Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


khamoshi

Khamoshi Ki Aawaz/ Pankaj Udhas

Genre: Ghazal

Velvet Voices/ Rs 250

Rating: ****

EARLY last year, ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas had released ‘Dastkhat’, an album containing the poetry of the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz. On his latest collection ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’, he continues with the mood of good poetry, but instead of focusing on one writer, he chooses a mix of both traditional and modern names.

If Faiz’s style uses complex Urdu words and metaphors, and is normally followed by only those with a deep knowledge of the language, the poetry on the new album is much simpler, and thus easier to relate to among the masses. With a blend of inter-related thoughts and contrasting concepts, the seven-track CD has poetry of the highest calibre. Besides ghazals by Jigar Moradabadi, Mirza Ghalib, Parveen Shakir and Ahmed Faraaz, ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’ has one charming nazm by Ajay Pandey ‘Sahab’.

The songs have an easy listening feel, dominated by pleasant keyboards, violin, sarangi and bansuri. Though one initially feels there isn’t much variety in the structure of the compositions, the tunes take their time to grow on you. Once they do, you feel like hearing them repeatedly.

The album begins with Moradabadi’s popular ‘Saqi ki har nigaah bal kha ke pee gaya’, once rendered by Mohammed Rafi. The lines ‘Sarmasti-e-azal mujhe jab yaad aa gayi, duniya-e-aitbaar ko thukra ke pee gaya’ are truly impressive.

Ghalib’s ‘Koi umeed bar nahin aati’ runs into almost nine minutes, and is one of the album’s highlights. If Udhas sings ‘Maut ka ek din mo-ayeeyan hai, neend kyon raat bhar nahin aati’ on this ghazal, Faraaz’s ‘Kuchh na kisise bolenge’ has a related concept with ‘Neend toh kya aayegi Faraaz, maut aati toh so lenge’.

The album has other interesting examples of lines on the same subject. If Faraaz has another ghazal ‘Is se pehle ke bewafa ho jaaye, kyon na ae-dost hum judaa ho jaaye’, Parveen Shakir’s ‘Teri khushboo ka pata karti hai’ has the sher ‘Dil ko us raah pe chalna hi nahin, jo mujhko tujhse judaa karti hai’.

The late Shakir, one of the popular female poets of Pakistan, also pens ‘Sundar komal sapnon ki baaraat guzar gayee janan’. Sung and arranged like a dreamy ballad, this number grows after a few replays.

The album concludes with Ajay Pandey’s ‘Sahab’s nazm ‘Ajab ek paagal si ladki hai’, which has lyrics that inspire the album’s title. While the poet initially writes ‘Tumhein khamoshiyon mein kya meri aawaaz aati hai, Andheron mein abhi tak kya mera chehra chamakta hai’, he later says, ‘Seher se shaam tak jeevan mein itna shor rehta hai, Na woh khamoshiyan baaki na ab woh aahatein baaki’.

Throughout the album, Udhas sticks to straightforward singing, keeping the feel light. Appropriate accompaniment is provided by arranger Sameer Nichani, violin/ swarleen player Rajendra Singh Sodha, flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, guitarist Ankur Mukherjee, sarangi exponents Sabir Khan and Dilshad Khan, and percussionist Nirmal Pawar. Everyone keeps things simple, and that’s the strength of ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


yanni

THAT memory is still vivid. In March 1997, I had visited the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, to cover the much-awaited Yanni concert. With the glorious Taj Mahal in the backdrop, the setting seemed perfect, and I even ignored the mosquitoes that occasionally did marathons on my forearms.

Before the show, I was confused whether I was a Yanni fan or not. Yes, I had loved the ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album, but his studio albums were too elevator-friendly for my comfort. The show changed everything – for a while, at least.

Lavishly produced, it featured an immensely talented orchestra conducted by Armen Anassian. Violins, cellos, flutes, trumpets, French horns, guitars, basses, drums and the didgeridoo mingled magnificently on tracks like ‘Adagio in C Minor’, ‘Dance with a Stranger’, ‘Niki Nana’ and ‘Santorini’.

While Yanni’s keyboard unleashed its expected magic, violinist Karen Briggs was a revelation. The concert was held over the next two days, and easily, it was one of the best shows India has witnessed.

