Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Impact 2010: Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal Live in Concert

Oh, how I love the names of these Bollywood concert tours. Last year I saw Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan, and Hard Kaur explode the Patriot Center in Explosion 2009 and this past weekend I saw Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal impact DAR Constitution Hall in Impact 2010.

(Check back later for a full set-list. Somebody - not me - left her notebook with the set lists at work. I don't know who could have done such a thing!)

Being a white woman at one of these events is an exercise in me trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I do try to respect the fact that these concerts are a chance for the South Asian community to come together as well as musical events and while I don't mind the inevitable 'what are you doing here' questions (always asked and answered with the utmost politeness), I prefer not to be noticed at all.

The event started right on Indian Standard Time (which is to say, one hour late). Our Emcee for the evening was a poetically minded woman - whose name I didn't catch. Dressed in a bright red top and skirt, she provided a nice touch of earnestness to an evening that was already headed way into deep camp territory with the first act - the strutting of the Miss India DCs across the stage and back. The crowd was really buzzing with excitement as the dancers, dressed in gloriously tacky ensembles of gold lame tops/trousers for the men and gold lame tops/booty shorts for the women, came out for their medley of recent Bollywood hits. As I wrote in my notes - and will transcribe for you here - "This is the way to warm up a crowd!!"

After the dancers was a wonderful jazz fusion performance from a violinist who was also the musical director of the tour - if I heard correctly. While the crowd wasn't really feeling it and, to be fair, the pianist
did go very heavy on the scales, I thought he was fantastic and wish I knew his name. The came the warm-up guy, a thankless job if there ever was one but he did his duty well, performing a medley of upbeat tunes heavy on the Kishore Kumar. At this point, the crowd was ready to revolt if we didn't get either Atif or Shreya (people were screaming both names.)

The lights darkened on stage and out came three female dancers with tea lights in their hands...yes, you are correct! "Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka!" Shreya emerged from behind them wearing stiletto boots, black leggings, and a sparkly silver top. I overheard some people later saying that the outfit didn't really fit with her stage persona and I don't disagree. Shreya is demure onstage and very sweet. She thanked us all for coming out and said it had been three years since she had performed in the US and despite what happened later in the evening, I hope she comes back soon.

Her set was a nice mixture of ballads and a few peppier numbers, with the dancers flitting on and off as required. Shreya is not a belter; she's a crooner, which means from time to time her voice would get lost in the instrumentation, but for the most part that crystal clear soprano trilled it's way directly into my heart. Shreya's catalog is heavy on songs for listening to rather than songs to be danced or sung along to. She hit all the recent biggies: "Teri Ore," "Yeh Ishq Hai," "Pal Pal Har Pal," etc.

There were a couple of surprises for me in her performances. The first was "Zoobi Doobi." You all know I loathe this song and it's insipid lyrics and teethgratingly perky performances. Well, performed live by Shreya, it was transformed into something much more soft and lighthearted - like dancing on cloud instead of having that same cloud rammed into my eardrums with a sharp stick. The second was the chilling "Mere Dholna" from
Bhool Bhuliya, which was just as exciting to hear sung live as it would have been to watch Vidya Balan perform the dance. I didn't realize quite how much Shreya's voice added to that picturization until this show. (And I'll take this opportunity to give a brief shout out to the percussionist who did some fine work on "Mere Dholna.")

Sadly, not everyone was as enraptured with Shreya as I was and there was an incident about two-thirds of the way through her set which would have rattled me if I had been in her shoes. She was doing a small bit with the audience where she asking which songs people wanted to hear and some overexcited audience members began chanting Atif Aslam's name. She brushed it off but didn't really try to talk with the audience again. The set finished with "Dola Re Dola," which was a little odd sounding without Kavita Krishnamurthy but still lovely.

Next was the low point of the evening when our emcee tried to introduce the second warm-up act only to be booed because we
still had to wait for Atif. Yes, booed. I don't think I've ever been in an audience that has actually booed somebody on stage before. Well, she got more than a little upset and scolded us saying that Atif's band needed to set up and we would have to be patient. Well, I have a lot of respect for warm up act number two, who came out in her skin-tight outfit and sang her medley of Sunidhi Chauhan numbers with an air of defiance. That could not have been an easy thing to do.

