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Fireflies Festival of Music 2013, Bangalore





Perhaps the bar was set too high by the previous instalments of the Fireflies Festival of Music, but this year the festival seemed slightly less successful. It was probably because everyone went into a state of panic as the clocks neared 10 o’clock, rushing the last few bands and generally leaving everyone feeling a little confused. As the festival was for a much shorter duration this time, there were fewer people this year and the line-up lacked the big names of previous years. However, the line up of artists was, if anything, more eclectic and more esoteric than ever.

This year’s event, which took place on the 10th of February, started about three hours late, which is sort of in keeping with the record set in 2012. For the longest time, there was a sizeable crowd left waiting with nothing to do but eat and smoke. Yes, we did have a few gripes with the festival this time but the music and the ambience more than made up for it. Despite the public whine that the festival was not an overnight affair anymore, Fireflies Festival of Music remains a much-anticipated event. The magical setting of the Pipal tree at the center of the amphitheatre promised a host of profound and stirring experiences, and one wasn’t really let down.

This year too, the event was hosted by Akshat Jitendranath, who has become the face of the festival. The first act on stage was Sangeet Sadhana – a Hindustani troupe. Anindita Mukherjee kicked off proceedings with her rendition of ‘Bhor Bhayee’, which rang many bells in the audience because of a certain Bollywood adaptation. This was followed by a duet in Raga Basant Bahar, and by the popular Rajasthani Mand ‘Kesariya Balam’, performed by Poulomi Dutt. There was then a surprise: a Rabindra Sangeet in Dadra style fused with Raga Bageshri to produce a magical duet – the soaring male vocals on this one hit the spot.

‘Ka Karoon Sajni, Aaye na Balam’ in Raga Sindhu Bhairavi was next. As fans of the thumris, this rendition did not let us down. The violin embellishments were delicious. ‘Ghir Ghir Aaye Kari Badariya’ in Raga Pilu was next, followed by a tarana in Raga Darbari. The male duet, culminating in a tabla-tabla jugalbandi was a happy inclusion in the short set! Ritesh’s silk smooth vocals stole the show, as did Anindita Mukherjee’s unique style of delivery.

The second act on stage was supposed to be ‘Vedanth and Bindu’, but to our surprise, the band seemed to be missing one half of the band – Bindu! ‘Vedanth and Bindu’ was quickly changed to ‘Vedant and Ananth’ as Bindu could not attend because of reasons not made known to us.  This Fireflies regular teamed up with old friend Ananth Menon – yes, Ananth Menon of Galeej Gurus and By 2 Blues fame – to produce an eclectic set of modern day blues, pop and Kabir hymns. Vedant and Bindu are a Chennai based duo that specializes in Bhakti music and Anant Menon is a blues guitarist and vocalist but this odd mixture did produce some pleasant surprises.

The first surprise was the sound check, ‘O Come, O Come Emannuel’ in two part harmony. With the sun shining bright, Vedanth went on to sing a few hymns by Sant Kabir. This is where we shamefully admit that we were not very knowledgeable about Sant Kabir’s hymns so Vedanth’s explanations helped. The first hymn, as he explained, was about a young newly wed pining for her husband, which he followed up with a Malvi version of another Kabir hymn describing the temple that is the human body. In this mix of Kabir songs, Vedanth quite unexpectedly sang a cover of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ – a Bob Dylan classic. The performance was lackluster, perhaps due to the fact that one guitar and one voice was trying to hold the attention of hundreds of people for a span of four songs

Ananth then joined Vedanth on stage to belt out ‘Pride and Joy’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan, followed by ‘Jheeni Chadariya’, this time embellished with Ananth’s blues lead guitar. Never before have we heard ‘Kabir Blues’, but we’re not complaining! ‘He was my Brother’ – a Simon and Garfunkel cover, followed this. They closed the short half-delightful set with a blues rendition of a keertan – ‘Bhajo Re Bhaiya Ram Govind Hare’.

Sufi and Qawali singers from Kutch were up next and they were the epitome of humility. Brought to the festival by an NGO working for the empowerment of women in the Kutch region, the joy of being in Bangalore and playing their music in front of a large gathering of city folk was evident on their faces. The band manager of this six-member group was more than happy to explain every song and his enthusiasm was highly infectious. Each song was tinged with melancholia and sadness and was beautiful, even though most of us did not understand any of the lyrics. The most memorable moment of their set was when one of them decided to play the double flute. Completely novel, passionate and intricate; the performance of the flautist got a standing ovation and rightly so.

