Tag Archives: Aman Mahajan
Aman Mahajan and Matt Littlewood at Om Made Cafe, Koramangala
Refuge to embark on a 3-city tour
Refuge is embarking on a 3-city tour, starting on the 12th of June 2014. Performed by a quartet and drawing on jazz, classical and folk music from various parts of the world, Refuge is a set of musical themes with unity at its focus. The music is composed and arranged by pianist Aman Mahajan. Written over the last decade, and equal parts structured and improvised, the music is imagined as an underscore to the journey were all making together. Coming from varying mixtures of musical backgrounds, the musicians all share a love of improvising and as a result, every performance promises to be spontaneously different. Be sure to attend this one!
Aman Mahajan – piano
Matt Littlewood – saxophones
Mishko M’ba – bass guitar
Jeoraj George – drumset
12/6 Pune: Shisha Jazz Cafe, ABC Farms
13/6 Hyderabad: Vidyaranya School Auditorium
14/6 Bangalore: The Bflat Bar, Indiranagar
Kaya feat. Arati Rao Shetty, Aman Mahajan, Rahul Gopal at Humming Tree, Bangalore
Day 3 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at Fernhills Palace, Ooty
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 – Im 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 bands 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, Vidwans early slot on day 3 meant that they didnt 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 Vidwans 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 Mohandass vocals were top notch while the other lead singer Neha Nairs 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 Mba 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. Martinezs 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 Mishkos bass solos and how he made up in places for the lack of a guitar, especially on ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Aman Mahajans 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 Floyds ‘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 Mba 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 bands 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 Brahmas 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 Harishs vocal acrobatics and Praveens 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 Agams 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 listeners 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 Krishnas 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
Day 2 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty
The second day at the beautiful Fernhills Royal Palace dawned on a venue full of people eager to get on with the festival atmosphere and lounging on the grass at the Calaloo, watching the initial bands setup while grabbing a quick breakfast. There was an invisible crackle to the air. Since it was a Saturday, more people from near and far were expected to flock to the venue, a steely glint in their eye the determination to have fun over the weekend apparent.
Lucid Dreams started their set with an excellent rendition of Iron Maidens ‘Wrathchild’. The bands own compositions ‘Father Forgive Us I & II’, were not very different from ‘Wrathchild’, replete with sing-along choruses and great guitar work. Both were great ballads and the looming rain clouds helped create a great atmosphere around the stage.
The Vinyl Records are a pop punk band from Arunachal Pradesh and they were a good choice for the Blubaloo stage. They have a fresh and slightly off-centre vibe to them that has nothing to do with gimmicks or costume but just the music. Last year at The MAD Festival we had waxed eloquent (more like drooled in words) about all-girl band Afflatus; we felt pretty much the same about this band. And, when the vocalist Cheyyrian Bark strapped on her keytar, we were hooked. They have an EP called Whims out and we were quite taken by the titular song.
Jass Bstards – dressed in dapper suits with each member sporting a Fez, this three-piece from Delhi was definitely one of the highlights on Day 2. Led by Stefan Kayes keyboard as well as his sardonic humour, the very versatile Bstards (a nod to Rik Mayalls character from The New Statesman perhaps?) played a wholly unique set ranging from songs in the style of jazz, Latin Samba and even 80s pop. Samba Sin Tutilo had everyone on the crowd samba-ing to the beat. Stefan even jumped into the crowd for impromptu jigs with the ladies in the crowd. From creating little loops to using heavy distortion and feedback, Mr Kaye was able to pull it all off on his keyboard. Drummer Nikhil Vasudevan played complex beats with a metronomic accuracy as well as a deadpan look on his face behind his thick beard. He also half-jokingly threw a drumstick in Stefans general direction at one point of time during the gig!
The Bstards set paid reverence to a whole bunch of sub-genres, not usually heard in the Indian rock Scene. It also poked fun at the highbrow-ness associated with jazz music with Stefan generally taking the piss by doing things like crawling under his piano while playing it. They also used a theremin during their gig. How cool is that!
