Manu Chao At Jodhpur RIFF
24 October 2013
A tour promoter recently told me about her experience of finding a venue in Delhi for the debut Indian performance of Manu Chao.
“The first question I got asked was: yeh Mannu kaun hai?”
It was a no-brainer to think that the reaction to the name might have been exactly the same in Jodhpur.
One o'clock is relatively early in the day, especially after nailing a gig the previous night while playing to a crowd - screaming its lungs out for close to two hours. Manu Chao carried a look of rejuvenation, as he walked to us and introduced himself with a smile. It is difficult to imagine he is past fifty years of age, has been leading a life of heavy touring and more importantly, is the same guy who was leading a crowd from the main stage a night before.
Before he got on stage at Jodhpur RIFF, it was a bit difficult to think about the kind of reaction his music would get. After all, the man doesn't sing in the vernacular, nor does he sing in English. Although the festival regularly gets folk and “world” musicians who don't necessarily sing in English, having someone whose style straddles a space which is largely rock n roll isn't something the festival has been very familiar with.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Manu mentioned his feelings before starting his set, “because RIFF is unique, and not a rock n roll festival.” It was this which prompted the band to start playing simpler, smooth tunes which served well to warm the audience. The expectation about the kind of performance had already been set with the manner in which the front rows had been moved to make more open space for people to stand close to the stage and react to the music - something standard in a rock concert, but somewhat unseen at a festival like RIFF.
“For musicians, it is very important to play acoustic sets,” continued Manu expressing his love for intimate acoustic sets, “because then you actually know if it is a good song or not.” He just laughed in agreement at the suggestion that audiences at bars attending intimate acoustic sets aren't very forgiving of bad songs either. On the same note, he strongly advocated the importance of a musician to carry a guitar around everywhere. Which is what he missed after stepping into a local bar somewhere in a basement in the old part of Jodhpur: “That's the kind of place I would really like to play. People don't know you. They don't know your music.” Which is after all the true test of your music.
Such confidence only comes after playing to diverse audiences across the world. Add to this the realisation of being lucky (which he mentioned more than a couple of times), and a humbling feeling of having made it out of an “awful neighborhood in Paris”. It was this confidence which gradually led the audience at the festival (a large part of whom were newbies to his music), to join him in a chorus and kick up clouds of dust which rose up and hung above the stage in the semblance of a well worn-out make believe aura.
India had been high on his list of places to visit before dying, and if there was one word to describe his feeling for the country, it was curiosity. Before reaching Jodhpur, he had walked around the lanes of Delhi too, even though he admitted his ignorance about the burgeoning indie music scene here (“I saw some teenagers playing the guitar, but it is too early for me to say anything about what I know.”). Similarly, he didn't sound too sure about the idea of collaborating with other musicians. Jodhpur RIFF prizes itself on the aspect of collaboration which it brings about by getting international artists to work with the local folk musicians. However, Manu felt that a collaboration isn't an easy process, more so because he was yet to experience Indian music and culture to an extent which would've made him comfortable to do a collaboration.
What he was sure about was that India was a “before and after” experience, and that he had just skimmed the surface which had left him wanting more. The way in which the audience refused to stop dancing at the end of his set made it seem like his performance would've been a “before and after” experience too - both for the audience and the festival.
Let's hope there'll now be less people asking who Mannu is.
**Manu Chao La Ventura will perform at blueFROG Delhi on 25 October. It's sold out, so if you missed out - I guess you missed out.**
Words: Asif Khan