Russia's greatest love machine

Boney M: Still thumping the dance floor in the subcontinent.

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 16, 2007 11:46PM (EST)

Somewhere, someone has written the definitive dissertation explaining why the German-produced '70s disco band Boney M is still popular in India. I just know this has to be true. But I can't find it. Damn you, Internet, how could you betray me so?

Kamla Bhatt's blog links today to a hilarious YouTube video of an Indian actress, Anuradha Menon, aka Lola Kutty, and friends, lip-syncing their way through a medley of classic Boney M tunes, including "Rivers of Babylon," "Daddy Cool" and "Ma Baker." The tribute gains even more ironic resonance when one considers that Boney M originally consisted of four West Indians who danced and (mostly) lip-synced while German producer Frank Farian (later famous for engineering the Milli Vanilli debacle) sang lead vocals. If you can find me a more postmodern pastiche of globalization than a bunch of Keralan Indians pretending to be West Indians while the original German-singing-in-English vocal track plays, well, I will salute you. Crazy Zim and BoyMongoose, take a seat.

Unlike their fellow '70s disco counterparts from overseas, the BeeGees and Abba, Boney M never conquered the United States. Perhaps their camp risquéness made more straitlaced Americans uncomfortable (though the Village People would seem to refute that theory). More likely, the brilliance of such songs as "Rasputin" --

RA RA RASPUTIN
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
RA RA RASPUTIN
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

-- simply went right over the head of coked-out music lovers unaccustomed to references to debauched Russian charlatans who were instrumental in toppling the Tsarist regime intermixed with their thudding dance-floor beats.

But Boney M were hugely popular all over the rest of the world, selling 800 million albums, and seem to have especially struck a chord in South Asia. Why? Why is there never a disco-loving cultural anthropologist around when you need her?


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works India