Keb Mo, Soulmate, Heritage Blues Orchestra, Joss Stone and more – only at the Mahindra Blues Festival!
The sixth annual Mahindra Blues Festival wrapped up this weekend in Mumbai in fine style, with a final jam featuring three-time Grammy award winner Keb Mo and platinum-bestselling British soul singer Joss Stone. Chart-leading female guitarist Malina Moye and top Indian blues band Soulmate also took the stage, along with The Heritage Blues Orchestra (Chicago) and King King (Scotland).
Blues giants at earlier editions of the festival include Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker Jr., Taj Mahal, and Jimmie Vaughan. There was also a talent hunt for the best new blues band in India, and the winners were Lal & The People, followed by Kanchan Daniel & The Beards. The music competition for the Mahindra Blues Band Hunt was held at The True School of Music, with composers Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa as the judges.
The first performance was by festival regular Soulmate, formed in 2003 in Shillong, Northeast India, by guitarist Rudy Wallang and vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar. Their opening set featured a fast-paced mix of funk, blues and rock, showcasing the soaring vocal range of Tipriti, right from soft whispers to gale-force wails. The tracks ‘Footloose Girl’ and an instrumental inspired by Peter Green really stood out.
The Heritage Blues Orchestra from Chicago has kept alive songs dating way back to the 1920s and earlier, and given them a new interpretation with harmonica and New Orleans-style brass. Vocalist Chaney Sims drew loud applause for her powerful vocal renditions, with Bill Sims and Junior Mack on guitars; Vincent Bucher wowed the audience with sizzling harmonica solos. The drum-dance combo, twin trumpet duet (replete with plungers), and acoustic solo by Junior Mack were among the highlights of their session.
The final act was Keb Mo, who is hailed as a visionary roots-music storyteller, blending Delta blues with folk and jazz. He showed how he is aptly regarded as the ‘living link’ to the roots of Delta music. He switched between four guitars during his set, with solid backing by Stan Sargeant on bass. The audience loudly requested his tracks “Just Like You” and “Gimme What You Got”, and Keb happily complied, coming back later for two encores.
The second day kicked off with King King, a blues-rock band from Glasgow, lead solidly by Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar) and Lindsay Coulson (bass). The Scottish wit and humour showed right from the start of the set, when Alan walked onto the stage in a kilt, saying it was “too hot for trousers or underwear!” They promoted a range of tracks from their new CD, “Reaching for the Light”.
The energy climbed up several notches with Malina Moye. The award-winner guitarist is left-handed, but plays a Fender Stratocaster upside down. Her high-energy act was more rock and funk than blues, and she kicked off her set by actually playing amidst the audience and then walking on stage. She changed her costume towards the end of her show as well, and wrapped up with a fiery rendition of “Foxy Lady.” “My guitar always has something to say,” she explained, with her trademark full flashy smile.
The headlining act was Joss Stone, with her wide musical range spanning blues, soul, pop, ballads and reggae. She drew loud applause from the audience for her Indian-styled red-and-gold ghagra-choli dress, for greeting them with ‘shukriya’ (thank you), and for including a sound sample of the sarod instrument in one of her songs. The audience kept requesting her to sing the blues instead of her other material, and she eventually obliged with renditions of tracks like “I Put A Spell On You” and “Son Of A Preacher Man.” ‘Love is not always unconditional like music,” she said, perhaps a fitting message on the day of her performance, Valentine’s Day.
Bill Sims, Junior Mack, Keb Mo, Alan Nimmo and Malina Moye joining Joss and her band on stage. Still, the sight of all these greats together on stage for a once-in-a-lifetime jam was enough to send the audience into loud raptures, and a perfect note to end the 2016 edition of the Festival.
The Festival Story
The blues is about putting up with hardships in life but moving on – transforming the pain through a burst of creative energy, and sometimes a laugh, drink and stomping dance as well. That also seems to sum up the spirit of the city of Mumbai, home of India’s legendary Bollywood industry and hub of many jazz and rock bands.
Blues and Bombay (Mumbai) come together perfectly in the Mahindra Blues Festival, as conceived by corporate conglomerate CEO Anand Mahindra, for whom the blues was an early musical influence. (Bangalore has a much smaller but popular blues festival called ‘Ode to the Blues’ – see my writeup here.)
There is also a radio programme called the Mahindra Blues Show hosted by Brian Tellis on Radio One. The festival has a Chicago incarnation as well – called The Mahindra Blues Weekend, hosted by none other than Buddy Guy.
Organised by OranJuice Entertainment, the Mahindra Blues Festival is held every year at Mehboob Studio in Bandra, with the main acts in two large halls and an open-air dining area in between. Bars, a lounge, vinyl store, and DVD kiosk are popular draws for the festival attendees, who come from across India and overseas as well.
For such a well designed and branded event, one feature is surprisingly missing: branded T-shirts and related merchandise! I have a huge collection of T-shirts and bags from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Java Jazz Festival, WOMAD, Jazz International Rotterdam, Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo Jazz Festival, Penang World Music Festival, and so on – fans love to lap up such merchandise and wear it on their travels around the world. It would be great to see such additions next year at the Mahendra Blues Festival too. The choice of T-shirt design could even be ‘crowdsourced’ to the global design community, thus creating more pre-event buzz.
The Festival curators also have a lot of work cut out for them in terms of artiste lineup for next year – many festival goers this year complained to me that the artistes on Day Two were more of ‘rock, pop and noise’ than real blues, a big let-down from the ‘blues high’ of Day One.
Still, I was delighted to meet many fellow blues fans some of whom had also come from Bangalore, a number of college friends from my Mumbai days whom I hadn’t seen in years, and even an American IT professional from Dallas who is a blues guitarist as well – he ‘arranges’ work every year around this time in India so that he can attend the Festival! We all look forward to the next edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival already, in 2017.
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Written by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com