WITH this background, let’s welcome Yiannis Chryssomallis aka Yanni to India once again. In January, the ace Greek new age composer and musician will perform in Vadodara. Earlier this year, he played in India after 17 years, with shows in Chennai and Bangalore. Those who have missed him so far would want to attend his spectacle this time.

Sounds good? Yes and no. While the concert at Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace on January 23 promises to be musically-outstanding and larger than life, as is the case with most Yanni shows, there are two major bottlenecks. One is the astonishingly steep ticket fare, and the second revolves whether Yanni’s following in India is remotely as close it was in 1997.

The Chennai and Bangalore concerts didn’t come cheap either. In Chennai, the ticket denominations, from the lowest onwards, were ₹ 2,000, ₹ 3,000, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8,000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000. In Bangalore, they cost ₹ 2,500, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8.000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000.

If you thought that was expensive, check out Vadodara. Part of the four-day VadFest, or Vadodara International Art & Culture Festival, those attending will have to pay ₹ 5,000, ₹ 7,000, ₹ 10,000, ₹ 12,000, ₹ 20,000 or, hold your breaths, ₹ 75,000. Unless they are influential enough to get a free invite, that is.

Yanni is scheduled to play for about two hours. And going by the map of the venue, those with the cheapest tickets will probably be sitting a few kilometres away, watching the proceedings on a giant screen, if at all.

Considering that very few people want to go alone for such shows, and would want to go with their spouses or friends, the cost per individual will naturally multiply. For two people, that will mean ₹ 10,000.

The richer class may be able to afford such fares, but what about the middle-class fan or the student who would want to attend too? Unless no-one wants them in the crowd!

From the viewpoint of organisers, an event of Yanni’s scale would incur huge costs. The Agra show featured 40 musicians, and one would assume similar numbers will be utilised this time. Besides this, there will be personal managers, tour managers, sound engineering teams, lighting teams, set-designing teams and public relations agents, most of whom may come from abroad as they are familiar with Yanni’s requirements. Despite the presence of airline and hospitality sponsors, putting up so many people is a huge cost. On top of that, there are the artiste and crew fees.

Besides the people factor, we have costs related to setting up the show – the equipment, speakers, lights, sets, giant screens, caterers’ fees, beverage company expenses, etc, etc. One has to take taxes into account, and there are many sundry expenses which come up closer to the event. Yes, some of these finances may be offset through sponsors. But this isn’t like many other shows – the sheer scale will be much larger. It’s a different matter that acts like Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd made even grander appearances.

Keeping this in mind, the organisers may try to justify their decision to fix such high ticket rates. But then, who are they actually targeting? From the simple price structure, it’s obvious that a large number will attend just because they have the moolah, irrespective of whether they enjoy Yanni or not. Many of them may not even have heard of him before. The true fans may just dream of a telecast or watch it on DVD.

Another thing needs to be considered. When Yanni came to Agra in 1997, he was at his peak. His ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album had sold hugely across the world, and India was no exception. Even though the Agra shows had a large number of politicians, businessmen and richie-doodles in the crowd, there were a few fans who travelled from Delhi to watch him perform.

The Yanni phase lasted from late 1994, after ‘Acropolis’ was released, to about late 1997, when Yanni combined his shows at Agra and the Forbidden City, Beijing, to release the ‘Tribute’ album. He later played at the Kremlin, Moscow, and Burj Khalifa, Dubai, and though his studio albums did well on the new age charts, they never made it to the top of the overall Billboard charts. Even new age, as a genre, became stagnant after the 2000s.

Today, the world listens to lots of other music, with electronic dance music, modern rock, world music, fusion and ambient lounge attracting listeners. The term ‘new age’ was pretty fashionable in the second half of the 1990s, thanks to artistes like Yanni, Enigma, Enya, Bradley Joseph and Kitaro, but what affected the genre’s long-term popularity was that there was no set pattern of sound. Anything that sounded a little offbeat and unlike the common genres was described as new age, and very often, spiritually uplifting and religious chant-driven music was also placed in the same family.

