Unlike jazz, blues didn’t find many takers in India back in the day. In fact, India never really had a blues scene. From the ’50s through the ’90s, while it was not uncommon for five-star hotels (the places where the elite live music culture originated) to have an in-house jazz band, it’s intriguing how blues as a genre never caught on in the country. Jazz even percolated to the Hindi film music of the time (‘Eena meena dika’, ‘Gore gore’. ‘Mera naam chin chin choo’ and more recently, 'Kaisi paheli zindagani' ) but blues, at best, remained an extremely local thing.
Veteran musician Floyd Fernandes sums it up quite succinctly. “There is no and never was any blues scene in India, however now it's hip to be different. So unless you are black or have a history in slavery no one will hear you.” However, the genesis of Indian blues was probably in the gospel bands of Shillong. The '80s saw the blues travelling all the way to Calcutta and mingling with the city's nightclub scene. And in the past decade, there has been a steady stream of followers from the hitherto only-jazz-loving crowd becoming blues converts. The rise to popularity of Shillong-based blues act Soulmate paved way for many other bands into national recognition. The Mahindra Blues Festival only consolidated the amorphous and scattered lovers of the blues from across the country. And gave a chance for this elite class to watch legends like Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, Doyle Brahmall II perform live.
Fernandes, however, warns against the over-celebration of a scene. A lot of real talent is still not supported and doesn't find a stage, he says. "To have a scene the true listeners who hide at home have to be supportive of good young talent and show up for gigs when they do happen. Organisers will have to look beyond the boring acts they put up every year," he feels. The festival might be a niche cultural get-together but it has, thanks to social media invasion and the trickle-down effect of FOMO (fear of missing out), people seem to be conversing a lot about the blues now.
(Photo source: www.bbking.com)
It is no wonder that the passing of BB King was RIP-ed by almost everybody on my Facebook timeline today. I spoke to the who's who of the blues fraternity in the city and asked about the icon's influence on their music. This is what they said:
‘He gave a chance to younger musicians to share the stage with him’
- Warren Mendonsa, guitarist, Blackstratblues
(Photo: Parizad D)
BB King is one of the founding fathers of the blues. He gave a chance to a lot of younger musicians to share the stage with him. My favourite album of his is Live At The Regal. It is a predominantly live album, and it is amazing not just for his guitar-playing but also his singing.
‘I was lucky to catch him live in 1988 at the North Sea Jazz Festival’
- Eshaan Noorani, composer and guitarist
He’s my biggest, biggest idol. We were in a rehearsal today when we heard the news; the mood since then has been very sad and sombre. I’m sure almost every guitarist has been influenced by BB King’s music. I was lucky to catch him live in 1988 at the North Sea Jazz Festival. He was one of those artistes that tour a lot; he used to perform 200-300 concerts a years. He’s spent almost 70 years of his life just on the road. It’s remarkable! But I guess, a man has to leave sometime. You know, whenever he used to come on stage, he would stop the band and announce ‘Stop everything! BB King has come to town’. I’m sure right now in heaven, he’s saying the same thing.
‘I wish he could be here for another 50 years!’
- Rudy Wallang, guitarist, Soulmate
Who hasn’t been inspired by BB’s music! Every modern guitar player has been influenced by him. I never got a chance to see him live but I love watching the DVDs of his concerts. As a musician, I have learned so much just by watching how he interacts with musicians on stage. Since the news of his ill health was reported, we all knew that this day was inevitable, but I really wish he could be here for another 50 years just for the great music he'd create!
‘I would play ‘Lucille’ on loop and keep singing the guitar intro’
- Ipshita Roy, vocalist, Big Bang Blues
I was in class 11 when I started listening to the blues and BB King was the first artiste I listened to. I would play his music for hours and hours. I am hugely inspired by his music; the way he used to converse with his guitar. I would play ‘Lucille’ on loop and keep singing the guitar intro. It was my biggest dream just to watch him perform live. I’ve never really cried at the news of the death of any other artiste, but it is just very overwhelming to know that he is no more.