The strong Day 2 lineup continued with the a-ma-zing hip-hop/Reggae outfit Bombay Bassment. It didnt seem like there was too much of a buzz when they were soundchecking – a lone bassist – Ruell (who resembled Tom Morello with his shorts and baseball cap) tuning his guitar on stage while there was a sparse Saturday afternoon crowd lazing on the Fernhill lawns. Three songs into their set and there was a massive crowd jumping to BBs grooves! MC Bobkat with his stage presence and mic skills upped the ante on the Bluballoo stage with his old school rap-influenced vocals. Jump N Shout was a cue for all of us to do exactly that, although it made taking notes for this reviewer very difficult. Their set had a great tempo too, as they interspersed some reggae jams in between their high energy hip hop tunes like Get Down which had a sick breakdown bit. Their gig perfectly set up the crowd for the rest of the evening, although Bombay Bassment was a tough act to follow. To quote Bobkat, respect in every aspect.
Solder, the live wire band from Bangalore were next on the Calaloo stage. Their genre, in their own words, is Happy Rock, and they surely did not disappoint. Siddharth Abraham, the exuberant vocalist, toyed with the willing audience, while the band played an effortless and a flawless set that included the staccato, upbeat and happy ‘Cookie, Simple Things’ with its nice four-part acapella intro, Believe, which is absolute crowd anthem material, ‘Questions, Whiskey and Wine’ and ‘Take a Stand’. No Solder show is complete without the incredibly catchy ‘Irish Coffee’ and their first big hit, ‘All By Myself’. The guitars soared, Siddharth danced and gyrated, and the audience lapped it all up with delight!
Peter Isaac has been feeling the blues for the better part of a couple of decades now. Chronically even. Hes even got a circus to share this chronic blues feeling. His band of not-so-merry men people though, includes some of the more exciting musicians on the Bangalore scene. The Chronic Blues Circus setlist at Go Mad was predictably peppered with some blues standards and some originals sandwiched between those. By and large, it wasnt mind blowing but didnt exactly disappoint either (if youre a big blues fan that is). Peter Isaacs voice may have lost some of its sheen, but hasnt lost any of its enthusiasm. Miriam Johns vocals coupled with Ananth Menons guitar playing and vocals lend an eminently likeable aspect to watching this circus act. Top picks included ‘Sweet Nicotine’, with some stellar guitar soloing, ‘Woman’ and Howlin Wolfs ‘Killing Floor’.
A lot was expected from UNK. Apart from the legend Radha Thomas whos been performing since the 70s, the band also had accomplished musicians such as Aman Mahajan, Mishko Mba and Matt Littlewood. Unfortunately their jazz stylings did not really suit the mood of the festival at that moment. Meant for an intimate venue with dim lights and a fine whisky in your hand, UNK played an out-of-place and slow set to the afternoon crowd at the Calaloo stage. Radha Thomas voice is as beautiful as ever, she often throws in little Hindustani-influenced bits amidst her smooth jazz vocals. The best moment from their set was the tongue-in-cheek homage to Dosa, parodying Bob Marleys ‘Smoke Two Joints’. Called ‘Rendu Dosai‘, the song had a listing of all the possible types of Dosa. Sponge doSe, RagidoSe, MozarellachesedoSe. It was both memorable and bizarre and totally unexpected although their other songs lacked any real punch on the day.
Parikrama had the envious evening slot on the Blubaloo on Day 2. Playing to the just-about-to-get-drunk crowd, they provided our dose of retro for the evening with a largely by-the-numbers set. There was an announcement for Happy Hours at the bar, which saw an exodus towards the alcohol counter. Their set was a mostly a bunch of their popular songs although they played a new song unimaginatively titled ‘Dominant Seventh’. Parikrama ended their set with ‘Tears of the Wizard’ – based on Gandalf from LOTR.
Bands like One Nite Stand really entertain at festivals such as this. The weather and the venue have a great role to play in the openness of an audience and its folly for a band not to capitalize on this. We suspect the atmosphere and their choice of popular songs to cover had more to do with the positive response from the audience but they did entertain over at the Calaloo. We were quite taken by their original song, Never Let You Go. These guys know how to work an audience and work it good!
