It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Ooty and happy people in colorful attire strolled about while others lay in the grass, looking up at the blue sky. The Shakey Rays were the first band to play the Calaloo stage which turned out to be a bane. The sound was completely messed up as the start of the gig delayed was delayed by an hour. The Shakeys, who we were really looking forward to, had massive sound issues throughout their set. The long-delay also meant that there were only a handful of people who stayed back to watch them perform. Those who did were treated to some tracks from their sleeper-hit debut album Tunes from the Big Belly - ‘I’m Gonna Catch That Train’. ‘Queen bee on the radio’ etc. The trademark harmonies though were missing (again, thanks to the terrible sound) and so was the band’s enthusiasm. They sleepwalked through the rest of their set which also included an interesting yet-unreleased track called ‘Animals Dancing’. We cannot stress how eagerly we await their sophomore album!
An eclectic act from Trivandrum, Vidwan’s early slot on day 3 meant that they didn’t have a huge crowd around when they began. That made no difference to their enthusiasm as they played a setlist filled with infectious grooves and excellent melodies. While they took a song to warm up, ‘Ellaelo’ had the sparse crowd jumping and dancing in no time at all. The percussion section especially the Thayil lent a very interesting touch to Vidwan’s sound. ‘Thaiyae’, a women empowerment song was pulled off nicely, a great arrangement adding to the overall vibe of the song. The pick of their setlist was ‘Kaithola’, a folksy song with a really catchy hook that got the audience singing along as well. Anoop Mohandas’s vocals were top notch while the other lead singer Neha Nair’s voice sounded a bit strained. The drum and percussion elements were strong when required and understated and just right otherwise, the bass work eminently enjoyable and a strong keys and guitar section created a full, rich sound. The last song of their setlist was a dubstep infused number with a great jam section with the thayil. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable act that could have done with a little more of an audience.
Virginia Martinez, a blues singer from the faraway land of Uruguay was a rather bizarre interlude on the Calaloo stage between The Shakey Rays and Emergence. Putting together a temporary band that included the spectacular Mishko M’ba on the bass and Aman Mahajan on the keys, she performed a set of blues standards such as ‘Summertime’, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ (Girl in Ms. Martinez’s rendition), ‘House of the Rising Sun’, ‘Master of the Universe’, and ‘Superstition’. The lack of a guitarist however, made the sound a little hollow.The standout aspect of the act was Mishko’s bass solos and how he made up in places for the lack of a guitar, especially on ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Aman Mahajan’s solos were great, but nothing spectacular. The drum work though was rather muted and disappointing. A rather annoying aspect of the set was Ms Martinez’ annoying talking over the solos and otherwise (although one might attribute this to cultural differences), especially apparent when the superb guest violin bits of Karthik Iyer were drowned out towards the end of the setlist.
Bevar Sea, Bangalore based Doom-metal outfit unleashed their brand of old fashioned Black Sabbathy Doom & Gloom upon the unsuspecting audience. Being the only Doom band on the lineup, we guess they are the first Doom band to perform in Ooty. As oxymoronic as Doom Metal in Ooty may sound, Bevar Sea did an amazing job with the time they had reminding everyone once again that they were Bevar Sea, and so were we. ‘Smiler’, the track that got the crowd banging their heads, was followed up with a doomy rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine’. Not only was it much heavier but frontman Ganesh also threw in some deft modulation work using a Korg Monotron. Adding Doom elements to a great psychedelic song can yield amazing results. ‘Where there is smoke, There is a pyre’ was a faster than usual song punctuated throughout with some great drum fills by Deepak Raghu. They ended the set with crowd favorite ‘Abishtu’. Ganesh, consummate in his white Saint Vitus t-shirt jumped down from the stage to let crowd members yell the infamous ‘Oy Abishtu’ chant into the mic. Some badges were thrown to fans and we were also informed that the band would be entering the studio to record an album come mid 2014. That is something to look forward to.
Inner Sanctum, in true Inner Sanctum fashion managed to galvanize a sleepy Sunday crowd into moshing and mayhem. Vocalist Gaurav Basu, in true Gaurav Basu form, ran around the stage whilst trying to (unsuccessfully) avoid the electronic equipment strewn on the floor. Drummer Abhinav Yogesh, in true Abhinav Yogesh style sported a Gojira t-shirt and absolutely nailed every blastbeat through their 10 song set. It was exactly the Inner Sanctum set that everyone expected and for that we were thankful. Also, some Inner Sanctu\m/ stats from Ooty:
Number of moshpits: 3
Walls of Death: 1
Number of times “motherf***er” was uttered on the mic: 27
Adopting a clean, no-frills sound setup, Emergence sang multilingual pop songs advocating the use of organic farming and the advantages of growing your own food. Bassist Mishko M’ba was clearly the star of the band as he, with his lovely bass tone dazzled the relaxed crowd at the Blubaloo stage.
Lagori’s set began with ‘Ni Re Sa’ – a powerful song that is optimistic and sings of hope. This was followed by ‘Darbari’ – an old-timey piece made wonderfully contemporary with a catchy riff and a great solo. Through their performances of ‘Duniya re’ and ‘Pardesi’, the crowd participated by singing along and tapping their feet energetically. However, what really got them riled up was the band’s self-titled piece, ‘Lagori’! Even a stranger to the Indian music scene will tell you that professionalism has always graced every performance Lagori has ever given.
