Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha" is in many ways the perfect pop puzzle.
On the one hand, there's something wonderfully hypnotic about its blend of droning guitar, funky drums and orchestral sweetening. Crank it up on the stereo, and the simple, repetitive groove this British quintet generates is so gut-level catchy that it's hard to hear the song without wanting to play it again.
On the other, its lyric is nothing if not mystifying. What's an Asha? How much Asha does it take to make a brimful? And what on earth is singer Tjinder Singh saying at the beginning of the single?
"We didn't compromise in any way when we did the song," allows Ben Ayres, the group's guitarist and tambour player, over the phone from London. "It is quite a difficult song to put forward to people, because it's not obvious what it's about and stuff.
"I mean, 'Asha' refers to Asha Bhosle, an Indian singer who's mainly sung overdubs [for] actresses on films. Hence Tjinder's line '. . . behind movie screens,' because he envisaged her singing behind the movie screen."
But the song itself isn't really about Bhosle. "It's about the seven-inch 45 vinyl record, and the joy that it can bring," says Ayres. "Particularly when you stack a whole load of them on an old '70s-style record player, where they fall down one-by-one."
OK, so it's kind of a convoluted story. Even Ayres admits that. But so what? Even with Singh spouting Punjabi (an Indian language) during the intro, the song remained accessible enough to have become a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
"Well this is one of the things that we've been quite happy with," says Ayres. "That song has been really successful over here. It went to No. 1 in the singles chart."
Ayres credits that success to the fact that most people like the TC sound and mood of Cornershop's Indian-influenced music, and don't worry much about what the words might mean. "We often see lyrics as potentially being another instrument," he says. "We think it's entirely possible for people to appreciate and like and understanding songs on a feeling level, without actually understand word-for-word what it means.
"It's nice for people to have their own interpretation about what something might mean, whether it's sung in Punjabi or English, you know?"
Granted, a combination of English and Punjabi is a bit more common in their native Britain, where, says Ayres, "the Indian population is quite visible, not least in the fact that curry is now more or less the national dish. It has far outstripped the traditional fish and chips."
Perhaps that's why Cornershop hesitates to define itself as simply a British band. "Obviously, we're coming from England, because that's where we've all grown up," says Ayres. "Tjinder's family background from India and his experience with that whole area is a really important aspect, in terms of his songwriting and some of the instrumentation.
"But the bottom line is, we see ourselves in terms of an international band, and we don't ever think that we're just playing to England. We see it completely internationally."
When: Tonight 9 p.m., doors at 8 p.m.
Call: (410) 481-7328 for tickets, (410) 563-7220 for information
To hear excerpts from Cornershop's new release, "When I Was Born for the 7th Time," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6117. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.
Pub Date: 5/28/98