With a constant barrage of updates on their FB page and a sizeable Indian following to boot, Pakistani act Noori was supposed to bring the house down at Go Mad. If one were to go simply by crowd response, they may have, but the vocals were a disappointment to many. Maybe the altitude and chill didnt help, but frontman Ali Noor managed to sound consistently off throughout their setlist. Kicking off with ‘Kedaar‘, an energetic song to boot, what was immediately apparent is the quality of the band itself. Tight, full sound, great stage energy. And then the vocals kicked in. A technical glitch in the middle led to an appalling, college band level bit with a song whose primary lyric referred to one doing unmentionables to ones sister. The crowd lapped up ‘Jo Meray’, the Coke Studio classic ‘Aik Alif’, ‘Nishaan’ and ‘Saari Raat’. Kami Pauls drumwork and Saad Sultan on the guitars lent some solidity to proceedings. Ali Hamzas more rustic sounding vocals seemed a little more pleasing than Ali Noors. What wasnt on display was the vocal pyrotechnics one has come to associate with Noori, especially on songs like ‘Aik Alif‘ and ‘Saari Raat‘. All said and done, a live acts primary job is to entertain its audience, and Noori managed to do that with the sizeable crowd that had gathered.
Indie Electro rockers Sky Rabbit followed One Nite Stand on the main stage just as the coldness in the air went from hill station to Arctic Circle. There was a definitive anticipative buzz in the air and Sky Rabbit didnt disappoint. ‘Hilltop’ with its chorus that go No skill, no kill, youre on a hilltop seemed like it was written just for this festival. The happy-high crowd heads bobbed along to Raxit Tiwaris reassuring voice while the band belted tracks of its eponymous album. The ended their set with the anthemic ‘Anti-Coke Ganapati‘, a song whose lyrics everyone knew! If one was forced to choose an act that matched the vibe of the festival, Sky Rabbit would be that act. An impressive set which unsurprisingly had calls from the audience for an encore which unfortunately did not happen. The ending of the set was also a cue for this writer to go in search of more alcohol.
Jeremiah Ferraris mix of Reggae, Calypso and Punk makes you involuntarily bob your head, even as youre trying to understand exactly what theyre singing. They have the thick Jamaican Reggae accent down pat and they play with an easy energy that you could probably brush off as youth but we have a feeling these guys will be just as energetic twenty years down the line. Their first song ‘Legalise’ went slightly unnoticed since the crowd took a little while to gather but ‘No Booty’ was catchy enough to set the mood for the rest of the set. Lead vocalist has the machine gun delivery of words down to an art. Their songs ‘Mindless Riot’, ‘Dubby Rock’ (Yes, its about what you think its about) were our favourites of a dozen-song setlistand their cover of Marleys ‘Sheriff’ was authentic to say the least. All in all, they made us jump up and down to their music, something that probably saved us from imminent hypothermia. Were eternally grateful.
Over at the Blubaloo, the last act for the night was the Natya and STEM Dance Kampni. Madhu Nataraj and her team brought together the different aspects of STEM Space, Time, Energy and Movement to communicate with a vocabulary that used the body in two different ways . At one level each individual created distinct images as a part of a whole, like different dots in a pattern – remove one dot and the whole image loses its appeal. And at another level all the dancers came together to form one single colossal entity. Trained in Kathak, contemporary dance technique, Yoga, martial arts like Kalari Payattu and Thaang ta, the dancers used minimal facial expressions in order to give the entire body the power to emote. The frontiers of classical idiom were extended in order to connect with the contemporary audience. In order to make this dialogue more appealing the lighting was designed in a way where it gave a unique dimension to the choreography. By keeping the costumes and the make- up simple the idea was to accentuate the movements and explore the dancing space in a much deeper way.
