As part of a gang of 11 bloggers last month, I spent 10 days in Thailand and India courtesy of Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange Project checking out the nightlife, music and culture of the cities of Mumbai, Bangkok and Bangalore.
The middle leg of my 10 day trip was four days in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. The city is home to about 14 million people and it feels like it too. There are people everywhere you look, everywhere you walk. Each street is teeming with bodies: hawking, walking, sleeping, hanging about, trying not to get run down – it’s like rush hour 24 hours a day. Car horns by default, are used at every occasion: for warnings, for letting other drivers know you are present,for overtaking, traffic jams, turning, indicating. The rule seems to be if you are in a car, use the horn at all times. It’s madness to our Western ears.
While there are 5 to 6 million people living on just 6% of the land in Mumbai, the city has a young affluent population who live a high-end life-style: skyscraping hotel bars with panoramic views, expensive cocktails and elaborately-designed clubs with TRON-esque DJ booths playing Western electro, house and R&B with an occasional Indian pop song as a reminder of where you are. Mumbai is also the home of Bollywood industry. Indeed, I was even offered a part as an extra in a Bollywood film while we were there. Sadly, I refused knowing India wasn’t ready for my awesome shoulder skills and hands to the sky arc movements. Groundbreaking.
After a mixology session where I invented a cocktail called The Nine (Vodka, Ginger Ale, Indian Sour Apple Fruit, Cinnamon and Jaggery – an Indian sugar from palm trees), it was a short walk into the venue Blue Frog where Talvin Singh was performing a night of experimental “Tablatronic” alongside ambient electronic artist Murcof and jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz. Talvin was curating The Talvin Singh festival, which consisted of three nights of live music and DJs.
The venue itself is stunning and features fancy booths with a great view of the stage (see the virtual tour). The gig and indeed, the audience were Indicative of a modern progressive India. Young Indian women in traditional patterned dresses with a nod to Western fashions were accompanied by smartly dressed males. Most venues and clubs in India operate a couples and groups only policy you see.
The novelty of eating a salivating meal in the booth increased when Singh, Murcof and Truffaz came on stage. Their set could be described as free and loose, jazzy electroacoustic music. Singh led the procession with an array of acoustic tabla, Murcof provides the ambience on the laptop and Truffaz chimes in with his rustic trumpet on top. At its best, the music is reminiscent of spaced-out version of Miles Davis On The Corner, while at its lowest, it’s a little too close to Café Del Mar lounge.
In a cheesy and totally accidental way, Singh sums up the “Nightlife Exchange” concept. Western meets Asian. Continent to continent cross collaboration. The Blue Frog is a mix of styles mostly commonly associated with North American freeform jazz yet you have a tabla, an Eastern instrument used as the centrepiece while electronic textures meld it all together. It’s a mix of cultures that only those three different musical upbringings can provide.
Away from Singh’s experimentation, in a hotel room late at night with my blogging compatriots, the night ended in the universal language of a “Youtube off”. Everyone picks a tune in turn for the group to listen to, you know the deal. I decided I wanted something Indian so I chose the absolutely awesome Indian dance hit ‘Tunak Tunak Tun’ by Daler Mehndi. It went down a storm. It was originally released in 1998 and I was introduced to the song by my girlfriend Aoife who grew up in the Middle East where this song was a smash hit. Our Indian representative Malini piped up that she used to be a backing dancer for Mehndi and had danced to this Bhangra song on stage hundreds of times. An amazing coincidence and a reminder that while we may be separated by oceans and air miles, we can all appreciate a good Punjabi music video.