March 10, 2007 / 12:27 AM / 12 years ago

Foreign musicians ride coattails of Indian stars

NEW DELHI (Billboard) - More bhangra means more bucks — that’s the mantra for a growing number of international acts targeting the emerging Indian market via associations with local stars.

British singer Robbie Williams — a global superstar everywhere outside the United States — is the latest international artist to boost his profile on the subcontinent via a remix project featuring iconic “Bollywood” vocalist Asha Bhosle. Two tracks from Williams’ back catalog — “Rock DJ” and “Better Man” — were released exclusively as mobile downloads in late January, priced at 20 rupees (45 cents) each.

The tracks are also being used in TV commercials for Sony Ericsson’s new Walkman mobile phones, which come with the tracks preloaded, and EMI India says the remixes may end up on a Bollywood movie soundtrack.

No sales figures are yet available, but insiders expect the TV exposure to fuel sales. Leading Mumbai-based Bollywood soundtrack composer Shameer Tandon, who composed and produced Bhosle’s contribution, says, “This meeting of cultures definitely widens the audience for a foreign artist.”

Mumbai-based EMI Records India managing director Suresh Thangiah expects the remixes to also boost Williams’ album sales. The tracks’ original versions were included on Williams’ 2000 album “Sing When You’re Winning,” which the label says has sold close to 20,000 copies in India. Williams’ latest album, “Rudebox,” is certified gold in India, topping 10,000 sales since its October 2006 release.

Traditionally, international acts have found it difficult to make headway in India. Local repertoire accounted for 93% of sales in 2005, according to London-based record industry trade group IFPI, the last year for which figures are available. Bollywood dominates sales, with best-selling soundtracks regularly shifting in excess of 500,000 units.

Experts say the current trend of foreign artists working with Bollywood started in 2004 when British boy band Blue collaborated with Indian male pop vocalist Shaan on a remix of their “One Love” track, which was used on the soundtrack to Bollywood film “Rakht” (T-Series). Industry sources estimate the album has sold 200,000 copies.

Another Indian success story is Shakira, whose Bollywood-inspired performance of “Hips Don’t Lie” at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards in New York was produced by leading Bollywood choreographer/director Farah Khan, and attracted huge publicity in India after a broadcast on VH1.

Mumbai-based wholesaler Pritam Music director Aslam Lilani says demand from regional retailers rose 25% for Shakira’s album “Oral Fixation: Vol. 2” as a result, with a further boost expected from her similar performance at the Grammy Awards, broadcast in India on the Star World channel. The album has now sold 80,000 units, according to her Sony BMG India label.

Nelly Furtado recently appeared in Mumbai with Bollywood stars at a 15,000-capacity New Year’s Eve gig, and has long targeted the Indian market via remix collaborations with Montreal-based Indian duo Josh.

Mumbai-based Universal Music India VP of associate marketing Sunil D’Sa attributes Furtado’s Indian success to her re-edits of videos for “Powerless” and “Maneater” that feature Josh’s remixed versions. He notes that Indian radio stations seldom feature international repertoire, “so having a video is very important, since television has a much bigger impact.”

Reuters/Billboard

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