When an operatic Soprano breaks into a Rumba, with bits of Spaghetti Western and Bollywood rhythms going along for the ride, it unhinges the listener, to say the least. Bombay Rickey is a Brooklyn-based quintet gathering their love of disparate musical styles and twisting them into a unique sound. Lead singer Kamala Sankaram is a fan of Yma Sumac, an exotica singer in the 1950’s, whose high-pitched warble either enlightened listeners or sent them scurrying out of the room. Sankaram informs her own singing oft channeling Sumac’s style.
Bombay Rickey’s new album Cinefonia is a collection of operatic singing, jazz, Bollywood beats, Cumbia, film noir soundscapes, surf rock, and then some. They are quite witty and talented enough to pull it off with panache, creating twisted songs. Their music may be considered a muddled mishmash in some circles, while the musically adventurous will dig the vibes, dance along or simply grab a cocktail and swing along.
The band features Kamala Sankaram (vocals, accordion); Drew Fleming (guitar, vocals); Jeff Hudgins (alto saxophone, vocals); Gil Smuskowitz (upright bass); and Brian Adler (percussion). All are longtime NY musicians who have also worked with eclectic artists including John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Chicha Libre, Philip Glass Ensemble and Alarm Will Sound.
Sankaram is trained in Western Classical music and a student of Hindustani music. She also writes and performs her own operas and performance pieces and is also a cartoon voice-over actress.
“As a performer, I always liked singing different styles of music, and had the ability to do them justice. I can also make weird noises,” Sankaram explains in a press release. “Earlier in my career, when I was doing more new music, I had a straight tone, clean and precise, no vibrato. I was never hired for pop or opera. Then I got known for opera and wasn’t hired for other things. I needed something where I can use everything.”
Among the songs on the record, there’s a cover of the Asha Bhosle classic “Dum Maro Dum,” the hipster tune “Pondicherry Surf Goddess,” and a song channeling Cumbia called “El Final del Pachanga.” “Bombay 5-0” is a trippy take on Hawaii 5-0 while “Taki Rari” is sung in what Sankaram calls Pidgin Spanish, with undecipherable words, much like Yma Sumac’s undecipherable warble. Bombay Rickey’s world is a land where R.D. Burman and Ennio Morricone compete for the affections of Yma. Yeah it’s all a bit freaky, but it works well.