When moments from a sports event are captured they look no less than dance movements. The player experiences excitement, anger, passion, fear, disappointment, elation, sense of loss and achievement within a limited period of a game and that comes out through his/her body in myriad ways. This aspect of sports which looks very similar to a dance was presented in the piece titled Sports. The dancers danced different sports and also enacted the drama which goes along with the game. Racing, cricket, basketball, tennis, sword fight, hockey, kabbadi were some of the sports featured. Dressed in orange and black they moved to different mnemonic syllables which were rendered keeping in mind the feel of the sport.
Vajra stands for the thunderbolt and the diamond – both are related to light and are considered powerful in their own ways. This piece brought together the aspects of luminance, indestructibility, force and strength in order to depict the images of Shiva and Shakti. The dancers looked magnificent in white costumes. With excellent body technique, amazing control of energy in movements, perfect synchrony and stability; they weaved myriad patterns on stage to depict the iconography of Shiva and Shakti. Beats on damru, resplendence of the moon, gentle flow of water were shown in unique ways by using the entire body and not just the mudras. And suddenly the stage was lit with light beams coming from the torches tied to the dancers bodies which added a unique dimension to the movements.
It was a solid day for anyone who attended and as it began to sink in that there was but a day left to the festival, everybody tottered home to their tents or rooms shivering, vowing to come back the next day super-energized and with at least five more layers of clothing.
Sohan Maheshwar, Sharanya Nair, Bharath Bevinahally, Purva Dhanashree, Uday Shanker, Rohan Arthur
Refuge – Aman Mahajan Trio at Plantation House, Bangalore
Drift Trio and friends at The Bflat Bar, Bangalore
Music Madness Continues to Day 2, Ooty
We woke up at the campsite, post the madness of the previous night’s campfire and jamming, with the hypnotic and primeval sounds from the Nilgiri tribe’s customary invocations at the festival, and rushed to Stage 1 to watch La Pongal, the first act of day 2.
They kicked off with a group of thappattam players performing off-stage, amidst the audience, trying to harmonize with the band performing on the stage. It was a fearless attempt to give the gig a grand start, and though the sync slipped a bit, no one seemed to mind. La Pongal features Anthony Daasan on lead vocals, as much a comic relief as he is a brilliant singer. He made the “welcome” announcement on a megaphone, working up the audience’s anticipation. Dressed in colorful attires, the very look of the band is cheerful, only augmented by their music which is Tamil folk, with a hint of contemporary. The subjects for their songs move from lullaby to romantic flirtations and from a spirited call-out for friends to feisty bullying of rivals. Among the audience, there were some who understood the Tamil lyrics and laughed at the stories being narrated, and some to whom it was just the upbeat music that spoke. La Pongal made the native and non-native speakers of the language sing and puttu-dance along to the beats of drums, thavil, and pambai. A rousing start to Day 2 at Mad.
Across the woods, at the Calaloo stage, Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets played a turbulent, angry set to the largely hipster crowd gathered. Complaining of a hangover and mumbling incomprehensible song introductions, they performed a setlist consisting mostly of tracks from their sophomore effort Dead Loops. Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets ripped through songs like ‘Little Monkeys’ and ‘Barbed Wire’ with a disinterested sneer that I’m sure charmed everyone. The band (intentionally or not) also successfully translated the inherent angriness in their source material and performed with a disinterested air about themselves. Musically they were spot-on and consistent throughout their set. I also noticed that the guitarist was using a custom Les Paul! *lets out low whistle*. Kishore Krishna’s songwriting is honest and he sings about issues that Gen Y folk can identify with. Another testament to young Kishore Krishna’s songwriting is that it’s hard to slot the band into a particular genre. They lie somewhere between post-punk and indie. The songs are relevant, sharp and as far as the Indian indie scene is concerned, important. Judging by the new tracks they performed at MAD, it certainly looks like Adam has a lot more quality material up his angsty sleeve. A quick afternoon beer (to the utter disappointment of all beer lovers, the price of beer had been revised from a healthy Rs.100 for a 650 ml serving to the slightly unhealthy figure of Rs.200 late on the first evening) later, we were off to catch Goa based world fusion act, Kundalini Airport.