In all fairness, Yanni’s shows may be still as spectacular as they were 17 years ago. Though the ambience may not have the same effect as the Taj Mahal or Acropolis or Kremlin, the quality of musicianship will undoubtedly be high, as many younger instrumentalists would have joined his troupe. Moreover, his brand of music is best enjoyed live, and not on CD or even DVD.

The question, of course, is: how many people can really afford the Vadodara show? And if they do, how many will comprise the right kind of people? Only those with enough money to throw around can dream of paying ₹ 20,000 to get a hundred yards close to Yanni, and ₹ 75,000 to smell his perfume, and then falsely boast that they shook hands with the man.

The magical music of Mali


vieux2

WAITING TO ROCK INDIA: Vieux Farka Toure performs in Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai this month

INDIAN fans of the world music genre would instantly recognise Mali for the contributions of Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita. While the former was one of Africa’s best known singers, guitarists and multi-instrumentalists, the latter is an Afro-pop singer-songwriter also known as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’. Still others would associate the West African country with the album ‘Mali Music’, released by Damon Albarn of the groups Blur and Gorillaz.

Just like South Africa has had big names like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Dollar Brand and Vhusi Mhalasela, Mali has had a number of stars over the years. And yet, despite the fact that the country is steeped hugely in musical culture, militants announced early last year that they were banning all music, forcing many artistes into exile. For a country where people literally breathe music, that was an unfortunate development.

This year, India is having a good taste of Malian music, thanks to the Blackberrys Sharp Nights – Masters of World Music series organised by upscale menswear brand Blackberrys. Last month, New Delhi and Hyderabad witnessed performances by famed singer Fatoumata Diawara. Now, singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, will perform in Pune on December 3, Bengaluru on December 6 and Mumbai on December 10.

Vieux has performed at Mumbai’s Blue Frog on an earlier visit, and those who missed that now have a chance to see him. At the same time, those enthusiastic about world music may begin with this list of 10 brilliant Malian musicians. We add a few more names at the end, for those who would like to explore even further.

Ali Farka Toure: Blending traditional Malian music with American blues, Ali Farka Toure has been ranked No 76 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 greatest guitarists of all time’. Recommended albums include ‘Savane’, ‘Talking Timbuktu’, ‘From Mississippi to Mali’ (with blues and reggae musician Corey Harris) and ‘In The Heart of the Moon’ (with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate). Ali passed away In 2006.

Salif Keita: Combining West African musical styles with popular European and American influences, Keita made it big in Paris in the mid-1980s. He recorded some successful albums after returning to Mali, including ‘Mouffou’ and ‘La Difference’.

Rokia Traore: An award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, Traore uses vocal harmonies which are rare in Malian music. Her 1997 album ‘Mouneissa’ was popular, and she later released some superb collections like ‘Wanita’, ‘Bownboi’ and ‘Tchamantche’.

Tinariwen: The Grammy-winning group from northern Mali was formed in the late 1970s, but became a sensation with the 2007 album ‘Aman Iman’ (‘Water is Life’). Their style is essentially guitar-driven and they use traditional melodies of the Tuareg community.

Toumani Diabate: Best known for his collaboration with Ali Farka Toure on ‘In The Heart of The Moon’, Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge harp. His father Sidiki Diabate pioneered the instrument, and his younger brother Mamodou Sidiki Diabate is a prominent player too.

Vieux Farka Toure: The son of Ali Farka Toure, Vieux is one of the most promising musicians of Mali, and has often been called ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’. His self-titled debut album features both his father and Diabate, and his latest album ‘Mon Pays’ was released as a homage to his homeland.

Amadou & Mariam: Comprising the couple of Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals and Mariam Doumbia on vocals, the group made a name for itself playing Malian blues. Both the musicians are blind.

Oumou Sangare: One of the most popular singers of Mali, Sangare belongs to the Wassoulou region. Her 1990 debut ‘Moussolou’ was hugely popular in Africa, and later she became well-known outside the continent too.

Fatoumata Diawara: Currently living in France, Diawara blends Wassoulou traditions with international influences. Her powerful voice blends well with her slick guitaring, and she’s been a success on her shows in the US, South America and Asia.

Bassekou Kouyate: A master of the string instrument ngoni, Kouyate has played with Diabate and American banjo player Bela Fleck. He has released the albums ‘Segu Blue’, ‘I Speak Fula’ and ‘Jama Ko’.

