former can inspire a chef to add a musical sound to his dish. Clinking of glasses for wine or Vice versa some olfactory or visual sense can initiate a musical classic. But having them together is just not acceptable. It’s like insulting either or both and that to the cost of other. Bhupinder in the above clip is singing his heart out but not one smile from one person present there. Incidentally Bhupinder sang in the beginning of his career at Haveli (now known as Varq) Taj Mansingh, Delhi. It however works in a casinos where many things are happening at the same time. The only place I found it doing roaring business is Paris. Moulin Rouge is a living legend for the same which has been hosting non stop musical shows and serving some of the best wines and food. I think their staff is specially trained to satiate the hunger of their clients at exactly right time for food as well as music. Excellent take on eating habits

    1. Oh wow, didn’t know about Bhupinder singing in Varq, now Taj Mansingh, great! But I found one line even more interesting: “…where many things are happening at the same time” 🙂 That leaves much to the imagination doc 🙂

  3. ac”Culinary & Musical Pathway to Social Psychology”…probably Title of a Textbook to be taught to prospective Psychiatrists-authored by Manek Premchand.What you say about the various ‘Personas’ we wear according to time ,clime,and location,is something I too have understood or have had drummed into my ears,by parents,spouse and now kids.
    Probably because what I am,an incorrigible ‘Heart over Head’,fellow,I’m soon caught out,in the act of ‘flexing my muscles’,trying to look,tough and aloof;there ends my act;I think I’m at least translucent if not transparent.The translucency has been studiously cultured bit by bit ,over the years I’ve lived,to be able to ‘Conform’ to the demands of society.
    This was blurted out,prompted by today’s article.Manek would’ve been a good Psycho-Analyst had he deigned to be one.
    Another useful task accomplished this Sunday. Reading the article,I mean.

    1. You sing well, you write well, and you film events well, as you yourself bob up and down, uncontrolled and unbridled…yes you are a heart over head man Dr, and I admire that _()_ 🙂

  4. Lots of dots here and you connect them with ease. Your essay brings to mind a recent trip to Kansas City and dinner at a restaurant with live Jazz music, my favorite. The food was … okay, I guess; the music was lovely but the best part was the expression on the cellist’s face. Completely connected to the instrument he was; I couldn’t take my eyes away!
    Loved the info. The “invisible pianist” – is that new? Sounds a little creepy, in a fascinating sort of way.
    The best part about the essay was the trivia about the musicians! Manohari Singh and Louis Banks related to each other? Wow!
    And Robin Hood restaurant sounds fascinating! Now, I’m assuming you read this somewhere? Like we all do – we read, we say a silent wow! and move on. And forget.
    You take strange, odd, disparate bits of news and weave them into your stories like they were always meant to be there! On a weekly basis, too.
    You have your readers completely spoiled, you know.
    Stay blessed, Manek.

    1. Thanks Monica, coming from you, such a seasoned traveller, and gifted writer _()_

      Yes I read it last year and revisited the write up now. Have never been to Spain, I know Zindagi na milegi dobaara…so must see it once, and that Tomato Festival too 🙂

  5. There is a silsila song… kahan aa gaye hum, yuhin sath chalate chalate. hum to aap ke saath chal rahe hain, follow kar rahe hain…agale itwar ko kahan pahuchenge, pata nahi. par jahan bhi pahuchenge, wo kitab ka aik naya panna hoga. Manek, a serious question : are you not scared that you will run out of topics one day ? I guess no, for you have an uncanny ability to create a narrative just drawing upon an apparently innocuous idea, just a half suggestion. Songs played / sung while one eats… enough food for thought for the day ! An absolutely out of the box thinking. Super. Brilliant

    Scratching when one is alone…. one of the bonuses of being alone. But in UP, they scratch in public and that too their respective private parts – some by habit and some to demonstrate their masculinity …… main bhi muh mein jabaan rakhata hoon ! However, scratching presupposes an itch or a notion of an itch. I guess, the seven year itch, in some cases, alludes to the latter !


    1. “But in UP, they scratch in public and that too their respective private parts”…Vijay I am laughing now, that word respective…how else if not their own private parts? 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Manekbhai,

    i like the choice of subjects you make and also your unique way of connecting it various other things and from somewhere bring it back so beautifully. 🙂

    Open Book waalaa googhly achhaa lagaa – aapney bahuthonkee pol kholdee – ha ha ha – idhar mai – gir girkey has rahaa hoon. Open book my foot. 🙂

    Bhau, it totally depends on the intelligent choices we make when it comes to the Restaurant we visit. Depending on one’s moods, he / she chooses a place to eat – may be dine and dance too. 🙂

    A music lover infact has gone there cause he wants accompaniment of music as he eats. He / She eats better with music and song and would even make a song request. 🙂

    I have visited the City of New Orleans ( Missouri / Mississippi ) USA – god knows how many times ( almost my home port ) – the birth place of ” JAZZ ” and i would park myself at one of the most famous centralised – restaurant – with resounding scintilating JAZZ -whilst guzzling Beer and a Bite too. 🙂

    Every visit – I would have spent all my time that evening ( 4 to 5 hours ) whilst others from the Ship would have been busy shopping in Super Malls – now all this in the late 70’s.

    Eating as you listen to music and song is a considered choice and is never a hindrance but a pleasure. 🙂

    Lovely article Bhau – Stay Blessed – 🙂

    1. I made a single visit to New Orleans and was overcome by fear RNK, God knows why. rushed back to Houston where I was anchored for a while…would have loved to down a beer with you, hear some jazz too 🙂

  7. Lovely piece, Manek, but thats your established standard now! Now quite a few restaurants give away food to the poor in Mumbai and Bengaluru.
    Incidentally did I miss seeing In your list the inimitable Aaiye meherbaan sung so beautifully by Madhubala at the mike?
    Well done, another week, another delicious n musical treat!

    1. Thanks Teacher Amma, thanks_()_ 🙂 No, Aiye meherbaan was a grey area, coz she does as if dance a bit, so didn’t want flak 🙂

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