Loud, carefree, pompous, and exuberant are all qualities of a house party in Delhi where large families dance together rejoicing punjabi music but little did we know that the same exuberance and recklessness would meet us in Pune when we ventured there to attend the first edition of the Crossblade Punjabi Music Festival.
The 2-day extravaganza, organised at the Mahalaxmi Lawns in Pune, began for us on 29th Feb with a set by New-Delhi rapper and Azadi Records’ Prabdeep who performed songs from his recent EP King and featured verses in songs like Elaan. His performance to the tepid crowd of college goers was another reminder that his activism against divisive state policies and drug use through songs just keeps getting better, as does the confidence and crowd control on stage. Prabhdeep’s performance was followed by Raja Kumari on the same stage, who for the umpteen time took a million years to arrive, even after being announced on stage. Although in her defence, the unique blend of gangster-cum-Indian goddess in her on-stage persona does need elaborate preparation beforehand. The American-Indian songwriter blazed the stage once again with her setlist, performing popular songs like Mute, Meera, Karma, and Bindi and Bangles – while leaving no opportunities to drop bollywood references from time to time.
The stage was set now for a wholesome potpourri of Punjabi pop and Bollywood music. At this point, we will also have to take time to appreciate the effective management of stage prep during the entire day wherein the two stages were always busy either with performers playing their set or getting ready to play so that only the audience had to maneuver and no additional time was wasted.
Akhil Sachdeva’s performance at the Crossblade festival left us in awe of his majestic voice and humble yet high-energy shenanigans. As the sun came down in the backdrop laurels of his performances to ‘Tera Ban Jaunga’ and a medley of bollywood love songs grew even louder from the crowds. At one point during the set, Akhil enamoured the crowd even more as he went down on his while performing to ‘Samjahava.’ Sachdeva’s performance was followed by Youtube star Shirley Setia who set the stage ablaze with her emphatic covers of popular bollywood songs like Tu Dena Sath Mera, Biba, and Koi Vi Nahi, amongst others. Shirley’s set was almost forgotten by the time Millind Gaba set his foot on his stage, with a larger-than-life macho entry to the WWE Wrestler John Cena’s theme music – The Time is Now – blended into Gaba’s own hit, She Don’t Know. Gaba’s performance was an awakening for us who did not expect Punjabi families, college goers, and single boys to all raise their arms and dance in unison. It almost felt like an entire Delhi neighbourhood had turned up in Pune laced with bhangra moves and trucks filled with alcohol.
Parmish Verma was one of the most popular acts to perform during the festival but frankly his performance was less than impressive to us. A large part of his set list included just singing to minus-tracks and lip syncing although the crowd was happy to see their favourite looking dapper on stage alone. Of course, Verma did not disappoint them either and did all the right things a true showman would do, from inviting a fan on stage and clicking selfies with the crowd before living. Babban Rai and Jassie Gill, the headliners of Day 1 at Crossblade, gave the people their money’s worth by singing less and dancing more while making sure the crowds did the same. It was an hour of bhangra and dhol beats over popular hits like Bapu Zimidar, Gabbroo, Snapchat, and more. The set was emotionally charged, calling upon audiences to remember their exes at one point to taking the phone out and clicking selfies at another but in each song and beat, Punjabi was well represented and celebrated with full flavour.