Delighters in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse, rejoice: international-standard outdoor music festivals may now become a regular happening in your neighbourhood.
India has never been known as a destination for global music festivals, but all that is set to change. UK-based annual festival, The Big Chill, made its debut on Asvem beach in Goa earlier this month, making it the first event of its kind in the country. Featuring an impressive line-up of artists—ranging from dub master Mad Professor, audio-visual geniuses Hexstatic, live dance music improvisers The Bays and headliner Coldcut, to Indian and Indian-rooted musicians, including Shri (of Badmarsh & Shri fame), vocalist Sheila Chandra, homegrown poets Shaa’ir & Func, singer-songwriter Raghu Dixit, DJ Pearl and South Indian percussionists Sapthaakshara—plus dancers and jugglers, the event provided an ideal platform for some synergistic cross-pollination.
Shaa’ir does a solo
Raghu Dixit, who had never heard of the Big Chill before, suddenly found himself faced with a few hundred new fans as he stood alone on the main stage, unleashing one soulful tune after the other. Shri wowed a packed audience as he engaged in energetic repartees with his drummer and an Irish-Indian rapper, switching between his signature self-made, fretless bowed bass guitar and the bamboo flute overlaid with vocal beatboxing, clearly overshadowing headliner Coldcut, who followed. “For the third time, would you please clear the area for the next performance?” pleaded the compere to a throbbing crowd that demanded he come back.
Shri’s drummer, in turn, was blown away by Sapthaakshara’s lead percussionist, who produced sounds of an entire drum kit—including rock and funk rhythms, hi-hats and tom-toms and even a bluesy walking bassline—out of a small, traditional tambourine.
The crowd—around 4,000 people—was smaller than expected, but those who came returned hoping for experimental sounds. While Bollywood, classical and rock may remain the staple genres of the masses, events such as the Big Chill bode well for the future of more edgy and original sounds in the country.
“There were many people from the Mumbai music industry,” says musician Ashutosh Phatak, one half of Smoke Music Productions and partner in an upcoming project featuring an independent record label, four recording studios and a live music club in South Mumbai. “But I know there are lots more people in Mumbai and around the country who would welcome experiences like this.”
With the frequency of both small gigs and big concerts on the rise, new venues opening up and establishment owners more willing to offer something different, a healthy festival culture is sure to attract more such acts.
At Rs3,000 for a two-day wristband, ticket prices were high enough to stop the event from becoming an free-for-all without being prohibitively expensive.
In return, however, was the opportunity to experience a wide variety of superb live performances from home and abroad, meet like-minded people and be immersed in festival culture, all at a relatively low cost, without the hassles of international travel.
Many of those who feared that the festival would conform to the standard image of Goa’s thumping psy-trance parties, were in for a pleasant surprise. “There were riot police stationed outside the gates and plainclothes officials sprinkled inside as law enforcement agents expected trouble,” says Mazher Ramzanali of the core organizing team. “Instead, they found families and dogs relaxing peacefully and people doing their part to keep the place clean and generally create a very positive atmosphere.”
This sense of camaraderie and connection also blurred the lines between performers and audience. When singer Sheila Chandra announced, in gravelly voice, that it was her birthday that day, and she had a cold, the crowd—which had been waiting for nearly an hour due to a technical glitch—burst spontaneously into “Happy Birthday”. Another band paused its performance to help a lost child who had wandered onstage to reconnect with his family.
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