WHILE these 10 musicians may be perfect for those wanting an initiation into the music of Mali, the country has produced many other prominent artistes. These include singers Fanta Sacko and Fanta Damba, singer-guitarists Afel Boucom and Habib Koite, singer-kora player Kandia Kouyate and rap group Tata Pound.

Indeed, Mali is a goldmine for African music. Despite the political upheaval it has faced, the nation has produced a wealth of talent. In case you missed Fatoumata Diawara’s shows last month, Vieux Farka Toure will surely provide a heady dose of Malian magic in the three shows he has lined up.


shuffle

BRILLIANT: Canadian band The Shuffle Demons at Blue Frog, Mumbai, on November 26

THIS evening, three exciting jazz festivals are slated to begin. All of them will last three days, but while the Reclamation Jazz festival will be held in Mumbai and the Jazz Fest 2014 in Kolkata, keep guessing where the Goa International Jazz Live will take place. Sadly, nobody in the world has six feet to make it to all three places.

Such clashing of events is quite common in Hindustani classical music, where one often has to choose between five or six places on a single evening in the same city during season-time. But having three major jazz festivals on the same three days is unfortunate. If planned differently, the true-blue jazz fans could travel from one city to another and attend different shows.

While India has been hosting some fantastic jazz festivals of late, most of them are in November, when the music season has just begun. Besides the three festivals happening this weekend, you had the Jazz Utsav in Delhi and the Shisha Café International Jazz festival in Pune. Considering that at one time we only had the iconic Jazz Yatra, which eventually made way for Jazz Utsav, this trend of having multiple festivals is more than welcome. Yet, one feels some of them could happen at different times of the year.

Through the year, many cities have a fair number of one-off shows, some of which are organised by foreign diplomatic and educational bodies. Besides Mumbai and Delhi, one finds a lot of good stuff in Bangalore and Kolkata. Recently, Mumbai hosted a rare big band concert by Russian saxophonist Igor Butman and his group, and on December 1, the Sachal Jazz Ensemble, a fusion-jazz group consisting of musicians from India, Pakistan and the UK, plays at the Tata Theatre. While that’s good news, one hopes the jazz fever continues a little longer and doesn’t vanish by the year-end.

TALKING of jazz shows, the act that really blew me this year came from Toronto, Canada. Called The Shuffle Demons, they played at the Blue Frog on Wednesday in what was one of the most foot-tapping sets heard in Mumbai in a long time.

The band was brought in by the organisers of Ragasthan, the popular desert camping festival that is held near Jaisalmer, and whose dates for next year have been fixed for February 12 to 15. A host of Indian and international acts are slated to perform, and it promises to be a great experience.

What set The Shuffle Demons apart at the Ragasthan pre-event party was their sheer energy and vibrancy. Though their set lasted only 70 minutes and they played just seven numbers, they simply wowed the crowd with their brand of happy music.

The band played a well-blended amalgam of jazz, funk, hip-hop, reggae and world music, and never ceased to surprise with the directions their tunes took. Plus, all the five members were natural showmen, dressed in distinct costumes, jiving on stage and beginning and ending their show by doing a round of the venue.

The other unique thing about The Shuffle Demons was their line-up. While the rhythm section was manned by drummer Stich Wynston and bassist Chris Banks, they had three saxophonists – Richard Underhill, Ryan Oliver and Shawn Nykwist. There were no guitars or keyboards, and all five musicians chipped in with vocals.

The band began with the pieces ‘Perry’s Groove’ and ‘One Good Turn’. The other tunes included their favourites ‘Cheese on Bread’ and ‘Spadina Bus’, and a version of the Charles Mingus tune ‘Wednesday Night Prayer Tune’ lent variety. One only wished they had played another half an hour.

