The Sound of Mumbai

Blue Frog might have been the first Mumbai recommendation I was given, and one that is consistently suggested to visitors. It appears to be a staple in the Mumbai nightlife scene…or at least its a right of passage. This restaurant/bar doubles as a concert venue, bringing local fusion and international acts to its stage. Thursday nights are “Coke Studio” nights. Coca-Cola sponsors three musical acts (one traditional, one new talent, and one popular group) to perform at Blue Frog and then the live recordings are aired on MTV. As opposed to having to choose one performer/concert without knowing any local musicians, Coke Studio is a great way to be introduced to the music scene here without having to do any research. This was perfect for me – needless to say, I attended this past Thursday’s.

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I love fusion music, and I say that confidently despite only having watched the three very different bands (singing in three different languages mind you – my comprehension of the lyrics was minimal). This is probably obvious but ‘Fusion music’ in India just means a band/beat/song uses a combination of rock band sounds – electric guitar, bass, drums, etc. – mixed with traditional South Asian instruments – tabla, sitar, sarangi, etc.

Quick breakdown of the three bands from last Thursday:

1. Category: Traditional – Band Name: Rajnigandha Shekhawat – Language: Marwari – She and her band have “modernized” Rajasthani folk songs – Sample Song – I just didn’t expect that ‘raspy-Rajasthani-woman,’  voice to come out of someone who looked so young. It’s gripping! Reminded me of “Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayi” from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

2. Category: New Talent – Band Name: Veda – Language: Hindi – These guys make what they’ve dubbed as fusion rock music – Sample Song – They were that group that just looked like they were having so much fun – lots of positive energy – that by the end of it, you too were having so much fun!

3. Category: Popular Group – Band Name: Winit Tikoo Band – Language: Hindi/Urdu – Winit, the lead singer, writes his own songs with heavy influence from Sufi poetry – Sample Song – Their band played a few of their songs with a sarangi player; twas spectacular! I couldn’t find a version of their music online that had this instrument up in the mix so you’ll have to trust that its addition made their already earthy-sound sound more dreamlike. By the end of their set, two of my friends were swooning over Winit and his dreadlocks. Sadly, he appeared to have a wedding ring. Sorry folks.

In hindsight, A.R. Rahman is totes popularized fusion (I’m sure you already knew this), but I’ve always lumped his stuff unconsciously into the Bollywood music category (i.e. Taal, Slumdog). Listening to fusion South Asian music, that wasn’t meant for the movie industry, made me realize that there’s a whole new genre to be explored here…so that’s what I’m doing – using Coke Studio as my guide. Turns out Coke Studio in India was really inspired by Coke Studio in Pakistan. I’m now following both on YouTube. Let me know if you’re interested in getting updates re: my musical discoveries OR if you have any leads on great South Asian bands that I should add to my list o’faves.

In other news, my folks are in town! They’re staying with my faiba in South Mumbai which is where I camped out over the weekend as well. All of my previous trips to Mumbai have consisted of, 70% of the time, visiting family members and eating, 20% of the time shopping for clothing, spices, trinkets, etc. and 10% of the time visiting Jain temples. That breakdown also applies to this past weekend. Because my parents are only in town for ten days, every meal of theirs seems to be planned for and much of the in-between-meals time has been reserved for shopping.

The one comment I will add with regard to this weekend is that I’m being overfed (To be clear, this is not a complaint. I know I am very lucky). Meals, especially when entertaining people, are over the top in India in terms of number of items that are served, and you better believe you must try everything on the table. On top of that, because mangoes are in season, generous helpings of ras are served with every meal no matter whose home you are at. As my mama (Mother’s brother) said this weekend, “Mango season mah, ‘put-on’ tho thyage.” Translation: “In mango season you will put on [weight].”

I willingly eat a lot when visiting relatives (the food, the food, the food!) and am happy to, but now I’m overeating while shopping. Sari stores will always offer you chai, coffee or water while they show off their latest inventory. Well in addition to that, one of the two stores we went to on Saturday brought us fresh sandwiches from Sandwizzaa, the popular Santa Cruz veg sandwich stall stationed outside. I obviously couldn’t refuse – the sandwiches are huge: three slices of bread, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, potatoes, cheese and chutneys galore. This was actually my first street food experience and I survived! I’m starting to feel more gutsy about the foods I’m trying (not pani puri gutsy but chutney + cooked street food gutsy). As they say, “When in Mumbai…”

Ok no one actually says that, but they do say, if you’re going to get sick from India, get sick IN India and not back home. Something about doctors in the states or Europe usually not being used to checking or treating certain diseases that are primarily only contracted by foreigners in developing countries – e.g., Hep E.

Stay healthy my friends!

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