Salma and Sabina Agha – “Mitha Maze Dar (Dancing Queen)” (1981)
Salma and Sabina Agha – “Mitha Maze Dar (Dancing Queen)”
I really don’t know how I found out about this song. My gut instinct is that I found it searching through the 365 Days Project by noted New Jersey independent radio station WFMU. I say that because a good foundation of my love for “outsider” or “unusual” music derived from that project. The concept was for listeners to submit a strange song/record a day for a full year, which the people over at WFMU would curate into a webpage you could visit and listen to these songs. They did one in 2003 and a more robust version again in 2007. The songs were all over the place: corporate songs meant to advertise goods and services, street performers surreptitiously recorded decades prior, weird bedroom recording projects never meant for mass consumption, and a bevy of other odd songs well outside the bounds of mainstream radio.
By comparison, this is a rather straightforward inclusion to that list, if I’m being perfectly honest. As you can probably infer from the title, this is a cover of the ABBA hit “Dancing Queen” sung in Hindi, which in and of itself isn’t all that unusual. However, the album is apparently quite rare, which has certainly added to the enigmatic appeal of this project. To give you an idea of just how rare this is, legendary U.K. DJ John Peel noted in 2003 that his copy of the record never leaves his home.
But this begs the question of who these two are, and surprisingly enough there is information out there about them and this record. According to a 2017 Vice article on the album, the idea to record ABBA songs for an Indian audience was the brainchild of producer Peter Moss and PolyGram talent scout Pran Gohil. The two were tasked with capitalizing on the growing Indian market in the west, and after a few initial successes covering artists like Boney M. for the Indian market, the two enlisted poet Amit Khanna to localize several of ABBA’s greatest hits.
For the vocals, Khanna suggested the Agha sisters. Salma and Sabina Agha are the daughters of a wealthy import business magnate father and a Bollywood royalty mother. While both were classically trained in singing, the two were essentially selected by Khanna more due to his familiarity with the family than the sisters’ actual talent, and while I love this album dearly, the singing isn’t the most pristine, shall we say.
I don’t know if it’s the weird processed feel of the vocals, the oddly professional, yet amateurish nature of the singing, the “one step above karaoke” backing track, or a combination of all of the above, but I love this album. You’re already kind of working with a winning hand with me if you present me with the idea of “ABBA songs covered in Hindi”, but there’s this rough-hewn edge to this record that I cannot quite place that draws me in over and over again. Legitimately, I’ve listened to this record more than ABBA itself over the past several years, which is as blasphemous as it is honest.
The album obviously didn’t catch on, mostly due to financial issues. This was supposed to have a lot of Indian instrumentation with tablas and sitars, but the budget only permitted for what we got. Honestly, I don’t know which I would have preferred. I love how bare bones this album feels, but it really feels like a missed opportunity to not have a fully localized ABBA album now that the idea has been put out there. As for the sisters, Sabina married and left the entertainment business, but Salma went on to become a star in Bollywood, winning a Filmfare Award in 1983, Bollywood’s version of an Oscar. She even went on to marry Pakistani squash coach Rehmat Khan aka the father of indie rock star Bat for Lashes. Again, I love how all of these things tie together. Despite this record’s descent into obscurity, I think that it is well worth a listen. It isn’t the most well-executed album to be sure, but there’s a lot of character to this strange curio.
For more short song discussions, check out or post about the Clann Zu song “Crashing to the Floor” here.