The Shuffle Demons will play tonight at the Goa festival, followed by appearances in Bangalore, Kolkata and Delhi. The tour is also being used to promote their latest CD ‘Clusterfunk’. Surely, their shows are not to be missed. So do try and shuffle across and hear them if you’re in one of these cities.


endless

IF I hadn’t grown up on the 1970s albums of Pink Floyd, I would have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I hadn’t spent so many hours listening to ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Animals’ and the better half of ‘Meddle’, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I wouldn’t have been mesmerised by instrumentals like ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, ‘One Of These Days’, ‘On The Run’, ‘Any Colour You Like’, ‘Terminal Frost’ and ‘Signs Of Life’, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. Oh, if I hadn’t idolised David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Syd Barrett, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to realise that the latest Pink Floyd album, released almost two decades after its previous ‘The Division Bell’, isn’t on my list of favourites. At least, I wouldn’t give it four stars or five stars as many across the world have been doing, or hail it as the best piece of ‘ambient’ and ‘new age’ music created in centuries. On the other hand, I wouldn’t slam the effort totally, or give it a one-star rating like the reviewer of ‘The Independent’, London.

Reviews are more often than not subjective, and so it be with mine. Though a couple of tracks like ‘It’s What We Do’, ‘Anisina’, ‘Sum’ and ‘Calling’ definitely have the Floyd class, ‘The Endless River’ hardly moved me in toto. Yes, there are many instances of instrumental genius, but that’s a given in any Floyd album. On a generous day, I would settle for two and a half stars, and on a mean day, I would stick to two.

Before listing down my main problems with ‘The Endless River’, here’s a small brief about the album. Released as a tribute to Wright, who passed away in 2008, it contains 17 instrumental tracks and one vocal number. Most tunes fall in what is described as the ‘ambient’ category, though some of them have the quintessential psychedelic rock bearings that Floyd popularised four decades ago.

My main issue with ‘The Endless River’ is that it just seems like a collage of sounds of the past. Gilmour’s guitar riffs, Wright’s keyboard effects and Mason’s drumming patterns have mostly been heard before, often reminding you of portions from ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘The Division Bell’ and ‘Meddle’. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that half the pieces sound like ‘Signs of Life’, the opening track of ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ has been dumped into a mixer-grinder and hurled around to create many splinter tunes.

Secondly comes the album’s format itself. Over the years, though Floyd has released instrumental tunes here and there, especially in early albums like ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, ‘Atom Heart Mother’ and the ‘More’ soundtrack, it hasn’t done an out-and-out instrumental album. In the past, the wordless songs have come between the vocal ones, and have often provided some diversion to the overall effort. In the case of ‘The Endless River’, we have 17 instrumentals with more or less the same formula, making things sound monotonous.

Third, some of the Floyd instrumentals of yesteryears have been classics in their own right. The psychedelic wizardry of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ (from ‘The Pipers At The Gates of Dawn’), the double-tracked bass of ‘One of These Days’ (‘Meddle’), the infectiousness of ‘When You’re In’ (‘Obscured by Clouds’), the stunning effects of ‘On the Run’ (‘Dark Side’), the majestic build-up of ‘Any Colour You Like’ (‘Dark Side’ again), the jazz-filled saxophone splendour of ‘Terminal Frost’ (‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’) and the laidback elegance of ‘Cluster One’ (‘The Division Bell’) all give them a unique charm and character. The tunes of ‘The Endless River’ are pleasant on their own, but that X-factor so characteristic of Floyd is missing. The same is true for the vocal track ‘Louder Than Words’, which has a sound we have heard since the 1970s.

Next we come to the length of the tunes. Of the 18 cuts, nine are less than two minutes. And almost all these nine seem to be incomplete attempts at trying to do something and yet heading nowhere. The pieces start in trademark Floyd style, one hears a swanky riff somewhere, and just when you think the actual song is about to begin, it’s over. A related complaint has to do with the fact that most pieces have rather abrupt endings at a time when you’re just getting a hang of them.

Finally, there may be individually brilliant portions, but the sum just doesn’t add up. I can hear two or three tunes at a time, but beyond that, things drag. Half the time, I want to go back to earlier albums like ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘Animals’ or even many people’s favourite ‘The Wall’. Surely, ‘Mother’, ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ and ‘Vera’ sounded leagues ahead.

Oh, if I had been born 30 years later than I was and had just been introduced to Floyd three months ago, I would have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I had been swayed by all this hype surrounding its release, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’. If I had just believed in blindly following the latest fads, I’d have loved ‘The Endless River’.

