Bombay's got the Blues
City musicians talk about the evolution of the Blues genre and the unique style it prompts, before they perform a rendition of classics to celebrate International Blues Music Day
Considered an old-school genre by those not fully aware of its history, musicians turn towards blues music to arm themselves with an understanding of melodic structures. And a celebration of this musical style tonight, put together by Mumbai-based guitarist Adil Manuel, is worth your time if you want to experience a modern adaptation of the genre. There's much to learn from the evolution of early blues, where the verses had a single melodic line repeating four times, to the early 20th century version, which forms the foundation of today's standard structures (a line sung over the four first bars, then repeated over the next four bars to end with a longer concluding line).
Manuel, who had a blues band in Delhi called Tightrope before moving to Mumbai in 2015, tells us that he only dived back into the genre in 2017. Tonight, with Rahul Wadhwani on keys, Saurabh Suman on bass, Linford D'souza on drums, and Samantha Noella, Shazneen Arethna, Keshia Braganza and Dwayne Leroy Gamree on vocals, the ensemble will also feature guest artistes Jarred Rodricks on the saxophone, as they perform their own renditions of blues standards. "The blues has a tradition of reinventing old songs — look at Every Day I Have the Blues, and Stormy Monday. We'll also have a mix of blues-rock and ballads thrown in. Plus, being a guitar-driven ensemble, we'll have a lot of solos," says the guitarist, who grew up listening to rock and roll, and only discovered the blues when he heard Stevie Ray Vaughan in the '90s. "That's when the riffs by Led Zeppelin started making sense," he says, adding that the bends and licks typical to this style are now also used in pop music.
Linford D'souza (left) and Saurabh Suman (right)
But the genre is also about its origins — it stems from racial discrimination meted out to African-Americans. "A lot of anger could be heard in the early-era blues, especially because of where it came from," informs Wadhwani. And it's the same pain and suffering that became the basis for the music. The blues originated as songs of lamentation and deliverance by the slaves taken from Africa and brought to America. "These songs helped them make it through the difficult time. And though it was looked upon as forbidden in western classical, the blues note (sung or played at a slightly different pitch than standard ones) was thus born," adds Noella. Soon, people started playing them in brothels and gentleman's clubs, before they were slowly played on the radio and finally in clubs.
Closer home, Shillong-based Soulmate are pioneers in making the genre popular in India, followed by Ehsaan Noorani. And in Mumbai, a blues night was organised only once in two or three months 25 years ago, Noella shares, adding, "The blues has been around for ages. But we haven't had too many acts playing here on a regular basis. With this gig, Adil is creating awareness. What has also helped is that we now have musicians mixing it up with rock and jazz." Wadhwani, who was introduced to the genre in 2012, says that what sets it apart is the fact that there is little theoretic instrumentation and the music is more about the soul in signature progressions. "The blues is a style that people need to learn before diving into jazz, as it forms the root of the improvisation-led genre. It has a strong influence on current music because of its soulful character," he tells us. There are also snatches of it in Bollywood, especially from the days of RD Burman, Noella says, revealing the little-known fact that Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo from Howrah Bridge is actually based on a blues scale.
ON Tonight, 9 pm onwards
AT FLEA Bazaar Cafe, first floor, Trade View Building, Oasis Complex, PB Marg, Lower Parel.
COST Rs 1,000 (full cover)
Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from Mid-day.comSubscribe
Chef Seefah and Diana's funny experiences after moving to India