Rupa’s Proto-Balearic Bengali Beats

A Metafilter post from a fortnight ago, which went over well.

Despite never having set foot in a nightclub, Rupa Biswas made a Bengali disco album on holiday in Canada in the early 1980s, which sank without trace. Decades later, her son discovered that copies were selling online for hundreds of dollars and that one track in particular had racked up millions of views on YouTube. Now the singer is receiving proceeds from the Numero Group reissue and corresponding with fans around the world.

The story of Rupa’s discovery by Calgary-based musicians looking for a singer to front their blend of traditional Indian instruments and funky grooves (one of whom had worked with George Harrison in the 1960s) is a great tale of serendipity, as is the story of the album’s rediscovery. Pitchfork highlights the role of a German crate-digger, Swedish DJ and American music fan in bringing the album to wider attention in the 2000s and 2010s, not to mention YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. “Moja Bhari Moja” was also used in Miss Lovely, a 2012 Indian art-house movie, which competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and played across India years before Rupa realised that her work had been rediscovered. (It isn’t clear whether the makers of Miss Lovely discovered the track independently or because of the efforts of these others.)

Writing about the album in 2018, music blogger Nate Rabe wondered “whatever happened to Rupa Biswas?”, and the comments thread on his post led him to the answer the following February. Rabe’s interview with Rupa Sen preceded the coverage by the Guardian and Pitchfork, and contains even more detail. At the time Rupa had mixed feelings about the record’s newfound popularity (“no one has asked my permission … even though it is my name, my picture and my voice on the record”). Today, though, she is “overwhelmed and incredibly happy” that her music has found a wider audience.

Rupa is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

4 February 2020 · Music