A neat ABBA tribute


abba

The original ABBA

A LARGE section of the audience may not have recognised the opening instrumental passage, which was the title theme from the ‘Arrival’ album. But the moment ‘Dancing queen’ came on, everyone was on their feet. For nearly two hours after that, they had a perfect party.

The concert by ABBA Gold, a tribute band, drew a packed crowd at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana in Santa Cruz on Saturday night. It was a good mix of various age groups, and obviously a large chunk of them had grown up on the original Swedish pop supergroup.

Interestingly, this was the first of two ABBA tributes scheduled for this month. On November 8, a tribute band called ABBA Mania will play at the Bandra Gymkhana. Though the set list may be very similar to last week’s gig, this should be another treat for fans.

Back in the 1970s, ABBA had been a rage. Comprising Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, they had stormed charts and hearts with a string of hit albums. Many teenagers of that time had got into western music through ABBA, Boney M or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which had songs by the Bee Gees. And though the same people later called ABBA old-fashioned because their own tastes had drifted towards rock or jazz, they eventually came back to revisiting their songs.

ABBA was special in many ways. The compositions were filled with melody and the lyrics were simple enough to be appreciated and remembered. The arrangements were unique too, whether they did simple pop songs, ballads or the faster, disco-influenced stuff, Benny and Bjorn were considered among the world’s greatest songwriters.

Most important, the songs had a Scandinavian charm which made them unique. Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who sang most tunes, had a distinct Swedish accent and yet were so perfect with the technicalities, displaying pure voice structure and incredible range, besides excelling in the harmonies. Sadly, the members began to have differences, and though they never officially announced a split, they stopped performing together after December 1982.

During those days, most people would have possessed ABBA’s music on vinyl records or cassette. The band was regularly played on the radio, and that was where many teenagers got their regular dose. With original albums and various compilations like ‘Gold’, ‘More Gold’ and ‘Number Ones’ being released later on CD, the fans bought them once again, and the next generation of listeners was exposed too. Even today, their music is played in parties.

Not surprisingly, one could spot so many people humming along at Saturday’s gig. After Bashir Sheikh did an opening set that included covers of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Frank Sinatra, ABBA Gold came along. ‘Dancing queen’ was followed by ‘Super trouper’, ‘Angel eyes’ and ‘SOS’. ‘The winner takes it all’ was adapted to suit the singer’s voice, and one missed the high notes of the original. ‘Voulez vous’ had the audience on their feet and dancing.

Other hits from the first half were ‘Name of the game’, ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’, ‘Ring ring’ and ‘Money money money’. On some songs like ‘Angel eyes’ and ‘Ring ring’, one clearly missed the Swedish accents that made the originals so unique. But the more the group played, the more nostalgic the crowd became.

ABBA Gold began their second set with ‘Lay all your love on me’, and followed it with ‘Knowing me knowing you’ and ‘Honey honey’. ‘Does your mother know’ was repeated in the encore. ‘Gimme gimme gimme’ and ‘Take a chance on me’ attracted the hardcore fans, whereas ‘Chiquitita’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Thank you for the music’ and ‘Waterloo’ impressed with their soulfulness. On ‘Mamma mia’, the group invited everyone to dance, and played the song in a more uptempo manner. A highlight was the drum solo, which lent variety.

While the show was extremely enjoyable, one missed certain songs. ‘I have a dream’ was probably not done because the original has a children’s chorus. Other omissions included ‘Nina pretty ballerina’, ‘Hasta manana’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘As good as new’. Also, the attempts at humour between songs fell a bit flat.

But for all ABBA fans, this would have been a treat. The songs are ageless, and even today, they sound as charming as they did in the 1970s. Only a few people might have seen the original group abroad during their hey day, and this was the closest one could experience.

Over the years, Mumbai has had a good taste of tribute bands. In the mid-1990s, an Eagles tribute band thrilled the audience at the Sophia Bhabha Hall. The famous Bootleg Beatles, who sing and look like the Fab Four, had a fantastic show at what was then the Juhu Centaur hotel.

In 2009, the group After Midnight did the show ‘Classic Clapton’, with Mike Hall playing the role of Eric Clapton. The same year, at the Shanmukhananda Hall, the all-girl group Lez Zeppelin did songs of… you guessed it… Led Zeppelin. A group called Higher On Maiden had visited other cities like Bangalore and Imphal in the past.