Kundalini Airport took the stage after La Pongal’s impressive performance on the Blubaloo stage. The contrast between the two acts was apparent right at the outset. The outfit led by Frenchman, Paco Rodriguez, gets together in the mostly non-monsoon months in Goa, since the last 4-5 years. The sound check seemed inordinately long with respect to getting the levels right, especially on Mr. Rodriguez’s Sitar and Mandolin levels. Several people in the crowd were seen walking away towards the Mad Bazaar and the Calaloo stage even while Kundalini Airport were trying to get their sound right. An announcement by the band in which they claimed that they’re mostly chilled out people and are not used to being rushed, didn’t really help either. Into their opening track, the one thing that immediately struck the audience was the terrible sound. While the bass was nice and groovy, the drums were comparatively inaudible and the mandolin levels were a little too high, with too much reverb on the vocals that were already dominating everything else. The guitarist had some nice guitar solos to insert into an otherwise monotonous song. Things picked up from there somewhat, with their next song, an ode to Lord Shiva, that left some people in the audience slightly amused. The band sounded much tighter on this track, the issue with the individual instrument levels also sorted out. Their next track was in French, an interpretation of Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’. Featuring yet another groovy bassline (incidentally, the bassist played with a bass stand and a stationary bass, see pictures for more detail). The audience seemed to enjoy this slightly more settled sound as well. ‘Allah Hu’ was yet another interesting track performed by Kundalini Airport. All in all, their brand of fusion seemed a little forced rather than integrating seamlessly, like the ones several other acts pulled off. Post their set, we set off for a spot of indulgence at the excellently positioned Mad Bazaar/Bar, before catching Agam at the Calaloo stage.
Agam peg themselves as Carnatic Rock, and while they sound more Carnatic at times and rock some others, by and large, their music is probably best described as Carnatic ragas built around a distortion infused rock core. It was very evident from the outset that this 7-piece band is exceptionally talented (unfortunately, their keyboardist couldn’t join them at the Mad festival). The vocals are delivered in the Carnatic vocal style and the vocalist/violinist, Harish, is very rooted in the Carnatic tradition. Their songs have a strong bassline with the mustachioed bassist providing raga influenced grooves. The lead guitarist, T Praveen Kumar, was especially brilliant, particularly in the track ‘Boat Song’. ‘Swati Thirunal’ thillana in Raga Dhanashree’ was pulled off in some style, with the band sounding very tight through the complex rhythm passages. Agam ended their almost hour long set with an extended, and quite entertaining jam, between the drummer, Ganesh, and the percussionist, Shiva, in the track ‘Malhaar jam’. Agam is a band which will be liked by all – they are nicely heavy enough to appeal to the youth inclined towards hard rock, classical enough to make the traditional music lover go weak in the knees and virtuoso enough for guitar freaks to whet their appetites.
Meanwhile, at the Blubaloo stage, a crowd had begun to gather to catch one of the more popular bands out of Kerala, Avial. Waiting for them to kick things off however, was the start of a slow and wrenching heartbreak. Avial’s performance at the MAD Festival was subpar. Many of us swear by Avial’s debut CD, going to the extent of calling it the best and most fulfilling product being sold in Indian indie scene. Anandraj Benjamin Paul (ex-lead vocalist) was sorely missed by anyone who knows about legacy-Avial. What we witnessed was the butchering of something so dearly cherished. After a wait (read, long sound-check) of more than 45 minutes they decided to play a set of 20 minutes, which would have been alright, if their act lived up to people’s expectations. It didn’t. They started with two of their latest singles, with Tony clearly struggling to achieve and sustain the highs. They decided to wind up with the crowd favorite ‘Chekele’, which was a disaster not to be missed if you want to hate a band you once loved. Mithun on drums started the song with a lower BPM than the original, Tony struggled with getting the key right, and Rex kept strumming, uninfluenced. The only saving grace of this show was the full-blooded solidarity for the language and love for good-old-Avial, which showed in our desperate attempts at trying to enjoy this debacle. The Ooty sun and the performance led us to the cool shade of the “in-the-midst-of-tall-trees” Mad Bazaar for some respite and refueling. The one big crib by this time for nearly everybody at the festival was the sub-optimal choice and quality of the food that was on offer.
