When it rains, it pours. I've been going to concerts by the dozen these days, mostly by the invitation of kind friends who, their usually sharp vision misted over with the cloud of affection, don't realize that ol' Narendra is a doofus and should be given passes to the circus, not concerts.
Any way, the other day we went to a Zakir Hussain concert "A tribute to Abbaji". This tribute to the memory of his father, the late Ustad Allarakha, is an annual feature at Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga, Mumbai. Zakir Hussain evidently organizes it with a great deal of personal involvement, which I find touching.
This year too, the show was simply amazing. It opened with a gaggle of elderly ladies of whose performance I missed the beginning owing to having parked several light years away. The drive to Shanmukhananda hall was no picnic either. For some reason the traffic was more maniacal than usual. Sheela continuously peppered the journey with little screams of panic whenever I went too close to another vehicle, either unwittingly or, as is usually the case, out of a sense of outrage that the other guy had the temerity to cross my path. I don't know what it is about Bombay that brings out the tiger in me. Normally the most docile and baa-lamb kind of guy, a small drive through Bombay traffic leaves me foaming at the mouth with canines bared and vocabulary showing a marked departure from my pacifist leanings. The non availability of parking space did not help in assuaging my temper. Muttering dark curses against Bombay, Matunga, the police, automobile companies and the general tendency of the Indian public to keep procreating, I reached the venue in the middle of a vigourous song and dance routine by five elderly ladies.
The gaggle of ladies turned out to be a a group called B'net Marakkech, which means"Daughters of Morocco". They were 50 plus size-wise and age-wise but the music was so rustic and vigorous that the entire audience was actively involved in what is called " call and response" music. An enthralling performance. John Mclaughlin who was scheduled to perform later was moved enough to drag them back for an encore. I read a blurb on a web page that their music "draws from the deepest bottom of the human memory" Its so true! Must visit Morocco.
Another interesting perfromance was from a Rajasthani Manganiar group comprising of three people, one playing a sarangi type instrument, one playing the desert version of the castanets and one with the dholak. They played an instrumental number first, focusing on the percussion and on the castanet. Upon my Sam! The castanets player wowed the audience, clicking faster than a Geiger counter sitting on a plutonium bomb. The dholak player would probably have held his own against Zakir Husain himself. This country never ceases to amaze me. A bunch of rustic blokes, straight from the desert, playing such amazingly sophisticated music! Most of the other musicians on stage were overwhelmed by the virtuosity on display.
They followed this up with a traditional version of "Nimbuda" made famous by Aishwarya Rai (in a movie called Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) who, and I say this in the kindliest sense possible, has the dancing skills of a bronc which a cowpoke is trying to tame. Besides the point of course, and I'm already running the risk of being assassinated by a member of the Aishwarya Rai Fan Club. Better move on to the next item on the agenda. A quick digression on this immortal movie. I didn't watch it, one of the many things for which I have to thank God when I eventually meet him, but when some one who did was asked why he had sat through it if it was all that bad, he replied "Hum Paisa De Chuke Sanam"
The rest of the music was of course, most satisfying. Anyway, a philistine like me commenting on the performance of the likes of John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein is a bit like a Trappist monk commenting on stand-up comedy. Or Kim Jong Il commenting on human rights. Or Osama bin laden on turning the other cheek. Or... sorry, I do get carried away.
After this veritable orgy of notes, we decided to repair to a convenient watering hole. Shatranj, where we went, is a nice but stodgy place. Unpretentious, good food, even a few celebrities hanging around but as "happening" as a cowshed. Luckily for us, a high volume suburban family had taken a dislike to the place and we were entertained to a good old fashioned "raada" which in Bombay means street fight. My normally large ears had become even larger in the hope of catching some good epithets for my next discussion with the traffic constable who saw sin in the way I cut lanes, but I was disappointed. No littérateurs, this suburban family, and consequently, the battle fizzled out into a skirmish.
Tomorrow, I go to another concert, this one by one Carl Clements. Ain't my cup running over?