How can you go wrong with an electric violin, really? As soon as violinist Bala Bhaskar played the first few notes on his beautiful sounding instrument, everybody stood up and took notice. Sounding like a cross between a Carnatic violinist and Dream Theater, their fusion prog-rock was high-energy, intense and tight. One small grouse with the programming though. Immediately following Bala Bhasker on stage were Carnatic rockers Agam who have a very similar sound.
The legendary Agam occupied the stage next, and wasted no time after the soundcheck to start things off with ‘Brahma’s Dance’. Their second song, ‘The Seventh Ocean’ starts out with a great riff and switches mid-way to another. Listening to this one was like being on a rollercoaster, complete with all the turns and twists – and the temporary melodic lull that one should not get used to too quickly. As they progressed to play ‘Dhanashree Thillana’, you could tell that nothing could go wrong with Agam. Particularly fantastic was a little match between Harish’s vocal acrobatics and Praveen’s follow-up response with excellent guitar playing. The to-and-fro went on for a while, and then the song resumed to end on a particularly ecstatic high note. However, what truly grasped the listener in awe was Agam’s performance of ‘Rudra’ – an obeisance to Lord Shiva – the Destroyer. The piercing riff matched the mood of the evening, with some brilliant lighting adding to the reverence brewing in every listener’s mind.
Tritha Electric hasn’t played at too many festivals but going by their energetic performance that was belted out to an expectant, packed crowd, one would be convinced that they totally should. Needless to say, Tritha has an amazing voice and looks nothing short of a goddess on stage. Their out of the ordinary performance was quite a different experience – a queer amalgamation of Bengali lyrics and a danceable groovy music makes this band quite a treat to watch live.
The blazing sun was a mellow crimson as the darkness slowly began to engulf the surroundings of the Fernhills Royal Palace. Distant notes of ‘Ek Omkaar‘ made the evening unbelievably magical and enchanting and a lonely star shone bright as we were drawn to the Calaloo stage. Sonam Kalra and The Sufi Gospel Project induced a dream-like experience with the beautiful sound of the sarangi, tabla and of course Sonam’s ethereal voice. Their own version of ‘Hallelujah‘ followed as the crowd let out a collective sigh. The slow realization that the evening and three days of the festival was about to end made us slightly melancholic and there was a sudden urge to drink in every detail.
Parting is indeed a sweet sorrow. 3 days of music, arts and dance were coming to an end. Rather aptly, Veronica Nunes and Ricardo Vogt - a ridiculously good-looking pair, were bringing proceedings to an end with their intimate, samba-jazz stylings. Veronica on ukulele and vocals complimented Ricardo who played guitar and occasionally sang. Thier music had a Joao Gilberto feel and it mesmerized the crowd who had gathered under the cool, blue lights at the Calaloo stage. While their set mostly consisted of originals they also did a delightful cover of Sergio Mendes’ popular ‘Mas Que Nada’. A fitting way to bring the curtains down on MAD .
Dressed nattily in white and black formal attire, The Ska Vengers mingled with the crowd and the venue looked as though it had been infiltrated by genial members of the MIB! But as soon as they got onto the elevated stage, the picture fit. Belting out song after song, the image they carefully cultured through the process of the show was powerful and lasting. They looked like snazzy harbingers of social change, pointing out the difficult truths and gently gibing at the inconsistencies in society with their complex lyrical style – managing to look cool throughout.
Shobna Dance Company -When Shobana, ResulPookutty, A.R Rehman, Shabana Azmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Radhika, Nandita Das, Prabhu, Milind Soman and Surya along with world class musicians, technicians, come together in a production it has to be a spectacle in every way. Story of the Blue God was re-told in a two and a half hour musical titled Krishna. English dialogues were used to reach out to a wider audience. Music from classical Carnatic idiom and Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam movies was strung together to again give the story a pan Indian feel. Exotic sets and multimedia presentation created different landscapes as the story moved from Vrindavan, Mathura and finally to the battle ground of Kurukshetra. Not only were classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Bharata Nrityam, Kuchipudi, Odissi used but folk movements were also incorporated to add the flavour of village setting. Excellently trained dancers under the able guidance of Shobana braved the chill winds of Ooty to put a show which was a visual and aural treat . Dancers in exotic costumes and beautiful make-up effortlessly moved across the stage in kaleidoscopic patterns. Events in the story were linked with dialogue passages which were sometimes aesthetic especially those which expressed the divine love of Radha and Krishna but at other times they were loud and garish. The group sequences- be it the joyous dances or the battles between Krishna and his opponents – were excellently choreographed, extremely well-co-ordinated and rehearsed. Shobana did complete justice to the character by bringing out both the strength and subtlety of a multi-dimensional icon like Krishna.
Why should a story that has been told so many times be presented again? Because Krishna is a icon who is difficult to understand as he is a combination of contrasts. One has to revisit His legends again and again in order to understand the hidden meanings between the different episodes which seem like a play at a superficial level. Shobana in an interview with Yogesh Pawar expressed “… there are only certain facets of him that appeal to people. They take the aspect they feel most comfortable with and leave out the rest. While children love his stories about the butter thief, young adults harp on the sringara aspect. In fact an attempt is made to often strait-jacket him into the role of the eternal Romeo of sorts.But once you delve deeply into the subject, all this takes on spiritual connotations. It was rather difficult to unshackle Krishna’s image from His popular forms. It is indeed a challenge to encapsulate the spirit of this philosopher, teacher, negotiator and lover in a production.”
Sohan Maheshwar, Uday Shankar, Rohan Arthur, Purva Dhanashree and Priyanka Shetty