Manohari Singh: Saxophonist who made his instrument central to Bollywood scores

The Hindi film industry, centred on Bombay, has given birth to a form of popular music that is global in its popularity, penetration and influence. The importance of song to the success of a Bollywood film cannot be overstated but, while the industry's "music directors" (composers) and playback singers are celebrities in their own right, very few of the session musicians who record the instrumentals ever become known by name.

Manohari Singh was a rare exception and recorded under his own name, including one album inevitably titled Sax Appeal. His saxophone solo in "Mehbooba Mehbooba" from Bollywood's biggest-grossing film of all time, the "curry western" Sholay (1975) is every bit as well-remembered as Raphael Ravenscroft's saxophone in Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street".

"Mehbooba Mehbooba" was composed and sung by Rahul Dev Burman and until Burman's death in 1994, Singh continued to complement the Sholay composer, feeding and realising his musical visions in the studio and in concert. Their last completed project together was the posthumous hit 1942: A Love Story (1994).

The month before Singh's death he joined Burman's widow, the playback star Asha Bhosle, on Indian Idol 5 for a Burman-themed special. Singh's contributions went further than being part of Burman's crack team of musicians and sound recordists. Asha Bhosle explained: "Manohari could play a song in a different key without rewriting the notation. He knew every music part of thousands of songs by heart. [He had a] phenomenal memory."

Historically in India, the saxophone had been largely associated with military and brass bands or western-style music, although the emergence of Kadri Gopalnath in the late 1970s made it more familiar to Indian audiences. Singh came to the saxophone as it was one of the instruments that his father played in Calcutta police bands. He also learned the western flute – often called "key flute" to distinguish it from the bansuri or bamboo flute – and mandolin.

A versatile performer, Singh played with the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra and in jazz combos before moving, at music director Salil Chowdhury's suggestion, to Bombay in 1958. His big break came with Sachin Dev Burman's music for that year's Sitaron Se Aage. Sessions for other top-notch music directors such as Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan and OP Nayyar followed. Early acclaim came with his sinuous melodic hook for the duet in "Tumhe Yaad Hoga Kabhi Hum Mile The" from Satta Bazaar (1959). Inevitably, he got to know SD Burman's son Rahul, eight years his junior, and so the seeds of a remarkable working relationship were sown.

Singh was renowned for being able to play whatever was put on his music stand and he was also adept at improvising. He remained in demand into his 70s, contributing, for example, to Chalte Chalte (2003) and Veer Zaara (2004).





Manohari Singh, musician: born Calcutta 8 March 1931; died Mumbai 13 July 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: Physics Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...

Recruitment Genius: Case Manager - Occupational Therapist / Physiotherapist

£28000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee