After 26 years, I found the song

Gerald Yelle
Guest Columnist

Between 1984 and 1993 I used the tape deck attached to my tuner to record songs I heard on the radio onto cassettes –I guess this is the origin of the term mixtape. At one point I lived in a small efficiency apartment in Springfield, MA, a city with some powerful radio stations, but I was also able to pull in WPLR, about fifty miles away in New Haven, a station I’d stumbled on at some point in my youth growing up in Holyoke.

When you listen to stations as far away as fifty miles, you deal with static –something I have a high tolerance for, much to my wife’s chagrin, having grown up in transistor radio days. It’s not that I like static, but if something comes on that I want to hear, I’ll put up with a bit of static. And WPLR, being a bit more progressive than even some of the local college stations, and being so far away and therefore somewhat exotic, was worth checking out.

One evening in 1989 I was listening to a program of Indian music on WPLR called “Gitangili.” I pressed the record button just as this long, strange, eight-minute piece of percussive singsong, complete with conversational back and forth between male and female lead singers, came on. There was a playful, celebratory tone to the whole thing, with what sounded like a chorus of children. I had never heard anything like it. Unfortunately, I ended the recording before the DJ said who was singing or what it was called.

In the mid-nineties, I scoured Napster for Hindi and Bollywood files in a search for a cleaner copy of this song. I tried searching based on some of the lyrics I thought I’d heard, and I found things that were interesting, but I never found what I was looking for. I thought about playing the tape for Indian acquaintances and neighbors and asking if they could identify it, but I felt that would be gauche.

I bought a CD burner sometime around the turn of the century and found a way to convert some of my mixtapes to CD. My tape deck was getting old, and the playback quality was deteriorating, plus the car I had now played CDs, but not cassettes. A few weeks ago I was playing the CD that had the piece in question on it, and just for the hell of it I asked my son if he had the app that identifies song titles and artists of music your phone “hears.”

“I don’t know, he said. “It sounds a little old.” But he gave it a shot anyway, and lo and behold came up with an answer: “Chanda Mama Mere Dwar Aana - Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey - LAJWANTI.” I copied it down and went to Google. Not only is it something you can find on Google, there’s actually an eight minute YouTube clip that plays the whole thing.