After a high energy and thoroughly enjoyable closing song by the artists from Kutch, came the Irish band – Bahh Band, who had waited three long years to get to Fireflies. Probably one of the better artists of the night, they brought with them an unconventional yet pleasantly surprising set of songs that were a mix of Indian classical and Irish folk. Throughout their performance, their uber-charming sarod player – Mattu, kept up a great rapport with the audience. They started the set with ‘Spirit Gift’ – a song dedicated to the festival and the Pipal tree. The track started with an unhurried sarod dominated intro and progressed languidly as the percussions kicked in without being too overwhelming.

They moved onto their version of ‘Face of Love’, originally sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. Although the overzealous smoke machines fogged up the stage and the vocalist was barely audible, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the band and the execution of the track was spot-on. Following some more chit-chat with the audience where they took a dig at one of the most famous exports from Ireland – Snow Patrol, they decided to play some lively Irish folk songs – although slightly Indian-ised versions of them.  ‘Sexy Leprechaun’ was probably one of their best songs of night as their percussionist – Brain Fleming, was absolutely riveting on the Bodhrán – a handheld Irish drum. Fireflies was a great learning experience for any music lover – first we heard the double flute and then the Bodhrán!

Filled with intricate and enthralling Bodhrán solos, the song was a treat for the ears and the eyes. Between songs, Mattu managed to advertise their CD and impress the audience with a few Tamil words that he had picked up. As the sun set and the Pipal tree was lit up with colourful lights, the Bahh Band performed their final song – an Irish folk song called ‘Blacksmith’, where the vocalist managed to channel Enya and give us all an ethereal performance.

Floyd Fernandes took the stage next with two other musicians from Mumbai. As one of the best Jazz guitarists in India; his set was flawless and thoroughly entertaining. Although fatigue had set in and most in the audience were visibly tired, they had no problems grooving to smooth jazz, funk and blues that Floyd was belting out. They even danced along during Floyd’s rendition of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’ – which thankfully sounded nothing like the Boney M cover!

Talavattam was the next band to take the stage but hunger and fatigue took over and we were forced to skip their performance to get some much needed refreshments. Although we were missing from the amphitheatre, judging from the loud cheers and shrieks from the crowd – they were definitely one of the most popular bands with the audience at the festival.

What happened next was probably the lowest point of the whole night. Emam and Friends – a bunch of world musicians from – well unsurprisingly – all over the world, took to the stage after what seemed like an eternity to set up. With utter miscommunication between the artists and the sound tech team, problems escalated and some comical diva behaviour ensued. Finally, they began with ‘Guru Mantram’ and it would have been memorable in a good way if the vocalists were absent. Not only did they distract from the talent of the percussionist and sarod player, but their amateur singing of powerful shlokas, bhajans and kirtans and the accompanying jig were very unsettling. The only high point in their performance was when Brian Fleming from the Bahh Band joined them and Emam and he went crazy with the bongos and Bodhrán respectively.

Midway through their performance, they were informed that their set had to be cut short due to time constraints – and Emam went full on diva on the crowd and organizers demanding why the ”headlining act” was being treated so badly. We all seemed to have missed the memo about them being the headlining act – awkward! They sulkily ended their set with some badly sung kirtans and left the stage with barely concealed rage. No matter how much Emam thanked the wonderful audience, his disappointment with the organizers was very evident.

The last band on stage was Dutch Jazz group and another Fireflies regular – Spinifex. Their style of jazz fused with metal was so loud that they must have definitely blown out some eardrums and woken up slumbering citizens miles away. Given – the music was quite outstanding with a few hiccups and the venue was absolutely magical. However, we could not help wishing for the glory days of the Fireflies Festival of Music as we walked away from the ashram.

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Anusmita Datta

Anusmita Datta is an ardent day-dreamer, music lover, die-hard foodie and occasional writer. Her obsession with pandas is sometimes disturbing and she can be often found lusting after momos!


The Big Junction Jam Festival- Day 1


Something that I have learnt over the years about Indian musical events, especially those that have live music, is that they never seem to start off at the scheduled hour. I walked in at 10:30 sharp, on that lazy Saturday morning, into the Big Junction Jam Festival arena in Palace Grounds and was greeted by Swarathma, at work on their sound check. A quick round of introduction with Karan Karthik (from The Live Gig) revealed that their sound check started an hour back. Well, it continued for the next hour or so, while I lazily roamed around the place.

After what seemed like an eternity (but was really a couple of hours), Bangalore based Old School Rebels got on the stage & kicked off the festival. Playing an extremely short set (which almost every band, that followed them, did over the course of the fest) of four tracks, they played two of their originals, covering Audioslave’s ‘Revelations’ & Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’. Maybe it was the lack of a sizeable audience, the set never made quite an impression by the time it ended.

Local Bangalore based jazz-fusion jam act Bourbon Street were up next, with Fidel from Old School Rebels on the bass again. Bourbon Street is fronted by Jerome Mascarenhas, who was missing from the action this time around. In his place was a thin lad named Ganesh, whom I hadn’t seen play with them before. I was told this wasn’t his first gig with them, which was evident from the way he was on the stage. Playing originals as well as covering old songs like Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, & Phish’s ‘Free’, their set was cut short as well, and was plagued by sound glitches, the booming bass & the inaudible-at-times lead guitars. One noticeable cover was that of ‘Nature Boy’, a poem, originally performed by Nat King Cole.

The all-Infy band Joos followed Bourbon Street for their set. Playing an original ‘Float’ with three covers that included Elvis’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; this was a decent set, although the vocals were a bit of a disappointment!

Black Sun, a 3 piece blues-rock act from Bangalore came in next. Not having heard of the band earlier, I had absolute zero expectations from them, and was pleasantly surprised to see three young lads climb the stage. Playing a real tight but short set, that included a self-composition oddly titled ‘Old Monk’, they were probably the only act of the day that asked for a couple of minutes for an extra song, and the organizers obliged. Closing off with a neat cover of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’, they were well received by the limited audience that had gathered by now.

By the time I had got my share of chicken wings (Plan B had a counter in there!) and a couple of beers to wash them down, Mad Orange Fireworks had set up and were halfway into their first song. With Michael Dias fronting the band, it was difficult to miss the TAAQ/Bengaluru Rock flavor this band’s music has. Also, the fact that the first gig these guys played together was just couple of months back wasn’t really evident, with original compositions taking preference over covers for the majority. Their tremendous energy throughout their set wasn’t lost on the audience either.

Towards the end of the afternoon, a decent number had turned up and The Indian Blues and Khalihan got to perform before the event was interrupted by rain. The Indian Blues seemed to make an impression with the presence of a sarod and a santoor on stage; however Khalihan failed to create much of an impact.

When I had read the schedule for the festival, one thing that caught my eye was Live Banned, the only act mentioned sans the genre of music they played. Imagine the shock when they got on stage. Forget the black metal bands with corpse paint or GWAR with whatever they wear; these guys had the most insanely funny outfits I have seen a desi band sport. Still no hints on what they’d play though. I did not see what was coming my way. A Tamil movie song is what the guy next to me says. Okay. Wait! Baazigar’s ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen’? Crossed with Maiden’s ‘Fear Of The Dark’? Was I drunk or was that the Swat Cats theme? The Terminator? The most entertaining act of the day till then, Live Banned had everyone up on their feet and close to the stage in no time. Hope this act lasts, entertaining audiences in the days to come, and I hope their gags on stage do not repeat either.

Mumbai based raga rock act Paradigm Shift were a surprise entry among the headliners, and their beautiful set left no doubts that they deserved the spot. Their seamless blend of Indian classical music & rock n’ roll was vibrant enough to draw us closer to the stage and pay attention to them. With a violinist in the fold, the sound was very different from what we had expected of them. Vocalist Kaushik who, we later learnt had no formal training in classical music, has very soothing sufi-esque vocals. The track ‘Dhuan’ was the highlight of their set, probably the most polished song of them all. They paid a tribute to A.R Rahman covering the title track of the movie Roja.

The only progressive yet melodic hard-rock act of the day, Evergreen from Kochi took stage as the Sun went down. The traces of metal in Evergreen’s music, if not abundant, are evident. Fresh from the release of their latest video (City Blocks), their set was probably the longest of the day. Playing regulars like ‘From Here To Clarity’ and ‘Vengeance’, their DT/Rush influenced song writing, if not as prolific as either, was a breath of fresh, though heavier air from the rest of acts. Though the audience reception wasn’t very warm, they were the perfect openers for the rest of the headlining acts that followed.

Carnatic rock aficionados ‘Agam’ came on at the far end of the first day of the Big Junction Jam, right into slots reserved for headlining acts. After a short and uneventful sound check (as opposed to the longer ones audiences had to endure prior to the bona fide professionals grabbing the stage), Agam’s Harish Sivaramakrishnan introduced their first song ‘Brahma’s dance’; he sure had to make time for a hat tipping to the organizers and the crowd which was a nice little touch. Despite its down-tempo beginning, ‘Brahma’s Dance’ had the band off to a strong start. It took the first few bars of the song for Harish to settle into his vocals, a minor flub we heartily ignored. A strong point toward the middle of the song is an amber-toned shot glass of Harish’s special brand of rock Carnatic vocal that’s come to be the quintessential Agam flavour. A rising crescendo with an abrupt end had the crowd sighing with relief at the arrival of one of the few refined bands of the day! ‘Raag Dhanashree’ was up next and began strong on the tabla and electric guitar; the violin nosed its way in after Harish’s mike, toning it down just enough to meld with the song rather than overshadow it. And lo and behold, there was a sudden crowd in the front – stark contrast to the motley crew that had populated the area so far – mostly photographers, who ambled around looking like stragglers at an after party.

A flurry of well-rounded musical scales in the interim and the band was already halfway through the four-song set! ‘Lakshya Padhyai’ or ‘Path of Aspirations’, the next song, had a notable jazzy bass guitar face off – so short, you could miss it – that is a highlight of the song for this jazz lover. Beautifully light violin notes lead into the bridge and on into the end of the song. ‘Raaga’ was up next with the first Hindi lyrics of the set and a heavier sound justifying their ‘rock’ tag. With its short staccato stabs of guitar playing, the song was the first to get the crowd going in what seems like forever! It even brought Harish down to his knees – making photographers scramble to capture it! ‘Malhar jam’, usually the best kind of crowd-pleaser, was up next, but the band was cut off by the organisers. Harish made a valiant attempt at a last song but he was shot down.

Parvaaz, Bangalore-based psychedelic/blues outfit was up next. Having seen them win the Unmaad gig in IIM-B earlier this year, and then play at Fireflies as well, and the level of commitment they have shown at each and every gig, the only grudge I have against them, if I were to nitpick, is the lyrical content, which just doesn’t seem to match up with the music they play. Either that, or I don’t get it at all. Probably the latter. The show was running late as it is and musical sharks Swarathma and the percussion masters Beat Gurus waited patiently in the wings, waiting to do justice to the stage.

Enter Beat Gurus & the crowd that had pretty much settled down for a short break was back, up against the stage barricades in a minute. This decade old percussion-only group is a familiar name amongst namma Bengaluru music aficionados. The octet got on stage, a quick sound check was followed by a quick exit and a quick return in colorful kurtas. Well, the quick part about their stage act showed up in the length of their set as well. Two songs were all they got time to play. The seasoned performers they are, the audience was clapping along in no time cheering them on. Almost everyone, including the band, wanted this to last a bit longer, but time was running out and the biggest act of the day was gearing up to close the night.

Swarathma, arguably the biggest folk rock act India has seen in recent times, finally took the stage at quarter past ten. After a second and thankfully shorter sound-check, they started off the proceedings with ‘E Bhoomi’. Crowd favorites like ‘Yeshu, Allah aur Krishna’ shortly followed up. Swarathma are a treat to watch live, despite the relentless touring they seem to be on nowadays. Be it Vasu Dixit’s humor on the stage, his word-play with Jishnu, or Varun Murali’s flawless guitar playing, they have something for everyone in the audience, be it the musician or the ones who are in for the fun. Vasu was off the stage in the middle of the song and before you knew it he was dancing on the thela right in the middle of the crowd, urging everyone who had waited patiently for them to be a part of the act. It was nearing eleven already and even Swarathma ended up with just a four song set at the end of the day. I rue the fact that their sound-check in the morning lasted long enough to eat up into the length of their own set, not counting the bands that didn’t get a chance to play at all.

Despite the good music, the food and the beer, the number of people who attended was lower than expected. We finally left the venue, a little disappointed, but secretly hoping that the scene would improve on the second day of the festival.

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Sharanya Nair

Sharanya is a 'writer' and an 'editor'. You know the type. She loves her music too much to share.