The Swiss Connection

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd

Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay ee oo!

Loud was the voice of the lonely goatherd

Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo!

Folks in a town that was quite remote heard

Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay ee oo!

Lusty and clear from the goatherd’s throat heard

Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo!

That was Julie Andrews with a few children in The Sound Of Music, singing in Salzburg, near the Austrian Alps. As is clear from the words, this famous song also featured yodelling, a musically vocal call that began in the Swiss Alps, to bring cows, goats and sheep into a fold, but also as a basic way of communication between people on peaks, helped as hill ranges are by echoes. This stentorian form went on to become part of the traditional music of the entire Alpine region, which means Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland.

But a few people don’t think yodelling began in Europe. They assert it all started in the jungles of Africa. Those who were raised on a generation of Tarzan movies, especially the ones starring Johnny Weissmuller, would remember the actor standing high on a mountain and howling his savage yodel cry, which can be written as “Aa ee aa ee aaaa ee aa ee aaaa!” Weissmuller was wearing a loincloth too, though by the time he began wearing that garb, in 1932, the loincloth idea had already been Press-Conferenced internationally by another luminary, Mahatma Gandhi, at the Second Round Table Conference, in London in 1931.

But if there is disagreement about the origins of yodelling, there isn’t any about the art and science behind it. Yodelling is a vocal art which engages with rapid changes in pitch between the head register and chest register, without the use of words that have meaning. It involves singing which shuttles quickly from a natural pitch to falsetto, which is a very high pitch. If you take a voiceprint of a yodel, the sharp highs and lows graphically resemble the topography of a range of mountains, with its peaks and valleys.

Unfortunately, there is also society’s assessment about the worth of yodelling, with most people seeing it as an unimportant singing form, and trivializing it in their thoughts. Says Bart Plantenga, in his book Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo Around the World: “That no one has ever written a book about yodelling is testimony to the fact that it has seldom been seen as anything but some annoying, kitschy, baroque decorative quirk akin to either white-trash nasal twangs or some pompous Germanic arias punctuated by transvestite falsettos”.

Even so, there have been many people who have made careers out of singing this form, especially in America. Danny Kaye is famous for many yodelling songs. The DeZurik sisters of USA were very popular too, in the middle years of the 20th century, primarily for their yodelling. Jimmie Rodgers was yet another famous yodeller.

While this singing genre from Switzerland has become popular in many countries, yodelling is not taken seriously in India. There is also another thing so very Swiss, which we do not take seriously, and that is punctuality. If someone says he’ll meet you at 5 p.m., most likely he will show up at 5, and not at 5.05, or even 4.55. It’s a way of showing respect for others. At home, we’re not even sure the man will turn up at all. Swiss trains have a reputation for being bang on time over 96% of the time. When they run late, it’s just by a few minutes. Compare that now by checking at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, for trains on the Central Railway network. Less than 50% upcountry trains arrive on time, many typically running hours late. Welcome to India’s oldest railhead.

In this difficult milieu were born two of the greatest singers India produced, each imbibing something identified with Switzerland. One was Mohammad Rafi, whose obsession with punctuality was legendary. It is said that you could set your watch by his arrival. The other was Kishore Kumar, who did some extraordinary work in yodelling over the decades that he was singing. It is also interesting to remember that in punctuality, Rafi had very little national company, just as in yodelling, Kishore had no peers at home.

It’s a good moment now, to recall some of the many songs that have featured Kishore in this singing form in our films.

