Did you know that James Bond’s classic audio signature has Indian roots?

By Kerissa Lalkaka

The theme, composed by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, features in every James Bond movie produced by Eon Productions since their first movie, Dr No, in 1962. The iconic guitar riff, “dum di-di dum,” was borrowed from a previous composition of Norman’s, called “Good Sign Bad Sign.” Norman wrote the song as part of an abandoned stage musical based on V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, which follows the life of a Hindu Indo-Trinidadian. You can clearly hear the Indian classical music influence in the original song, played on the sitar and tabla. When he was asked to compose the score for the first Bond film, he removed the Indian sound and presented it to the producers. Initially unhappy with what they heard, they brought in John Barry, who transformed the piece with his arrangement while retaining the riff. 

The tune, reminiscent of the Indian Classical Raag Bhairavi, evokes feelings of excitement and suspense. It is an intrinsic part of the identity of James Bond as a franchise and character and has inspired other film scores of the same genre. A truly successful case of sonic branding, hearing any part of the theme conjures thoughts of action and espionage.

Listen to Monty Norman sing the history of the James Bond riff in his song “Dum di-di dum”


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