Some hops, a skip and a jump later, we caught The Bicycle Days, playing as a 4-piece act and sounding more cohesive and tight as compared to their earlier avatar as a quintet. The change seemed to have worked to a large extent as TBD played a great set at the Calaloo stage. The classic ’27’ kicked off things with vocalist Karthik and guitarist Rahul turning the psychedelia all the way up to 11 just before the spoken word second-half of the song kicked in. TBD made use of heavy vocal processing and vocal loops to create haunting soundscapes that added up to the ambient psychedelic sound. Also included in their setlist was the mellow ‘Teledrug Zombies’, a song whose title wouldn’t be out of place in a Flaming Lips discography. ‘Conundrum’, a track heavily inspired by Radiohead (especially the falsetto-ish voice) was also part of their set. TBD occupy a rather unique place in the Indian indie scene as purveyors of the psychedelic-electronic-rock sound and it was great that the band stuck to their guns even with the premiere of their new track ‘Vicious’. I’ve generally maintained that a TBD gig is best enjoyed at an indoor venue (their legendary Kyra gig 2 years ago), but the tight performance at MAD has swayed me in relaxing that opinion a little bit. Things had picked up in terms of the crowd numbers and energy levels with the next act on the Blubaloo stage, Papon and the gentlemen he had for company.
Playing their familiar and much loved brand of electronic folk fusion, Papon and the East India Company kicked things off with ‘Rain Song’, speaking of the culture of the hills, with the main man launching into fits of undulating vocal patterns typical to his homeland. The second song began with a shot of thunder (electronic effects were thanks to Brin) that was ominous at first but later registered as majestic as we were taken through the length of the song. After ‘Jiyein Kyun’, from the ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ soundtrack, was given new life, the band moved on to a cover of an Assamese folk song. ‘Boitha Maro’ was riddled by samples from Papon’s laptop, a funky bassline (Dipu) and slide guitar parts by Krishna; it had a fair amount of dramatic pauses and clashing re starts – a tad jolting compared to its predecessors – and had the musical tenor of something much more progressive than the band’s genre. Papon’s commentary about the folk song, its roots and the story it tells was particularly engaging! A cover of popular oldie ‘Mast Kalandar’, complete with table (Kirti) and samples from Papon’s laptop was next! The penultimate song in the set ‘Banao’ with its obvious Ganja references and backstory – had the crowd singing along with raucous spirit before the band brought their performance to a close with another Assamese folk song whose quaint lyrics (trans: If I was a bird, I’d fly to you) were accompanied by the Djembe from Kirti, a wah wah guitar effect and running commentary and translation by Papon.
Post the high-energy act by Papon, we traipsed back to the Calaloo stage for some Mellowdrama and a change in tempo courtesy Sulk Station feat. Movement Artist Archana. Playing tracks off their debut album Till You Appear, the proceedings were kicked off with the opening tracks of the album, ‘Pause’ and ‘Downlift’. Sounding nearly identical to the album, the gadgetry of Rahul Giri and the vocal talent of Tanvi Rao were in ample evidence. However, the station had some more mellow moments than expected when sound issues required a restart of ‘Confessions’, not once, but twice. The pick of the setlist however, as well as our pick from the album, was ‘Bindya’, a well done track that moves and wavers with ambience at the backdrop of the song and Ms. Rao’s vocals at the forefront. The movement artist though, didn’t add too much to the act. This setlist would’ve also been much better appreciated either at a later slot post sunset, or indoors. All in all, we would’ve liked to see Sulk Station go well beyond the contours of what they’ve defined in their debut album. Some more experimentation with sound and stage act would be welcome. By this time, fervent discussions had erupted over which of the two days of the festival was better. While we were debating the issue, we could hear the faint strains of Rajasthani folk music emanating from the Blubaloo stage across the woods.