  • Aati hai yaad humko Janvary-Farvary (Kishore, Asha/Muqaddar, 1950)
  • Ek do teen chaar (Kishore, Asha/Muqaddar, 1950) (Both yodel)
  • Kachchi-pakki sadkon pe meri tum-tum chali jaaye (Kishore/Pyaar, 1950)
  • Hum aur tum donon rahen ek saath (Shamshad, Kishore/Naujawaan, 1951)
  • Ye sama hum-tum jawaan (Kishore, Meena Kapoor/Mashooqa, 1953)
  • Tikdambaazi…miyaan raazi bibi raazi (Kishore/Adhikaar, 1954)
  • Daal kaise gale jab ke joota chale (Kishore/Baap Re Baap, 1955)
  • Piya piya piya mera jiya pukaare (Asha, Kishore/Baap Re Baap, 1955)
  • Nakhre waali (Kishore/New Delhi, 1956)
  • Aaj na jaane paagal manwa kaahe ko ghabraaye (Kishore/Begunah, 1957)
  • Surma mera niraala (Kishore/Kabhi Andhera Kabhi Ujala, 1958)
  • Baabu samjho ishaare (Kishore, Manna Dey/Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
  • Haal kaisa hai janaab ka (Kishore, Asha/Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
  • Main sitaaron ka taraana (Kishore, Asha/Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, 1958)
  • Such such such, o dear such such (Kishore/Bewaqoof, 1960)
  • Ye hai jeevan ki rail (Kishore/Mehlon Ke Khwaab, 1960)
  • Bhola-bhola man mera kahe re sajan (Kishore, Asha/Jhumroo, 1961)
  • Main hoon jhum jhum jhum jhum Jhumroo (Kishore/Jhumroo, 1961)
  • Thandi hawa ye chaandni suhaani (Kishore/Jhumroo, 1961)
  • Ye dil na hota bechaara (Kishore/Jewel Thief, 1967)
  • Tum bin jaoon kahaan (Kishore/Pyaar Ka Mausam, 1969)
  • Ye shaam mastaani (Kishore/Kati Patang, 1970)
  • Zindagi ik safar hai suhaana (Kishore, Hema Malini/Andaaz, 1971)
  • Gussa itna haseen hai to pyaar kaisa hoga (Kishore/Maryada, 1971)
  • Bhor aayi gaya andhiyaara (Manna Dey, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Kishore, Laxmi Shankar, Nirmala Devi/Bawarchi, 1972)
  • Dekha na haaye re socha na (Kishore/Bombay To Goa, 1972)
  • Chala jaata hoon kisi ki dhun mein (Kishore/Mere Jeevan Saathi, 1972)
  • Hum wo hain jo do aur do paanchh bana den (Kishore/Do Aur Do Paanchh, 1980)

 Honourable mention is due to singers who displayed courage by attempting this form of music expression in Kishoreland:

  • Door-door se kya jaata (Bela Mukherji, Ravi/Bahu, 1955) (Ravi yodels)
  • Unse ripi-tipi ho gayi (Rafi, Geeta/Agra Road, 1957) (Rafi yodels)
  • Hello sweety seventeen (Rafi, Asha/Doctor Z, 1959) (Rafi yodels)
  • Na maanogi fight karenga (Mahendra, Geeta/Lady Robinhood, 1959) (Mahendra yodels)
  • Picnic mein tik-tik karti (Manna Dey, Geeta/Piya Milan Ki Aas, 1961) (Manna Dey yodels)
  • Zindagi ik safar hai suhaana (Asha/Andaaz, 1971)

There was a song in which the yodelling was credited to Rafi, but in fact it was Surinder Kohli, another singer, who yodelled in the studio, with Rafi singing for Feroz Khan on the screen, Chale ho kahaan kaho, koi dastaan kaho (Anand Bakshi/S. Mohinder/Reporter Raju, 1962).

Rafi and Kishore also sang many songs together, in one of which Kishore yodelled. Mere jaisa naheen milega, went the two along with Madan Mohan, who also composed the tune to the lyrics of Rajinder Krishan. The 1956 film was called 50-50. Perhaps that’s also the score the two singers end up with—Even Stevens—all things considered, including their Swiss connection.


(Photos: Top, Haal kaisa hai janaab ka; above, Thandi hawa ye chaandni suhaani)

Originally published: 1st January 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *