The crowd chanted ‘we want more, we want more’ when Chicago-blues legend Buddy Guy left the stage at the Bandra-Kurla Complex an hour earlier than expected last month. The usual encore fake-out was no tease. And the audience left with its music appetites seemingly not satiated.
The hunger in the air was a positive sign for musicians, although several questions still remain unanswered. Such as, is there a market for more live music in Mumbai? Do audiences really want more?
One member of that audience, music composer Ashutosh Phatak, is convinced that he and his partner Dhruv Ghanekar have the answers. “I know there is a market out there,” he says. “I think people have not been exposed to what is possible in this city.”
Phatak and Ghanekar plan to change that and show Mumbaikars, as residents of the city are called, what is possible. They have begun construction of the city’s first daily live music club, which will open around September or October. “We are talking about serious musicians,” he says. The 6,000 sq. ft amphitheatre will sit in south Mumbai and host 500 guests, who will all have the best seat in the house—a stage view. It will be a “music listener’s space” that will target the 30-and-above crowd, and the ticket price will factor in the cost of international musicians. The club will also serve food and drinks from DeGustibus Hotels Pvt. Ltd, the holding company behind one of Mumbai’s best-known restaurants Indigo.
There are already a handful of places that host live music shows in Mumbai, and many say that the number of venues remains low because the market is not well-defined. Henry Tham’s restaurant in the tourist-filled Colaba area plays live, original blues and jazz on Thursdays. Hard Rock Café in Lower Parel offers rock cover songs twice a week.
Out in hip suburb Bandra, the restaurant-lounge Seijo & Soul Dish offer mostly jazz and popular tunes on Fridays. And on any day of the week, people can go to Not Just Jazz by the Bay (like they could have any day in the past 11 years) for a fix of cover songs or karaoke.
Despite these options and the uncertainty around the market, Phatak and Ghanekar see an opening for a place that was designed around music. “We were waiting for someone to do something,” Phatak says. “We just got fed up and said if we don’t do it no one is going to do it.”
Along with the club, they are starting a recording studio and a subscription-based music library, and launching a music label. They want to infuse Mumbai with a more international feel that they think the town craves. And they want young Indian musicians to have a chance to make the music they want to make.
“Indians in London have a sound, Indians in San Francisco have a sound, but Indians in Bombay …” Phatak trails off.
Phatak took the duo’s ideas to a boardroom in Singapore filled with lawyers and investment bankers keen to invest in India. He entered to make his first business presentation in a T-shirt and jeans, and left with an undisclosed amount of private equity funding. Phatak and Ghanekar then brought in three other partners with operations, finance and production experience to complete the plan. One of the key selling points for the funders was their confidence in a market for the nightclub.
Seijo & the Soul Dish owner Kishore DF says he knows there are Mumbaikars aching for live music in a bar setting, but somehow they are not the ones that end up in his place. He continues to offer live music because it helps build his restaurant’s brand image.
“The music scene is in the process of evolving, and I want to be there when it happens,” he says.
Brothers Ryan and Keenan Tham, directors of their father’s restaurant Henry Tham, say Bacardi Martini India Ltd has signed a six-month contract from March to sponsor their Thursday night live shows in exchange for promotion and branding.
Typically, the cost of a band ranges from Rs10,000-40,000 in Mumbai. In addition, there is the cost of the sound system (Rs15,000-20,000) and marketing, which is rarely tracked. But the brothers say they cannot find as many bands as they would like.
Joe Sequeira, manager at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, says the restaurant has been making money for years on a pure-music offering. And Hard Rock Café’s general manager Kersi Marker says the Thursday rock nights increase patronage by 25-50%.
Phatak says his club’s advantage will be in the musician’s touch. “I got sucked into my work, and I forgot why we became musicians in the first place,” he says. “I think it is the reinvention of that is what’s exciting.”