Tuesday 5 May 2020


by Pavlos Andronikos

In Pavan K. Varma’s Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity (Penguin Books India, 2010) it is claimed that the Bollywood composer R. D. Burman copied Demis Roussos’ song “Say You Love Me”.
Even R. D. Burman’s hugely popular number ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ from Sholay is an almost complete copy of ‘Say You Love Me’ by the Greek singer Demis Roussos. [p. 160]

Varma does not seem to be aware that Demis Roussos’ song was an English version of a traditional Greek Cypriot song “Ta Rialia”.[1] This had been popularised by the singer Michalis Violaris, and was to an extent a new folk creation by Violaris based on and inspired by Theodoulos Kallinikos’ transcript of the song “Φωνή Αυκορίτισσα” (Melody, the Girl from Avgorou) in the book  Κυπριακή λαϊκή μούσα (“The Cypriot Folk Muse”, Nicosia, 1951).[2]
“Το τραγούδι αυτό πριν από πολλά χρόνια, το βρήκα πράγματι στο βιβλίο του Θ. Καλλίνικου, και μου άρεσε… Άρχισα να το δουλεύω το 1970, και σιγά σιγά διασκευάζοντάς το, του έδωσα τη μορφή που έχει στον δίσκο...” [3]

(Translation: “I actually found this song many years ago in Th. Kallinikos' book and I liked it… I started working on it in 1970, and, gradually adapting it, I gave it the form it has on the album…”)

It seems Rahul Dev Burman was within his rights in recording an Indian cover of the Greek Cypriot song “Ta Rialia” without permission, and was probably not breaking any copyright laws since the song is credited as traditional by both Michalis Violaris and Demis Roussos. However, the fact that the music of “Mehbooba Mehbooba” is credited solely to Burman as if it were an original composition is, at the very least, somewhat unethical.[4]

One last point: in my opinion Michalis Violaris was being modest in describing the song as a folk song adapted by himself. I think it is more accurate to think of it as a new creation by Violaris which builds on received folk materials, i.e., a new song created by Violaris in the folk idiom.


[1] The Roussos song is credited as “traditional” on the LP record My Only Fascination.
[2] For a recording by Kallinikos see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_myNEyhDBPs.
[3] Michalis Violaris 18 Feb. 2017, quoted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_myNEyhDBPs. “Ta Rialia” is described on the LP record Τι Λωζάνη - Τι Κοζάνη as “Δημοτικό Κυπριακό, διασκευή Βιολάρης”. ("Cypriot folk song, adapted by Violaris".)
[4] See https://www.discogs.com/Rahul-Dev-Burman-R-D-Burman-The-Singer/release/14513022.

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