Finally, the moment was upon us: Atif Aslam! Let me tell you something, gentle readers, Atif is a Rock Star. And I don't mean that in the vague 'let's party' way that the actors who mimed their way through the Rock Stars Tour 2005 were rock stars. No, Atif embodies that mixture of cockiness, stage craft, and musical ability that favorably reminded me of performers like Mick Jagger. Atif knew every lady in the audience (and a handful of the men) wanted to get with him and he not only accepted this fact, he basked in it. Mr. Aslam strutted, twisted himself into some deliciously sinuous poses, and played the guitar AND bass for our enjoyment. And he did it all while looking like (as my grandmother might say) 'the cat who ate the canary.'

Atif played a mixture of songs from his rock career ("Ehaas," Maahi Ve") and, of course, the Bollywood hits ("Tu Jaane Na," "Woh Lamhe")! The highlight for me was an inspired acoustic version of "Pehli Nazar Mein" from
Race, which was totally transformed from a Pritam song sung by Atif to an Atif Aslam song. I would love to hear him put this version as a bonus track on an upcoming album one of these days. (Hint, hint, Atif!) Despite the high levels of excitement among the crowd, our sense of Western decorum was so great that it wasn't until half way through Atif's set when he explicitly commanded us to dance, that a few brave souls got up (myself included, I'm proud to say) and boogie-woogied. Five minutes later, everyone was dancing!

All in all, it was a very satisfying show and I highly recommend you check it out if the tour is heading to your neck of the woods.

Two final points from me.

There was a wonderful undercurrent of India-Pakistan friendship running through the show. From the fact that the tour featured Shreya Ghoshal (Indian) and Atif Aslam (Pakistani) together to an appearance from the Miss India DCs and Miss Pakistan World - the theme of the night was: "We are all South Asian here (except you, white girl in the back taking notes, but welcome to you, too.) Now let's dance!"

Secondly, while I understand the desire to bring South Asian artists over for a South Asian audience, in some ways it's a real shame that an artist like Atif Aslam isn't performing at places like the 9:30 Club or the Black Cat: rock venues for rock fans. Because while somebody like Shreya Ghoshal caters her set to Bollywood fans, Atif sings rock music which is has a wider audience in places like Washington, DC. The next time he comes to town, I would love to try and book him into a rock club the night before or the night after and see if the experience is any different. Somehow, I think he would translate perfectly.


dishoomdishoom said...

Definitely making my plans for the Atlantic City concert then! Though, Atif always evoked not so great vibes in me, but he managed to impress me with his stage presence recently! Did he do this "Billy Jean" rendition?

Chitradeep said...

Amazing performance from Shreya...Atif sucked big time...terrible vocals and only showmanship...he should not be allowed to sing....THE WORST singer in the history of Bollywood...COMPLETE waste of half the ticket money...most of the people walked out after 1-2 songs by Atif

Filmi Girl said...

@chitradeep DAMN! Really? He must have been having an off night because he honestly rocked it in Washington.

Shreya is always fantastic and I felt really bad for her that the crowd wasn't more into it at the show I went to... She has the sweetest voice in Bollywood. :)

Sheraz said...

Horrible comments from @Chitradeep. Atif did rock the concert and won crowd unlike Shreya. The only issue with Atif's music was that it was too loud, but he did very well. May I correct what you said about him being the worst singer of bollywood, just look at his songs which are toping the charts in every movie. He is as good as KK and I believe in top 2 male singers of bollywood. Way better than Sonu/Shan/Pethatic Abhijeet and Kumar Sanu.

samsonite said...

good concept.. but that atif a nostril singer... made the concept Boreingggggggg

Krishneel Kumar said...

The One Who Said Atif Sucks.. Is The Boring Person Over Here, He Or She Could Be Complete Racist Or She /he Does not Have any Sense For Music....Atif You Rock Bro!!!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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