The Squyd from Score landed quite a catch – A chance to see San Francisco based world music band, Rupa & The April Fishes creating waves at their Blue Frog gig in Mumbai!
On this much awaited day, as I was making my way to Blue Frog around 5:30 pm, I started daydreaming about what I would talk about when I finally get to meet the band. I was ruminating over what I’d ask Rupa, who had previously been introduced to me by my cousin, Sarika, who works for KBOO (yes, that’s a pigeon for all the Gujjus out there) a radio station in Portland, Oregon – “Yes”, Rupa had replied, “we would love to do an interview with you!” – but suddenly, a series of thundering crashes brought me out of my reverie – a LOT of dark clouds started gathering over the Mumbai skies, blotting out the October sun.
The slow drizzle was steadily picking up momentum by the time I reached the venue. During my brief introduction with the band, as our voices were being rendered inaudible by the constant clanking of this damned deluge, Mischa’s (the cellist) complexion turned cloudy. “Will this dampen the prospects tonight?” he asked, to which I overconfidently replied – “Relax, us Mumbai folk, we’re known to brave the roughest rain to make it to a party.”
Besides, I joked, fish aren’t scared of a little water, right? Receiving no polite patronizing smiles there, I excused myself and retired to my booth, uncertainty looming over my own mind.
Perhaps I’d spoken too soon.
I was currently experiencing a set of my own crises. With Blackberry services out throughout the continent, and with my photographer’s phone lying defunct, there was absolutely no way of getting in touch with him. It seemed like Murphy was having a good joke at my expense, since my trusty photographer seemed to be bent on letting me down this time, making me miss an exclusive interview/photo shoot session.
However, around 9:45 pm, with one final resounding lightning flash, the evening’s outcome changed dramatically, as people practically started flooding in and annexing all the previously empty booths.
Among them was my photographer (who happens to be visiting fom Salem, TN). “Aiyo sorry machan, didn’t know how to get around in Bombay. And the rains! And water so high-uh, my knees are tooo-tully soaked.”
I let all this pass; I was just glad that he actually made it, and in the nick of time too, since the band was about to begin playing.
By beginning with ‘Por la Frontera’, they started off with a fairly low tempo waltz – but about 3 minutes into the song, Mario, the trumpeter, suddenly came alive, along with Rupa, who had by now awakened with an energetic burst, letting go of her previously breathy and subdued vocal style.
The crowd too seemed to pick up on this change in pace, with a good chunk of people bobbing their heads along in waves. Literally.
The April Fishes continued in this vein for a little while, with brief fluctuations in tempo as well as language – alternating between Spanish and French.
After every couple of songs, Rupa would pause to inject some social commentary, explaining the significance of their songs, the band’s inspirations and beliefs in a deep, husky voice, as though she were reciting poetry – akin to The Doors, a la The Ghost Song.
There was a definite parallel there. Just as Jim Morrison’s words were influenced by his visions and experiences with Native Americans, The April Fishes’ causes are a consequence of their time spent living with the indigenous inhabitants of Mexico. They amplified this sincerity through the fervor with which they played throughout the evening, injecting every single audience member with inextinguishable energy.
Within half an hour of playing, at least a quarter of audience members ditched their comfy stools and seats and danced along with The April Fishes’ Afro-Cuban influenced beats.
And then, things got even better. Rupa started talking about her childhood influences, one song from the 50s in particular, of which they played a wonderful cover. The crowd was overjoyed to hear the all too familiar ‘Eena Meena Deeka’, and by now, even the most resilient listener couldn’t help but succumb to clapping and dancing, almost recreating a Navratri-esque Garba scene on the floor!
It was truly amazing, the way the band’s performance was able to manipulate the crowd’s momentum that night with such ease. At times, the entire band seemed to be rocking the stage with the fury of a metal band, with Rupa doing the windmill on the guitar and propelling her long hair, while Safa (upright bass) transformed into a badass motherplucker. Mario, generally as still as a steadfast tin soldier, too kicked in a few swishing moves, while Mischa looked like he was going to saw right through the strings of his cello.
With constant toots and smiles being exchanged within the band, Rupa and the April Fishes were enjoying their own performance as much as the audience. To top it off, Aaron injected some local flavor, by infusing bhangra beats within a genuinely “gut bursting drum solo”, causing pandemonium on the dance floor as some drunken revelers started ‘balle-balle’-ing anew.
Seriously, this was one of the many you-HAD-to-be-there” moments that night. Pity I wasn’t permitted to videotape the patrons.
Just when the crowd couldn’t get more raucous, the tide of vigor subsided suddenly as Rupa paid her tribute to the late Jagjit Singh, with the band performing their warm-strings based rendition of Kaagaz Ki Kasht.
Nonetheless, this melancholy that had amassed over the assembly vanished as quickly as it descended, as Rupa launched the band into L’elephant and other upbeat numbers. Truly, her ability to manipulate the crowds’ energy that night was a sight to behold.
At 11:30 pm, as the band announced their desire to end the night’s performance, a communal wail ensued, with everyone demanding more. The magical Fishes, not about to disappoint this riotous mob of Mumbaikars, gracefully re-entered the stage and performed a good 20-minute encore!
While listening to them play ‘Une Americaine a Paris’ every single individual in the audience was out on the floor, shaking his and her tail feathers. Just like in their music video! I’m not kidding.
Never before have I seen this kind of enthusiasm in my entire life, especially for an as-of-yet unknown band within the local audience. But this night’s experience, I’m sure, will create eternal memories for one and all who attended.