Listen to this track by Preston-based multi-cultural, multi-genre concern Cornershop. It’s “Brimful of Asha” as re-mixed by Norman Cook, who heard the original track, made his mix, which then became a number one. The original track appears on the 1997 album When I Was Born For The Seventh Time. This version of the song hit the charts in February of 1998, becoming in the minds of many, the definitive version.
In many ways, “Brimful of Asha” is a prime candidate to display the state of things in 1990s where British pop/rock music was concerned. For one thing, it’s remixed version is a clear example of how dance music, and guitar-bass-drums rock music could live together quite happily without the seams showing, and without it looking like a cynical marketing move. Norman Cook re-mixed it because he loved the original source material.
This song touches on a number of cultural crossings besides, with the intermingling of genres being one example.
For instance, this song is named after Asha Bhosle, a playback singer of some reknown in India, specifically for Bollywood films. With an infusion of pan-cultural influence, the vocabulary of pop writing was an open frontier in the ’90s in Britain. And maybe too, it showed that the cultural vocabulary in British pop music makers expanding at the time was the result of an audience that was ready for it. Of course, this is all besides the point. It wouldn’t have worked unless it was tuneful, and catchy, which it certainly is.
I think one of the things that hooks a listener is that the lyrics are celebratory, and kind of weird too. “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow” was on everyone’s lips when this record hit number one. But, no one I knew really understood it, least of all me. But, it was one of those things that just struck me, and others, as a radical and powerful statement. It was like a statement of unity, binding us all together no matter which cultural background we happened to come out of.
This is all helped along by the music, of course. Even without Norman Cook’s cool breakbeats and squiggly lines that made this such an effervescent single that seemed especially potent when on the dancefloor, it has a great central riff that is instantly recognizable. It’s simple, yet effective, like all the best pop music. There was a lot to be cynical about in the ’90s, with new tools like the Internet and its effect on mass media to make us see that our world can be a small and violent place. But, this song made it feel like we could overcome, just by hearing the opening riff that was a signal to stop what we were doing, and to get ready to dance instead.
Cornershop are a going concern even today. Check out the Cornershop website to learn more about them.