November 14, 2013: Last Thursday saw one of the most interesting underground blues gigs that the city has perhaps ever seen, as Manipur blues superstar Guru Rewben Mashangva, American act Long Tall Deb, French duo French cowboy And The One, and finally, the Italian crew of Mr No Money Band set the night alive with their electric performances at the Mumbai launch of the Himalayan Blues Festival that is currently travelling through India and Nepal.
Guru Rewben Mashangva from Manipur was the first artist on stage, kicking off the fest, which was quite fitting, since he is known as “The King Of The Naga Folk Blues.” When he was onstage, it was difficult to not see the man with a superior sense of reverence, such was his conviction in what he sang, and such was his prowess at playing the guitar. His set was exemplary because this one-man music box played the guitar and the harmonica, tapped his foot for percussion and ghungroo for added effect, all while melting the audience with his lovely soothing voice. Transporting an audience to a distant land, an unfamiliar home is perhaps the best thing a musician can do, and guru Mashangva did it with such finesse. Although every song in his set was awesome, Changkhom Philava was perhaps what we enjoyed most.
Long Tall Deb took the stage next, and the duo of vocalist Deb Landolt and guitarist Colin John just changed the pace to a whole new high with their explosive set. Landolt was quite the firecracker right from the moment the set began, imploring the small yet enthusiastic audience into being as raucous and connected with the band as was possible. What was amply seen in their set was the deep influence the blues has on people based in a predominantly American lifestyle- Deb’s songs were not just songs, they were sneak peeks into her life, and how blues has been a part of her life for the longest of times. Intricate guitar play, a laidback, chilled out love for the blues, and a passion to make good music, all of them together made for a lovely portrayal of the blues from downtown Chicago, and what a lovely portrayal it was.
Garage disco punk duo French Cowboy And The One were the third act for the day. At the outset, it’s only anyone’s best guess how the two of them managed to be a part of a blues festival- but hey, as long as the music is nice and catchy why worry about a little shift in tempo and styles. The combo of vocalist and guitarist Federico Pellegrini and drummer Éric Pifeteau were modern day versions of the Pied Piper of Hamelin- as soon as their super eclectic set began, the tiny audience got right to the business of swaying, shouting and generally grooving to the sound of the drums, the guitars, the vocals and the sound samples. What, however, most people in the crowd did not expect was a sudden shift in temperament in the music- while one moment the band seemed all happy and chirpy, admittedly in its left-of-centered-ness, the music’s swift bloodless gearshift into weighty psychedelic progression caught everyone unaware. Like a knock in the jaw, the music had gone from all happy trippy to intensely headiness, and to manage that with such élan, such ease is really something.
The last band for the night was the Italian trio that made Mr No Money Band. Mysterious bunch of guys they were. Mr No Money and his boys, who were all over the place, running around meeting people suddenly disappeared before their set was to start, which was why they ended up filling the last slot. The blues that they played was probably the happiest blues set for the night. One very obvious thing about their set was though the music has all the elements of the classical blues, the music quite obviously had no connection with the themes that blues triggers. Special mention has to made of the spirited vocals and keyboarding skills Mr No Money (whose real name we still don’t know) showed, especially since he seemed happier than ever, considering it was his birthday. Also the live jam between the band and Guru Mashangvawa a class apart, a brilliant depiction of music joining kindred souls in the geopolitical potpourri that is the world.
The only drawback from the gig was the fact that there were barely fifteen patrons in the audience to witness the sheer magic of such class acts playing together. Who is to blame for the lack of people at the show- audiences, organizers, or the bands- now is inconsequential, for a good night of music was missed by most, and it would be brilliant if more people kept their event radar on all the time.
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Photos – Sushant Sawant and Dhananjay Mane