Four evenings of enthralling performances from across the musical spectrum. Magical musical interludes by a master pianist between sessions. Half-an-hour of uproarious laughter with the country’s top stand-up comic. A witty, biting political satire by a top British theatre group. THiNK seamlessly fused entertainment and ideas till you couldn’t tell where one left off and the other started. Our brilliant lineup of performers from India and across the world included the celebrated names below.
He’s performed at venues ranging from the Southbank Centre in London to the Lincoln Centre in New York; been an artist-in-residence at the Sydney Opera House and at the National Centre for the Traditional Performing Arts in Korea; and collaborated with musical stalwarts from across the globe. But it is, perhaps, as co-founder of MusicUniv, a company that brings structured classical music education to schools in Chennai that Anil Srinivasan may have his most lasting contribution as a musician. Just over a year old, MusicUniv has already touched the lives of nearly 5,000 children across 50 schools. A pianist of exceptional talent and skill, his music is characterised by a strong leaning toward innovation, one which has made him the recipient of the prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar granted by the Sangeet Natak Akademi for his contribution towards creative and experimental music. For one so committed to music education, though, his own couldn’t have been further from it — he holds an mba and an mphil in management from New York’s prestigious Columbia University. In the past seven years though, collaborations with Sikkil Gurucharan, the Dhananjayans, Unnikrishnan, Chitravina Ravikiran, Lalgudi Krishnan, U Shrinivas and others have brought him tremendous acclaim as a musician. There’s no doubt whatsoever that management’s loss has been music’s infinite gain.
In 2004, virtually no one had heard of Kailash Kher. By 2011, he’s been a playback singer for over 300 films in 13 languages, won Filmfare, Screen and Stardust awards, performed at the Hollywood Bowl and prestigious music festivals in Stern Grove and Brooklyn, and been a judge on Indian Idol, Rock On and IPL Rockstar. That’s quite a journey for a music industry outsider from Meerut. But Kailash has a passion for music that goes beyond being a profession or even passion: it is his calling. Realising that a pampered home environment wasn’t conducive to a musical career, he left home at age 13 and moved first to Delhi, then Mumbai, in search of the right break. That came in 2004 when he, along with brothers Paresh and Naresh formed the band Kailasa. The band’s distinctive sound that fuses world, lounge, new-age and Sufi influences developed a cult following, but it was Kailash’s rough-edged yet nuanced voice that truly made Kailasa iconic. Chart-topping Bollywood film tracks such as Ya Rabba (Salaam-e-Ishq) and Allah Ke Bande (Waisa Bhi Hota Hai) came soon after, giving him ‘icon’ status fairly early on in his career. Today, he is one of filmdom’s most celebrated singers, with a voice that is at once distinct, yet versatile.
So many cultural and family influences merge in Israeli-Palestenian singer, songwriter and actress Mira Awad’s music, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other leaves off. Born to a Palestinian father and Bulgarian mother, Mira studied at the Rimon School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, where she honed her trademark sound. She went on to perform with a range of celebrated musicians, from Israeli diva Noa (Achinoam Nini) to Greek singer George Dalaras, hip-hop artiste Guy Mar and opera legend Andrea Bocelli. In her acting avatar, she played Eliza Doolittle on the Israeli staging of the musical My Fair Lady, but it is as a singer of incredible range and spunk that Mira has really come into her own. Watching her, along with Noa, perform There Must Be Another Way, the wildly popular duet they sang together on their duet album, it’s not hard to understand why.
She’s performed for the Pope, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton; at Carnegie Hall in nyc and the Colosseum in Rome; alongside the likes of Ray Charles, Sting, Bono, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder and Alanis Morissette. She has shared stage space with everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie to Steven Spielberg and Gerard Depardieu. As Israel’s leading international music artiste, and a vociferous champion of peace, Noa combines influences from across the musical spectrum — Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, among others. What’s remarkable, though, is how these sensibilities fuse with her distinct Yemenite roots and the jazz, classical and rock influences of her longtime music partner, Gil Dor, to create a sound unparalleled anywhere in the world of music.
It’s hard to imagine the fiery Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the subject of a political comedy, but British theatre group Menagerie show it can be done, and how! An incisive, witty, biting political comedy, Four For Jericho is the story of hapless English spiritual tourist Michael Crossley, who sets off for the Holy Land to film the true story of the Bible. In typical Middle Eastern twists of fate, he finds himself a co-passenger with a farmer who loves his goat more than his wife, a gun-toting settler from Brooklyn with nine children, an anthropologist on the run who loves road movies, and a drop-dead-gorgeous student ism activist. The play, which debuted at the Edinburgh Book Fest earlier this year to wildly appreciative reviews, has dark undertones and strong positions that only make the journey more compelling. Expect tears and laughter, and maybe tears of laughter, as you join in the resulting disharmony and madness.
Stand-up comedy may be nascent in India but Papa CJ is already its most famous — and lauded — face. With over 800 shows to his credit, he is widely recognised as the global face of India’s brand new love affair with laughter. In the best tradition of comic artistes everywhere, he has a knack for involving the audience in his shows, and attendees sit in part-fear, part-excitement that he could single them out for attention. His success isn’t limited to India though — with sellout shows on four continents, and a slot on NBC’s TV show Last Comic Standing, Papa CJ has truly earned his place on a list of the top 10 comedians in the world as judged by NBC. Don’t let his often risqué, sometimes bawdy jokes fool you, though — with an mba from Oxford University to his name, Papa CJ is equally capable of the subtlety that typically characterises Brit humour.
He’s the original Indian rockstar, pathbreaking in more ways than one. When he chose to sidestep the Hindi-dominated Bollywood music scene and instead focus on English pop and rock, with lyrics reflecting the socio-political realities of the time, he broke the mould of what Indian music sounded like. And he’s been doing it ever since. With musical influences that range from his native Goan to Portuguese, incorporating Mauritian Sega tunes along with Latin and African ones, he created a paradigm where none existed. That didn’t mean he didn’t have fun doing it. A livewire performer who sings in no less than five languages, Remo went on to perform with the likes of Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, apart from lending his voice to cult Bollywood tracks and ad films. But it’s in his distinctive, sometimes-soulful, sometimes-spirited version of Goan rock that Remo truly shines. Watch out for some magic, Goa-style!
He had never produced a record until 2006 — but was nominated for the BBC World Music Awards based on word of mouth, nonetheless. That’s just one of the many remarkable facets of Sain Zahoor (with Sain being an honorific). A leading Sufi musician from Pakistan, he isn’t the trained scion of a legendary gharana; rather, Zahoor is a wandering minstrel in the truest sense of the term — he started singing at age five; at 13, he left home and roamed the Sufi shrines of Sindh and Punjab, earning a living through his voice. Zahoor plays a modified, three-string version of the traditional ektara, an instrument as distinctive as himself, in his traditional robes, ghungroos at his ankles, with a voice listeners have often claimed sent them into a trance.