Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
I seem to have a problem with people going to music festivals and concerts without even having heard any music of the artist/s performing. I said it earlier in the case of the false ‘metalheads’ who went to watch Metallica live, and I will say it again- There is a certain atmosphere that one expects at a music concert, to be surrounded by people who are all there for the same reason- that they love the artist and the music she/he makes, and it is in the comfort and joy of being around such people that enhances and makes the experience of seeing an artist perform live, even more enjoyable. However, when I told my brother I had not listened to any of the bands to be performing on Day II of the South Asian Bands Festival in New Delhi, I was at the receiving end of this condescension- “Sure, I think I’ve heard a song or two of Motherjane” I said, hoping he wouldn’t catch the lack of surety in my voice.
So when the Bhutanese band that I had never ever heard of till then- Kingdom Hum started singing their songs in the Bhutanese language, I thought of what a big mistake I had made in coming there. The badge that the vocalist wore, a picture of the newly-wedded royal couple of his country was the only thing that made sense to me at that point. I was in an Iss-Jungle-se-mujhe-bachao-mood for a while for the next two songs the band performed when, through the cheers and hooting emanating from the group of Bhutanese people waving their national flag at the camera, I heard the signature guitar riffs of the song La Grange of ZZ Top. My friend and I squealed with delight as we knew what was coming-finally, a song that we had heard and knew well! When our favourite part of the song- a chuckle by Billy Gibbons (the guitarist of ZZ Top), a vocal effect that we thought only he would ever be able to reproduce, was imitated by Kingdom Hum, and I was more than happy to say that they did a fantastic job out of it!
Here is an important thing about covers- when an artist/band covers a certain famous song of another, the audience does not expect the artist to imitate the song to 100% perfection, in fact, we do not even wish that you adhere to the style of the song, we just wish that you do justice to the effort that has been put into making the song as famous as it is. We wish that you honour the core elements that structure the song, that you show your respect to the music by transforming it into something that gives it a perspective and leads us not too astray from the original thought process behind the song and Kingdom Hum did just exactly that. They did a brilliant job of covering the extensively-popular La Grange and a few other equally-acclaimed songs of AC/DC– Highway to Hell, TNT and Back in Black and Born to be Wild of Steppenwolf.
The next band to follow was one that I had been asked to watch out for- Motherjane. The moment they were introduced as the band that had been critically acclaimed in its 15 year career and had been listed ranked #1 in Rock Street Journal’s Bands of the Decade in 2010, I knew I was to expect some honest, good music from artists who made music for love of the art itself. The Indian rock bands of today have developed from exploring only the beaten track of mainstream rock. Now we see a transformed music, experiments of musical and technical genius, as Indian artists incorporate traditional Indian sounds like the tabla, dholak and sitar into the electrical guitar to create a music that not only caters to the Indian audience but a new, emerging global market that thirsts for culturally ‘native’ music that is now called by many as the genre of World Music. Motherjane proved to be a case in point, as they descended the stage with the beats of the traditional Keralite temple musical art form of Panchavadyam (something which even a part- Malayali like me would be more or less familiar with), only to pave the way for the bold guitar riffs of their famous song Mindstreet. Two songs and a guitar solo that followed were enough for me to believe in the potential that the Indian rock music scene in India was here to stay and capture the attention of the global market.
You know what the greatest surprise of all this was? That I had come to the concert having no knowledge of any of the bands that were to perform, and yet was able to connect with the music that they produced. The familiar tunes of AC/DC and ZZ Top were enough for me to get interested in a band from Bhutan that earlier was only known to a small audience in the country and immediately go home and check them up on Google and search for a “like page” of them on Facebook. As for Motherjane, the Panchavadyam beats made me realise how Indian bands were now experimenting with mainstream rock music and fusing Indian elements to create music that truly transcended beyond countries and imaginary borders.
It truly was a surreal experience. Indian Rock music shall most certainly rock the world in the near future.