The Manganiars were up next. While they didn’t have too much of a crowd as compared to the other acts happening around on the evening, the audience present there were given a delightful little performance. Kicking off with ‘Kesariya Balam’, their set was replete with the traditional folk instruments that one was looking for. The highlight of the performance for us was a brilliantly fun percussion jam especially incorporating the Khadtal – a traditional instrument with two wooden blocks manipulated by the fingers, and the Morsing/Morchang – a jaw harp commonly used, interestingly, in Carnatic music as well as Rajasthani folk. The Morsing player even indulged the crowd by incorporating some beatboxing in the middle of a traditional jam. Among other notable pieces that these performed was a rendition of ‘Mast Kalandar’ that didn’t pack as much of a punch as we were expecting. The Manganiars were a pleasant contrast to the electronic and ambience filled music happening over at the Calaloo stage. However, we left to indulge ourselves with some more electronic elements with Schizophonic at the Calaloo stage.
The mantra with Schizophonic is that you either hate them or you love them. There’s no in between. The set suited the weather to the tee (subjective as that statement is). Starting off with a World War II style siren (Artillery Road?) that’s gradually scratched over, dissonant piano notes and echoing notes of a rattle-like guitar patch, two contemporary dancers swathed in a white sheet fought to rise matching chaotic movements to the haunting musical backdrop. Percussion pieces shortened and randomly looped until they sound like gunshots pepper the steady beat as Arjun (in his trademark shawl) and Aman layer guitar solos interspersed with dramatic piano sections. As the piece (song is too layman a word to use) progresses, the sound rises to a half crescendo by electronic additions and then stripped down again to focus on a piano solo by Aman; he has two keyboards splayed before him and shuffles between them to produce the required sound. Trying to make sense of the chaos of sounds that assault you is a deconstruction that sets itself up for failure. If it’s your type of jam, then you’re going to enjoy the almost arrhythmic nature of Schizophonic’s music. The band’s performance explores every range of emotion in delivering its performance; Arjun guitar sounds ranging from raunchy guitar sound over it as the piano receded. The guitar and piano work is intricately timed and interspersed with the samples, they take the audience on a slowly elevating experience. It’s a tad long for our liking but entertaining nonetheless. The dancers reappear on stage after a short break and are more macabre this time. Robotic movements to match the choppy music are increased and their expressions range from intense to conciliatory. The piano changes to a deeper resonating tone and then returns – all this within an hour long set that has the crowd gazing in first-hand wonder at the technicality of the seemingly random elements that made up the pieces in the set.
A feeling of a slightly underwhelming finish to the day had begun creeping in while we made our way to catch Auroville band Emergence. Their performance could be summed up easily in just two words: “Dat Bass”. Adopting a clean, no-frills sound setup, the band 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. They kickstarted their set with ‘Banner in the Open Road’ dominated by singer-guitarist Krishna McKenzie’s acoustic strumming before moving to the Tamil song ‘Pasumai’ which had a lovely bass solo. Despite the fact that two of the band’s 4 members aren’t Indian, they seamlessly fused Tamil and English lyrics into their songs ‘Ta Ka Di Mi’ was next, a soulful song inspired by the concept of self-sustenance. The slot given to the band was a little suspect as on the previous day, Raghu Dixit Project and Indian Ocean had the audience dancing to their music. Emergence, unfortunately did not have the same effect on the decreasing audience on Day 2. They upped the tempo with a lovely Ska number featuring some seriously boss slap-bass before they ended their peaceful set with ‘Nambikai’ and ‘Afghan Rose’. One minor gripe though: Emergence were hell-bent on making our job harder, introducing the wrong song on two occasions.
