I asked a couple of my friends if they would like to accompany me for the Rekha Bharadwaj concert happening as a part of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Their reply was “Who is Rekha Bhardwaj?” I felt like smashing their heads out. Dejected, and not to keen about forcing people to come for this (this was her second concert I was attending and the first one, where I had dragged someone, was a bit disappointing). After the first experience even I was a bit confused if I should go for this one but Vipin convinced me to give it a shot. And how I would like to thank him for that!
The Asiatic Library steps are the perfect venue for a small concert. I was expecting a small crowd especially after seeing the ignorance of my most knowledgeable friends. When I reached the venue a dance show was on and about 3000 people attending it. I expected the crowd to ebb after the dance show but I was so wrong.
So Rekha’s band took the stage after the dance show and I was delighted to see a percussionist (dholak, djembe, etc.) as the fifth band member. The sound system was much better than the one at the Bandra Festival. So far, so good. Holding on to the Indian tradition, she began her concert invoking the Gods with a lovely melody titled “Zikr” and it set the tone for the concert. Her voice was sweet as ever and she was hitting every note perfectly. The crowd loved it.
Now it is difficult to hold a motley crowd of thousands of people with sufi songs that not many have heard before. A significant section of this crowd however, seemed to know it’s music and even the others were very well-behaved and appreciative. The first song of her own that she sang on stage was “Tere Ishq Mein” from Ishqa Ishqa, a song that is still buzzing in my head. I had heard the song just before going for the concert and it sounded ordinary, but hearing it live was something else. It sounded just perfect. “Jogiya” was another nice sufi-rock song from Ishqa Ishqa. A cover of “Tere Bin Nahi Lagda” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan followed. I was there the first time she had tried this on stage and let us just say I did not like it. But this was a million times better. She was singing it within her range and gave it her own flavor making it very enjoyable. She finished the sufi line-up with “Raat Ki Jogan” which she claims is her favourite song from the album and quite rightly so. (Just to make fans jealous, by this point Vishal Bharadwaj had joined the concert).
Then came the Bollywood songs and the crowd was on its toes. I missed the Indian instruments and Suresh Wadkar in “Raat Ke Dhai Baje”. The song nevertheless had the crowd dancing. With all its electronic processing, “Genda Phool” is not easy to imitate live. However, the band did an amazing improvisation with jazz-like solos on the guitar and keyboard. “Ab Mujhe Koi” does justice to her voice and is done with minimal and instruments. So it sounded exactly like the original (there is no point in adding that I enjoyed it). And then came the highlight of the evening. “Darling” being performed live for the first time. Although not the same without Usha Uthup and the ensemble of instruments, she made it enjoyable with her typical rendition. With time left for only one more song, it had to be “Namak”. Another song that had disappointed me last time but today Rekha was in her element thus nailing the song.
Rekha Bhardwaj can probably never have concerts like Sonu Nigam or Sunidhi Chauhan because of the limited number of songs that she does but watching her on stage is a different experience. She is extremely innocent even on stage and that flows through her voice. She was quite overwhelmed by the crowd response and was expressing that through her fluent Urdu time and again. I just hope someday I get to listen to her playing with a lot more instruments and “Beedo”, “Ranaji” and “Badi Dheere Jali ” as well.
Photos Courtesy: Yatin Khanwalkar and Aditya Rotti