Ending recession, musically

December 16th, 2010

It was with much trepidation that I took the really late night bus to Pune for the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Why trepidation? Using plastic loos for a prolonged period is not my kind of thing and Woodstock is nothing more than a relic of a glorious past. With these niggling doubts I attended the concert this weekend and I wished that the following three people were present among the 10,000 people: Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and D Subbarao.

Apart from promoting Indian independent music, concerts like these are a quick-fix solution to the economic slump that we are going through. All those 10,000 people had bought tickets (mine was Rs 1,500 and I was dragged along by a friend) and what more, the people who man the multiple stages (eight in all), the ones in charge of car parks, the bar tenders, the security personnel, all owe some of their living to the 60 bands that belted out their best music.

Vishal Dadlani

And I haven’t even started talking about the engineer in charge, who makes sure that Vishal Dadlani’s growl is absolutely audible, and the multiple lorries that are used to ferry the kit. What more can the trio expect, when people are loosening their purse strings generously at an event where the vibes are post-apocalypse Woodstock?

Here are a few performances that made me mark the event in my calendar as a must-visit every year. Susheela Raman’s meditative Tamil chants from her latest album were just the kind of start a Saturday evening wanted. When she was singing ‘Vel Muruga’, it was as if everyone present were having a pie of her séance. The ensemble performance that included Rajasthani folk artists was the closest anyone could come to a commune with the Divine Being. Susheela’s wicked version of ‘Voodoo Child’ was just the sort of denouement the act needed. Now I got a clear picture of why Sigur Ros’ Icelandic lyrics broke all language barriers. It’s not about the words, stupid!

Following was the headlining act of the day Indian Ocean that at last seemed to have made peace with the death of one of its band members last year. Starting with ‘Bandey’, they went through their predictable-yet-delectable playlist that includes ‘Maarewa’ and ‘Kandisa’. I look at this band and I am really chuffed that they chose to stick to their passion at a time when rock music in this part of the world was unheard of. To think of it, it is still unheard of here considering most of us are yet to go beyond Bryan Adams and— may the force be with them— MLTR.

In gourmet terms, if Saturday was a starter, Sunday was the most expansive platter. I had so much to choose from: right from Shaa’ir + Func to Raghu Dixit Project and Midival Punditz to Asian Dub Foundation. Not to forget, the British indie act The Magic Numbers. This band made up of brothers and sisters seems like a love child of Belle &Sebastian and Drums. Every hook of theirs only reinforced my belief.  Be it the riff-laden ballad ‘Love Me Like You’ or the soothing ‘Forever Lost’, here was a band that in the right time period would have been lumped along with the British New Wave movement.


My musical evening, however, began with Monica Dogra’s crunchy voice. While she was singing stuff from both the band’s old and latest albums, I was wondering if this is the closest India can come to Black Eyed Peas and one look at Monica she would remind you of Fergie, a campy one at that. For a brief while I listened to Junkyard Groove and was reminded of a line from poet Jack Black. “No, you’re not hard-core/ Unless you live hard-core.” These guys do.

Up ahead were the electronic duo Midival Punditz, whose 70 minute electronic genius stuff started with a tribute to Edvard Greig (recall the rowing scene in Social Network?). Following that, they beat the bejesus out of the electronic equipment what with a glorious mish-mash of Hindu chanting and schizoid verses. With a little bit of chemical assistance, the music was a guaranteed brain-melter.

The son-et-lumiere, both literally and figuratively, of the evening was Asian Dub Foundation. With an expansive set arrangement that includes dhol jamming with guitar interspersed with rap lyrics, it was pretty obvious that this London group packs a wallop.

Thus, as I was saying, we should be having more of such concerts where people can lounge around and quaff alcohol to get out of the meltdown rut. This might seem like a simplistic solution. But the times are such that I know what ‘quantitative easing’ means but not ‘money’!

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