For many of us growing up in the 80s, the background score to our lives was not a soulful Lata-Rafi duet or a Jagjit Singh ghazal but Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy, Aaja Aaja Aaja. In fact, almost all the songs from 1982’s monster hit Disco Dancer composed by the late, great Bappi Lahiri have acquired a cultural cache that no one could have foreseen for music that rode the disco wave in the West and often openly plagiarised its tunes. But as Jean Luc Goddard said, “it's not where you take things from — it's where you take them to” about originality in art — and it’s indisputable that Bappi-da, whose immensely likeable and meme-able persona will live on forever, took this music to unexpected places, making it accessible to Indian kids living in small towns; making us feel alive and connected to the cultural zeitgeist.
Here are five songs by the composer that have many personal memories associated with them for this 80s kid:
This song from the 1982 hit Namak Halal, sung by Asha Bhosle and pictured on the dazzling Parveen Babi, was a huge hit that remains on all 80s playlists today and will always be played by DJs at dance parties, no matter how many Punjabi rap songs come and go. The rat-tat-tat rhythm of the song, rising to a crescendo and a high-pitched resolution at the end of the chorus without losing its tunefulness is a masterful composition by Bappi-da, and the song lyrics have lent themselves to the titles of at least two recent films that I know of: Jawaani Jaaneman (2020) and Haseen Dilruba (2021).
Kisi Nazar Ko Tera
An unusual song for Bappi in a rare soulful ghazal mode from Aitbaar (1985), sung by Asha Bhosle and Bhupinder Singh, this is a truly graceful composition — which didn’t stop us from mangling it in every Antakshari game we ever played (songs starting with ‘K’ were much in demand).
Yaar Bina Chain Kahan Re
Perhaps the best disco number Bappi — or anyone — ever composed? Sung throatily by S Janaki and Bappi himself, this song with its extended prelude and synth sound has at its core a very hummable tune, and an infectious exuberance and love for life. Although we were mean kids who would make fun of Bappi’s extremely strong Bengali accent – the source of much amusement and some embarrassment – nostalgia has made the same accent endearing today and given the song a distinctiveness that would have been lost if sung by someone with perfect Hindi-Urdu diction.
Ooh La La
The only song on this list that wasn’t composed by Bappi himself but was conceived as a homage to his music by the composer duo Vishal-Shekhar. By the time The Dirty Picture was made in 2011, that trademark Bengali-inflected diction had become cool, as such things are wont to do, and of course Bappi-da had to sing the most popular song of this film score. The song has it all: a memorable tune, a foot-stomping beat and oodles of nostalgia. It also pays an affectionate tribute to the absurdities of 80s Hindi film song-picturisations with their hundreds of backup dancers, oddly period costumes and strange props like matkas, giant tablas and thousands of lemons rolling down a field that we 80s kids tried to valiantly recreate during every school function.
Koi Yahan Aaha Nache Nache
The year: 2010. The time: 2 am. My husband and I, exhausted young parents with a highly energetic toddler, were finally letting our hair down on a Friday night with some friends and a bottle of tequila after the child had been put to bed. Naturally, a few hours into the party, we had to play Disco Dancer songs and dance to them — beginning with making fun of Karan Razdan’s horrendously bad, unintentionally hilarious dancing but ending by having genuine fun with this song sung by the inimitable Usha Uthup and Bappi again. In the middle of all this jollity, I turned around to find the aforementioned toddler standing at the door of her room, staring at us wide-eyed, wondering if her normally sober and responsible parents had gone mad. She probably bears emotional scars from the incident to this day — though to be fair, I did catch her humming Koi Yahaan Aha Nache Nache the other day. It's good to know Bappi-da will be a part of her memories too.