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PROM 42 -  Indian Voices II : Shaan (vocalist) June Banerjee (vocalist) Honey’s Dance Academy, The Groove,  Royal Albert Hall, London, 730pm, Sunday, 16.8.2009 (CC) 

In between Proms 41 and 42 there was a “Mela” (festival) of India in the park. Asima, the group we’d heard in the first concert of the day, was featured along with a host of other acts. There was even food there, but if I can turn for a second into a food critic, the onion bhaji I bought for £2 was dry-tasting and under-seasoned. It was, however, rescued by a lovely tamarind and carrot sauce (the combination is new to me, and one I am eager to sample again). 

Shaan’s band “The Groove” started things off, an ensemble of rock instruments complemented by a host of Indian instruments. The drummer was simply amazing. A pity that in the hall the keyboardist was all but lost (the BBC broadcast seemed to manage to spotlight him well though). Bright and foot-tappingly catchy, it was a nice introduction to the evening. But the packed hall (mainly but by no means exclusively Indian) was there for Shaan, the Bollywood wonderboy, someone whose self-confidence levels are through even the roof of the Royal Albert Hall. His voice seemed invincible – he just refused to get tired. His full name, for the record, is Shantanu Mukherjee and he is known for his “Indipop” (self-explanatory) and “Q-funk” (less so: the title of one of his albums, it stands for Qawali Funk). The title track of his album “Loveology” apparently set teenage hearts well aflutter. He has also sung songs that appeared in Hindi films. At the RAH, his honesty was touching. Not only did he admit his nerves, he told us he got lost in the middle of a song and forgot the words while also acknowledging that a lot of the audience probably didn’t notice. He also referred to the Royal Albert Hall as Wembley Arena. At least Shaan made a joke about it. As he said, “anything is possible when it’s the BBC Proms” (although in a different context).

Shaan sometimes gave a précis of what was going on in the film as a voice-over during the course of a song; on one occasion he attempted singing a translation he made up on the wing (the song, “Woh pehli bar” from Pyaar main kabhi kabhi). In another song he shouted out, “Any guesses?”. Nope.

His first song, “Main hoon Don” from the film Don magnificently continued the high-octane atmosphere set up by the band. But all forms of Bollywood emotions were represented this evening. The polar opposite of “Main hoon Don” came next, “Jab se tere naina” from Sawariya, a song that has proved immensely popular (you can see this Hindi song on YouTube, but I have to say the live version we heard is better – the visuals, though, will give you an idea of what may go on on-screen while these songs are sung in Indian cinema). As a representative of the Romantic side of Bollywood, this song can hardly be bettered. Dancers from the Honey Academy of Dance weaved their magic around the singer. As an extension of this emotion, “Kuch kum” from Dostana provided a healthy dollop of melancholic smooch.

I could probably fill many pages by going through each song. The pure melodic beauty of “Tune mujhe pechana nahi” (from Raju chaha); Shaan’s remarkable vocal agility in “Suno na” from Jhankaar Beats; the action-packed “My dil goes hmm” (“My darling goes hmm” from Salaam namaste, complete with dancing troupe); the reggae-influenced “Musu musu” (from Pyaar mein kabhi kabhi) is as infectious as they come and the ideal way to end the first set. Hip-hop found its way into the evening, too (“Main aisa kyun hoon” from Lakhsya). A group of six male dancers enhanced the ultra-smooth aural experience. Few songs require any criticism – perhaps “One Love” was too long for its material. He finished his first Medley with a song that has brought him a shed-load of awards – “Chand sifarish” (Fanaa). A hummed intro led into the song proper (during which six beautiful girls danced around him). Amazingly, despite the song’s high-lying register, Shaan didn’t seem to be tiring at all.

The second part of the concert began around 915pm. In the first part, Shaan had worn a snazzy suit; now he turned up in black jacket and jeans. He also brought with him his guest artist, June Banerjee. Mumbai-based playback singer Banerjee also sings on title tracks and trailers for Indian TV shows (including the Indian version of Deal or No Deal). She looked lovely in black with sparkles. Her voice is very sweet and high, and in the duet “Kuch toh hua hai” from Kal ho na ho their voices complemented each other beautifully; “Hey shona” from Ta ra pum pum was simply lovely. However, as they embarked on a duet medley of some eight songs, it became evident that their on-stage chemistry was not all it might be. Interestingly, this was much more evident in body language. Listen online (or if you closed your eyes in the hall) and for all you know, it is difficult to believe they are not hopelessly in love. As the songs progressed, it became obvious that Banerjee was not as vocally confident as he was, either. She sang a solo at one point that seemed to make direct reference to Donna Summer’s notorious “I feel love”.

The evening included a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Medley” that I remain unsure about. This is the only musical type that seems a little out of place in Bollywood, perhaps the only one the Indians have not totally integrated into their culture and made their own. Still, it climaxed here with everyone involved on-stage for “Koi Kahe” from Dil chahta hai before we returned to safer territory for the final numbers. A sequence of songs from Shaan’s albums included the surely too saccharine “Take me to your heart” (from the album Tishnagi). Of course, Slumdog Millionaire made an appearance for “Jai ho”, which also marked a return to the stage for Banerjee. Interestingly, Shaan implied that this was the final song of the evening but my playlist still held several numbers (which were, in fact, forthcoming). Then he announced, “still four minutes left”, spent most of them introducing the members of his group, then gave us the outrageously unbuttoned “Where’s d’ Party Tonite” (sic, x 2; from Kabhi alvida na kehna) which led directly into the equally energetic “Fanaah4u” (Fanaa).

The full play list for the evening ran to 45 songs, some in medleys (including the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Medley”). The order of songs was largely, but not faithfully, kept to. The British-Asian troupe, Honey’s Dance Academy, provided the dancing. 

And so I hope, for some the Bollywood adventure begins – and remember the concert is online for the next week. If your curiosity has been ignited, there are plenty of opportunities to explore further. You may be interested to learn that the US-based Fanfare magazine has an extensive section in each issue called “Bollywood and Beyond” (I should point out that I am a regular contributor) and provides in-depth reviews of soundtracks and, indeed the films themselves. There have been several interesting articles there, too, including Kollywood: Somewhere south of the rainbow by the immensely knowledgeable Pradeep Sebastian, whose article begins arrestingly with the statement that, “If the best kept secret in music is Bollywood, then the best kept secret in Bollywood is Kollywood”. Below is a selection of links for you to explore:

Finally, perhaps, some recommendations for films for the novice to start off with. Difficult to know where to begin, given the hundred of thousands of Bollywood films in existence. The first Bollywood film I ever saw remains vividly with me today in its heady mix of horror, surprise ending, comedy and action: Anniyan. The music is by Jayaraj and is simply superb. For early, classic Bollywood, try the soundtrack disc (and the films themselves) of Waqt and Kandan (the soundtrack is on Saregama 120596), or the soundtrack of two hugely long films that are Raj Kapoor classics, Meera naam Joker (“My name is Joker”) and Sangam (soundtrack, Indian HMV 120006). The Hindi adventure-comedy From Bombay to Goa (actually a remake of the Tamil film, From Madras to Pondicherry) is hugely entertaining. Film scores by Ilaiyaraaja are always worth a listen: perhaps start with a disc of songs from three films, Walter Vetrivel, Kelli Pechu Kekavaa and Chinna Gouder (EMCD 4024). Also look out for scores by the composing duo Shankar Jaikishan (again, try a disc of the music from Dil apna aur preet parai and Dil Ek Mandir on Saregama 120065). You lucky people, you.

Colin Clarke


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