As far as ABBA goes, this isn’t the first tribute band to have visited India. Some 10 years ago, a group called Bjorn Again had come for an event which featured other artistes too. ABBA Gold too were earlier scheduled to perform in May but didn’t get visas as the elections were taking place that time. But every thing comes at the right time, we guess. Those who got to see them were simply lucky. If you missed that, you can catch the other gig at Bandra Gym.


cohen2

Popular Problems/ Leonard Cohen

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Label: Sony Music

Rating: *****

QUITE clearly, Leonard Cohen defies the concept of growing old. The Canadian singer-songwriter turned 80 on September 21, and at an age when many of his contemporaries would have lost much of their compositional charm, he has produced one of the most remarkable albums of his career. His 13th release ‘Popular Problems’ is a worthy successor to his 2012 effort ‘Old Ideas’, and it’s another of those collections that keeps sounding better on repeated hearing.

‘Popular Problems’ has nine songs, and at less than 36 minutes, is rather short too. None of the tunes crosses the five-minute mark, and yet, they’re filled with so much depth that they seem much longer. Most important, Cohen’s voice seems to get deeper and even more haunting, with that chronic bronchitis growl that makes him so inimitable.

Like in most of his earlier work, the songs talk of love, sex, religion, politics, war, despair and depression, using some outstanding imagery. While one number ‘A Street’ has been co-written by Anjani Thomas, seven have been penned in partnership with Patrick Leonard. ‘Born In Chains’, which has been doing the live circuit for four years, is Cohen’s only exclusive piece of songwriting.

A highlight of the songs is the minimal use of orchestrations, with soft drum brushes, soothing violins, graceful horns and just-about-adequate organs playing pleasantly in the backdrop. The use of female choruses is a regular feature, as the back-up singers repeat the main lines either in isolation or at cross-harmony with Cohen’s voice. If one has to criticise something about this album, it has to do with the ordinariness of its cover artwork. The rest falls perfectly in place.

The singer is in form from the opening number ‘Slow’, singing “I’m slowing down the tune, I’ve never liked it fast, You wanna get there soon, I wanna get there last” in his trademark style. The second piece ‘Almost Like The Blues’ is a dark, anti-war lament, with the lines “There’s torture and there’s killing, And there’s all my bad reviews, The war, the children missing, Lord, it’s almost like the blues.”

On initial hearing, ‘Samson In New Orleans’ may sound like one of the album’s weaker spots, but that’s because it’s too trademark Cohen in tune and structure. Over a few hearings, this song about the Katrina aftermath impresses with its melancholic violin stretch and infectious back-up vocals. With its charming synthesiser line, ‘A Street’ impresses with the words “I cried for you this morning, And I’ll cry for you again, But I’m not in charge of sorrow, So please don’t ask me when.”

What’s amazing is the way the style of the songs changes as the album progresses. The piano-backed ‘Did I Ever Love You?’ is a hymn-like tune questioning the depth of a relationship, whereas ‘My Oh My” just has the right tinge of the blues, with Cohen altering the way he sings the main words remarkably. The other war-related song ‘Nevermind’ is one of the album’s strongest parts, as he sings, “I had to leave my life behind, I dug some graves you’ll never find, The story’s told with facts and lies, I have a name but never mind.” A funk blues backdrop and Arabic vocals give this piece its own distinctness.

On ‘Born in Chains’, Cohen gets into a gospel flavor, singing “I was born in chains but I was taken out of Egypt, I was bound to a burden, but the burden it was raised, Oh Lord I can no longer keep this secret, Blessed is the name, the name be praised.” With its charming violins and pleasant acoustic guitar, the concluding track ‘You Got Me Singing’ traverses country territory. Referring to his famous tune ‘Hallelujah’, Cohen sings, “You got me singing, Singing the Hallelujah hymn.”

Though Cohen has written some pathbreaking songs in his career, he hasn’t been too prolific for most part, sometimes giving gaps or seven or nine years between albums. But the heartening thing is that he’s come out with two great albums in the space of two years and a half. Both ‘Old Ideas’, reviewed earlier in this blog on April 30 2012, and ‘Popular Problems’ complement each other. Like wine, Cohen’s charm is increasing with age.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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