Coming to the fag end of the day’s proceedings, we decided to stop over (again), for a spot of beer and head over to the Calaloo stage. State of Bengal had come in to the festival with a promise to feature Paban Das Baul, bringing together connoisseurs of genres as different as London break-beat and blissful, quirky Baul music. For most part of the show though, the DJ/Producer Sam Zaman seemed to have lost his way. He presented a repetitive mish-mash of the thankfully good music he is known for with pointless run-of-the-mill rap, a misspent (even belittled) Paban Das Baul, and totally unnecessary contemporary dance routines that ran parallel on stage. A few numbers to begin with were tight, with funky percussions, and soulful electric violin. Even the rap seemed interesting before getting monotonous. When Paban Das Baul took the stage, State of Bengal switched to a much welcome minimalist arrangement which lasted three songs and 20 minutes. Soon thereafter, the poignant spell ended with an overdose of more rap, more hip-hop moves, more break-beat, and an ill-practiced performance with Papon. Paban Das Baul returned on stage, to be brushed aside, then again be called back to play his gabgubi so far away from the mic, it was almost unrecognizable. People didn’t seem to mind though – the name State of Bengal and music that makes you want to dance is as if all you wish for to end your day.
But the end wasn’t quite there yet. While several people had already left the building, there were some Curious George types who stayed behind to catch the Krar Collective, the Ethiopian ensemble who were the final act of the evening. They didn’t really raise a blip on our radar when the Krar player (Temesegen Tareken, a.k.a Tem in this review) and the percussionist (Robel Tesfaye), who played traditional Ethiopian Kebero drums, walked on stage to greet the sparse audience; they looked innocent enough. The “Krar” in Krar collective is in reference to a curiosity of an instrument that is actually a lyre native to Ethiopia. Tem strummed notes rapidly with an elongated pick (seemingly at random but more likely with expert ease) only a few inches from the fingers of his other hand that was anchored in the lyre’s strings. The individual notes during sound check sounded like a guitar tuned up a couple of scales but Tem used a patch that morphed it into a rich, organ-like sound. While Tem fiddled with the Krar, dancer and singer Genet Asefa walked onstage in an elaborate costume to much applause. The quavering tone to her voice was given center stage on the first song, a traditional Ethiopian thanksgiving ditty. The percussion was interesting, not so much anchoring the song with a steady beat than peppering it with consistent solos.
After a graceful “Thank you”, the band then moved into a song called ‘Wello’. Still blissfully unaware of the virtual tornado of shock and sheer bewilderment that was about to ensue, the audience moved closer to the stage in genuine curiosity as the dancers made it to the stage. The audience was like a waking giant – taking cues from the increasing tempo and the scene unfolding onstage – as the dancers fell into some sort of mating dance, standing a healthy distance apart (for now) while the singing was interspersed with hollering, timed hissing and even some suggestive breathing in perfect timing with the beat. ‘Rominja’, a song from the “east and central” part of Ethiopia, featured an increased tempo and fewer items of clothing; the prudes in the audience were a tad uncomfortable but continued watching nonetheless at this point. But not for long… the increasingly primal dancing mauled the delicate sensibilities of some of the audience members while entertaining the rest of us immensely after it progressed into over-the-top, bawdry mock almost-lovemaking on stage, complete with straddling and wide eyed expressions (us and the dancers). At one point, the general atmosphere of shock and awe was compounded by the male dancer air-cupping his partner’s rear several times and making throwing gestures towards the audience members (several of whom ducked instinctively). Dancing aside, the music was miles from anything we’re accustomed to. We were particularly taken by the lyre’s versatility and the fact that a performance by two instruments and one vocalist had us from the words “We are the Krar Collective”. The day ended much like the first at Mad – us begging for “one more” song, milling in large groups discussing the highest highs of the day, and the lowest lows (mostly of the valley below the campsite). Yet another impressively organized day that ran pretty much like clockwork despite some rescheduling and a light drizzle, meant that we were full of praise for the organizers and performers once again.
People were still talking about “that graceful dancing lady”. A lot of mini table tennis was played, little boys captained foosball teams and gave Anil Kumble type looks to people who didn’t do well on their side. Stalls were visited, wines tried, cupcakes eaten, slightly more expensive beer gulped down, a lot of walking done and a general feel good factor settled in as we headed back to more bonfires and jams back at the campsite.