And,it was all Blues

Updated: Feb 02, 2020, 09:58 IST | P Vatsalya | Mumbai

As a homegrown Blues music festival returns with its tenth edition, the makers do a rewind to the time they conceived it. Plus, the best acts to catch

American guitarist and singer-songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays with his band on February 8. Pic/Getty Images
American guitarist and singer-songwriter Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays with his band on February 8. Pic/Getty Images

The journey started 10 years ago albeit with a little trepidation about whether the Blues genre, not as popular as jazz in India, would take off. But Jay Shah says they look a leap of faith right from the first year and Mumbai responded with "full heart and soul". The Mahindra Blues Festival, which celebrates 10 years next week, returns to Bandra's Mehboob Studio.

Shah, vice-president for Cultural Outreach at Mahindra & Mahindra, says the idea originated because Mahindra's business in the US warranted that they emotionally connect with their customers i.e., farmers in the Mississippi delta. "We thought it would be great to organise a Blues festival to send out the message that Mahindra is invested in the culture of the people they are collaborating with, and we are celebrating it in a land far away," he says. What began as a business decision has blossomed into a full-fledged music festival the city looks forward to.

Jay Shah
Jay Shah

V Jairam, co-founder of Oranjuice Entertainment, the firm which handles the festival logistics, says, "The festival is beautiful in many ways. Blues music was invented at a time when the only way to appreciate music was to witness it live. That's the real truth of an artiste, on full display at the festival."

Over the years, fans have witnessed many a legend on stage. Buddy Guy, Brandon Santini, Charlie Musselwhite, Coco Montoya, Layla Zoe, and The Blackstrat Blues have all graced the event with their music. "Mr Anand Mahindra's vision was to stay true to the genre. And so, even the choice of artistes has been very specific to the Blues," Jairam adds. While most global Blues festivals have started broad-basing, with the occasional pop and rock acts thrown in, Mahindra hasn't. "One of the other reasons why visitors flock back to the festival each year is because of our comprehensive curation. We ensure that there is gender-, age- and ethnicity balance. Also, we take care that there is a mix of genres, whether it is the Chicago Blues or the Delta Blues," Jairam explains.

V Jairam
V Jairam

The music, the use of multiple stages, the food court and bars and the overall consumer experience, where they manage to create a city within a city, is what loyalists like. Jairam recounts an anecdote where a Parsi gentleman approached the organisers one year to say, everything was great, except the toilets. "We took the feedback seriously and arranged for air-conditioned toilets with FM music playing in them, the very next year". In that edition, the gentleman managed to track the organiser team down again and thanked them.

Mumbai, they say, has been the perfect venue. "We realised that the mood behind Blues, which is often born from turmoil and deep emotions, is similar to what this city endures. People here toil, they have difficult lives. But at the end of it, there is a sense of triumph and a song on their lips." Blues, after all is about acknowledging social issues people face, but also celebrating them.

What: Mahindra Blues Festival
Where: Mehboob studio, Bandra
When: February 8 and 9; 6 pm
Entry: Rs 1,200 onwards
Call/Log in: 2642 1626;

The Biggies

Apart from homebred talent, you can look forward to guitar-ripping and soul-tripping by these guys

Kenny Wayne Shepherd band
Shepherd is a five-time Grammy-nominated musician from Louisiana. He is a self-taught musician and his most recent albums are Lay It On Down (2017) and The Traveler (2019)

Larkin Poe A

Larkin Poe A
Tennessee-based American band fronted by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, they are known for their strong, Southern harmonies and electric guitar riffs

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy
Arguably, the most famous exponent of Chicago Blues, his music has influenced guitar greats like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He has a long-term association with the fest and is returning

Keb' Mo'

Keb' Mo'
He is an influential musician, known for his post-modern Delta Blues. His most recent album Oklahoma (2019) was nominated for the Grammy Awards

The Homegrown Lot

As a 10th anniversary tribute, the festival is featuring an ensemble of Indian Blues musicians. The Homegrown Blues Collective will comprise of the Arinjoy Trio, Kanchan Daniels, Rohit Lalwani and Soulmate. It is interesting that the Arinjoy Trio had won the Mahindra Blues band hunt in 2018 and went on to perform at the main stage in 2019

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