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Gig Review :: Nitin Sawhney :: Blue Frog Mumbai – Feb 7, 2012

Indian-British musician / producer / composer / DJ extraordinaire graces Mumbai with an effusive live performance at Blue Frog.

Merely a couple days after having played at Sula’s vineyards in Nasik over the weekend for Sula Fest, Nitin Sawhney and his whole retinue of talented musicians took to the stage again at Blue Frog Mumbai. This had been a much awaited moment for quite some time, as the venue was packed tighter than a can of sardines. Nitin’s music straddles many different genres, and this was reflected by the diversity within the audience members – young and old, mainstream and niche-oriented, extroverts and wallflowers – everyone seemed to be there that night. And so were we.

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Just after 10pm, Nitin and his entire band took their positions, and after exchanging maybe 8-9 words with the audience, they began playing in all earnest. The first piece was an almost entirely vocal raga, backed by a light instruments. Everyone within the audience was instantly attuned to the voice of one of the female vocalists; her effortless intonations and delivery put aside all apprehension, and we were left wondering how her pronunciations hadn’t the slightest trace of a foreign accent, despite her ethnicity. When she launched into a song, such one of Nitin Sawhney’s most popular numbers – Koyal – we had absolutely no doubts about her vocal and linguistic abilities anymore. Both vocalists continued to impress us throughout the night.

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The entire band, consisting of two female vocalists, a drummer, another percussionist on the tablas and bongo, a bass cellist, a remarkably talented flautist / male vocalist, and Nitin himself on the classical guitar, continued to deliver song after song after song, throughout their almost 2 hour long set. You may think that was a typo, but no; they tirelessly performed a volley of songs, with less then even a minute’s break in between. 

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Throughout the performance, it was evident that much effort had gone into arranging the music and the instruments for the evening. Nitin Sawhney’s recorded music is synonymous with electronic fusion. But in this live setting, save for the very end, there was absolutely nothing synthetic about their performance. The cellist plucked away at the strings or played with his bow as and when required, thereby emanating much warmth for the mellower songs, or providing a little more energy for the more upbeat numbers. The drums, in sync with the tablas, were played such that on some songs, you would think that they were using an electronic sampler with loops. But no, we witnessed this precision with our own eyes and ears. And it was awesome, to say the least.

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Nitin himself was nothing less than spectacular on the guitars. There were times when his guitar was nothing more than subtle backdrop, allowing the flute or the vocals to take the foreground. And then there were times when he burst forth into a flamenco fueled number; his flawless use of the legato technique really had us wondering over the speed of the hammer-ons and the pull-offs. All such technical talk aside, it was delightful to just be there and witness the whole band put out such a great performance. 

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They played numerous popular numbers, such as Nadiya, Mausam and Homelands, presenting a good mix of English and Hindi songs, giving equal opportunities to both the female lead vocalists to wow the audience. At the same time, the lyrical content as well as their serene stage presence seemed to evoke spiritual feelings within the listeners as well. While it was easy to get carried away and bob our heads, there wasn’t enough room for the listeners to shake a leg – but that was a good thing, since this allowed us to concentrate on the music itself.

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And finally, just before midnight, when all the musicians on stage began to disband and the audience let out cries for encores, Nitin surprised us with a sudden twist. This is when the electronics came out, and he brought in some drums and bass, along with some Konakol chanting with the percussionist on tablas, ending an otherwise calm and emotive performance with a bang. 

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Special Thanks: Aditi @ Blue Frog

Check out Nitin Sawhney’s latest album, Last Days of Meaning!

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