Discovering Blues through festivities
The 2019 festive season for Blues has officially opened…yet again…not that it had gone anywhere, with the annual Mahindra Blues Festival – Asia’s largest event for that musical genre – returning to Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios, Bandra on February 9 and 10, 2019.
The international Blues heavy weights on the roster include Charlie Musselwhite, Beth Hart, Sugar Ray Rayford, and Brandon Santini – of which, more details follow – along with the brilliant Arinjoy Trio from Kolkata – led by guitarist Arinjoy Sarkar with Sounak Roy on drums, and Aakash Ganguly on bass – which will perform a wide variety of Blues from contemporary to traditional, old school, having deservedly moved from being just a Blues Band Hunt contest winner last year to a stage level act.
Electric Blues harmonica-playing Charlie Musselwhite has won 35 ‘Blues Music Awards’, and has been nominated 12 times for the Grammy Awards, taking home his first Grammy win in 2014 for ‘Best Blues Album’ for his collaboration with Ben Harper on ‘Get Up!’. For the trivia-minded, Musselwhite was reportedly the inspiration for Elwood Blues; the character played by Dan Aykroyd in the classic 1980 film, ‘The Blues Brothers’.
The Blues Magazine once dubbed Beth Hart as “the ultimate female rock star”. The Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter has had a remarkable 2018 as she released an album with guitarist Joe Bonamassa called ‘Black Coffee’, which debuted at no.1 on the U.S. Blues chart. Later in the year, Hart released ‘Live at the Royal Albert Hall’, as an album and long form video, capturing her performance at the legendary London-based venue in May 2018.
Sugar Ray Rayford is an American electric Blues singer and songwriter, who achieved major success with his fourth album, ‘The World That We Live In’, resulting in Rayford being nominated for four ‘Blues Music Awards’ in 2018.
‘Blues Blast Award’ nominee, Memphis vocalist and harmonica player, Brandon Santini has become worthy of Blues conversations of frontline harmonica players by combining his love and respect for traditional Blues with a topical style of playing that is often compared to James Cotton and Paul Butterfield.
Speaking for the organisers, Jay Shah, Vice President, Head – Cultural Outreach, Mahindra Group, says that “in the last eight years, we have witnessed a huge following of the Blues genre of music in Mumbai and across India.” “We have grouped the international artists from the Blues industry on the basis of distinct admiring traits, style, and dedication towards the tradition of the genre,” he adds. “The ninth edition will go a notch higher and extend a weekend to people that will last them a lifetime.”
Yes, I am – and will always be – a Blues buff, but so too is the man behind the Mahindra Blues Festival, Brian Tellis, representing Fountainhead Entertainment, and promoters and producers Oranjuice Entertainment. Passionate about his own singing too, ever since I have known him; I recall from 1985 at least when he performed harmonies in a band called Voices at the Aid Bhopal Concert held in Mumbai. Through the years, there has been every reason to meet him [mostly at concerts/musicals, though], including at his very own precursor to the Mahindra Blues Festival, One Tree Festival, during the 2000s that I regularly frequented at Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. I was amazed to see the likes of The Alan Parsons Live Project, Uriah Heep [it was here that I saw the band perform for a second time in Mumbai; the first time being at Rang Bhavan, either in 1983 or 1984], and the reunion of Indus Creed. Of course, I also saw Blues guitar legend Buddy Guy for the first time here; since then, often a staple at the annual Mahindra Blues Festival that occurs every February in Mumbai.
While there is no denying that Blues was moulded in North America during the 1800s, I remain convinced that its roots still lie within Africa. To support my case, consider an African instrument that goes by the name of akonting, which is the very obvious precursor of the banjo, the comparatively modern-day instrument effectively utilised by guitarist Taj Mahal during his performance at an earlier edition of the Festival while playing the Blues; and the roots of the modern-day plectrum, which is utilised to press the strings of the guitar where, originally, a knife was used, a technique that is still common in Western and Central Africa.
With a predominantly “adult” audience expected in attendance at the crowded festival, as per history, it will almost certainly be extremely well organised with the acts divided between the various halls at the venue. Eatables, supported with seating, and multiple choices of cuisine, as well as a hall dedicated for those who prefer partaking a different kind of Blues spirit, will exist, and more…