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From the cover of 'Abb Mein Vengaboy'

The crackpot who's
actually a jackpot

Baba Sehgal is a warm subversive talent. Like Salman Rushdie, he picks up speech idiosyncrasies to bring his characters to instant life

Abb Mein Vengaboy
Baba Sehgal
Rs 50

Baba Sehgal loves comical exaggeration. He exaggerates everything -- from the popular idea of love to Michael Jackson's squeal to the 'glory' of Benaras paan -- till they look so utterly, hopelessly absurd. That calls for a warm, mischievous talent.

His sense of the burlesque comes through in videos like Manjula, which was on the music channels a couple of years ago. In it he is a cranky scientist trying to create in a laboratory his dream girl, but his chemical compounds go wrong and he ends up with a scary skeleton!

Baba Sehgal gleefully plays the clown, and although he may not show the cutting philosophical edge of the Shakespearean fool, he can still poke fun at many totems of modern-day life.

In his latest album, he calls himself a Vengaboy in self-mockery and mimics pop singing. He dons various other avatars too -- cricket commentator, paanwala, bhangra singer, rapper...

The astonishing thing is that Baba Sehgal has written the lyrics, composed the music, arranged and recorded it ... "Virgin Records often joked about my programming with my left hand, engineering with my right and singing simultaneously," he admits. You can make out he enjoys these role swaps.

Take the imitation he does of Michael Jackson in Haiya ho, haiya ho, Benaras ki jai jaiya ho. "Oow, I love this paan, oow, I love Benaras, oow", Baba says, in the trademark squeal of 'Whacko Jacko'. He turns a cricket match into delightful farce. It's an India v/s West Indies match, the first ball is bowled, but hey, where's Lara? He is found somewhere chewing paan with Baba Sehgal and exclaiming "What a paan, maan!" All of which gives our former electrical engineer an opportunity to do a mock commentary and mimic Michael Jackson and Lara.

Baba Sehgal's keen ear catches the way people use language. Like Salman Rushdie, he employs speech idiosyncrasies to caricature his characters into instant life.

Venga venga boy is a comical self-description on an engaging dance track. Look at his zany rhymes: Kabhi I look like Jackie Chan, and kabhi mein Amitabh Bachchan/ Karo meri pratiksha, I am coming in autorickshaw/ They call me crackpot, but check out I am a jackpot. Inakshi Singh's seductive voice represents an adulatory cheerleader.

The two bhangra songs are jugalbandis between two selves of Baba Sehgal. Masti aani aani features a sparring duo of a bhangra singer and a rapper. Baba Sehgal sings the bhangra with its characteristic graces, and then puts on a convent-school accent for the rap bits.

Rapper: Tu geet punjabi gakar kyon bore karta hai, thoda rap kar... The bhangra singer swipes back at the rapper's hairstyle, and cautions him that too much rap spoils the sur! Baba Sehgal is capable of expressing, in comic-book style, the great East-West conflict!

The other bhangra number, Yaara dil daara is more conventional but it has its share of fun lyrics.

In the stylish Pyar de do pyar le lo Rajesh Iyer sings alaps and sargams on a heavy beat. The song might talk of spreading love around, but how!

Thoda left pyar de do, thoda right pyar de do.

That is Baba Sehgal's satirical vision all over again!

Authentic rock and roll follows in Ooh baby baby. The electric guitar bits (Michael) and the funky voice singing Easy distil the essence of the style and yet the song manages to remain so self-consiously ironical.

Meri jaanoo is a take-off on the gangsta rap songs of the Afro-Americans. An alap in raga Sivaranjani by Rajesh Iyer provides the backdrop as the song describes the deceit of the lover.

Want to know what Baba Sehgal's version of world music sounds like? Listen to Ai yai yai yo. It has African drums and chants, Latin-sounding bits, Hindi-English lyrics and a south Indian wail for the refrain. Why a wail? Well, that's the effect of seeing that special girl... what else can you expect from this cheeky songwriter who writes, Dil ka candle jala jao?!

S Suchitra Lata

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