The aroma of fusion

The lack of a moshpit didn’t stop people from rocking out all evening during Masala Coffee’s concert at The Hindu November Fest

The crowd has an impartial mix of people from all age groups. And, from where I sit, I catch bits of conversations in Malayalam on my left and Tamil on my right.

Sooraj Santhosh, the lead singer of contemporary folk fusion band Masala Coffee, with his curly locks and silvery voice, introduces himself as a Chennai boy, and receives a loud cheer. It grows only louder when he starts the concert with the band’s recent Malayalam folk fusion ‘Aalayal Thara Venam’. The folk song, which describes the pious ambience of a temple, becomes a peppy number that has everybody grooving, in Masala Coffee’s version.

Similarly, the folk fusion versions of the hugely popular numbers ‘Kaathu Sookshichoru Kasthoori Mambazham’ and ‘Kaithola Paya Virichu’ even have a few headbanging while remaining seated.

It’s Masala Coffee’s first time at The Music Academy, and, probably, the band did not gauge the lack of a moshpit. So, when Varun Sunil, percussionist and founder of the band, grabs the mike and asks the crowd to let go, come ahead and dance, most exchange confused glances. Then, group by group, a majority of the audience stands up to gracefully clap and sway, even as Varun and team whip out a mash-up of A. R. Rahman hits — ‘Endrendrum Punnagai’, ‘Hamma Hamma’ and ‘Chikku Bukku’.

Varun steps in again, and asks the audience to give him a rhythm, and once the hall echoes with synchronised claps, the percussionist, who has played with musicians such as Astad Deboo and Ranjit Barot, gives a gripping solo performance on the cajon.

Throughout the concert, the band strategically alternates between Malayalam and Tamil.

And, during the brief spell of silence between two songs, a fan or two restlessly requests for ‘Kaantha’, the band’s most popular number that has garnered over three million hits on YouTube. Varun reassures the crowd that the song is part of the line-up, and the group continues with a string of melodies — ‘Pachai Nirame’ from Alaipayuthe, ‘Kadhalikum Pennin’ from Kadhalan, ‘Dil Se’, and ‘Rasathi’ from Thiruda Thiruda — all brewed up to a fresh sound by Paul Jacob on bass, Krishna Raj on violin, Joe Johnson on keyboard, Preeth P.S. and David Crimson on guitars and Joe Jacob on drums.

This is soon followed by Ilaiyaraaja’s evergreen melodies ‘Thendral Vandhu’ from Thendrale Ennai Thodu and ‘Enthan Nenjil’ from Kalaignan. While these have the audience flopping deeper into the seats and closing their eyes to soak in the music, the band’s original numbers ‘Odi Odi’ and ‘Once upon a time in Punjab’, and its metal version of Bharathiyar’s ‘Agni Kunjondru’ from Uriyadi, bring back the adrenalin rush.

Finally, there is the familiar sound of the kazoo. Sooraj begins a song, and the crowd doesn’t want it to end. ‘Kaantha’ is rendered at its pulsating best; there are many more bobbing heads and tapping feet than before. “Kaantha in Tamil…?” shouts someone, just when the band gets ready to pack up. With that last song, the band leaves those to my left and right satisfied, in equal measure.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 1:29:18 PM |

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