Money, money, money

Money plays a big role in deciding who performs in India and who doesn’t. As this column in FirstPost explains, getting an artist here depends on their “availability, affordability, and inclination”—and “then there are the logistics and legalities of staging an event in our country, which lacks sufficient and suitable venues.” For these reasons and others, few red hot acts perform in India. Retro acts do not see these as problems, though.

Shyam Tallamraju said the reason to bring Adams to India was market research. “Our research showed that 93% of music-related live entertainment options are catering to the 18-to-24 age bracket,” Tallamraju said. “But what’s there for those above 30?”

A senior vice president at Mirchi Live, Tallamraju was instrumental in getting India added to Adams’s international tour to support his 14th studio album, Ultimate, that comprises his greatest hits and two new songs. The event has been produced by Entertainment Network India, owned by the Times Infotainment Media.

Tallamraju explained that his company organises musical events as a solution for advertisers. For instance, fashion retailer Forever 21 does not advertise on radio, so they don’t find space on the Times Group’s FM station, Radio Mirchi. But Forever 21 got associated with a six-city tour of the singer Vidya Vox organised by Entertainment Network India in 2017.

“For Bryan Adams, we are looking at brands targeting the 30-plus age group, like, say, automobile [brands],” Tallamraju said.

Targeting affluent 30-somethings is also the game plan of Dereyk Talker. Mumbai-based Talker is the founder-owner of KCT Entertainment, a company that has been bringing pop, dance, and rock acts such as Vengaboys, UB40, Boney M, Ottawan, Gipsy Kings, and Mr Big’s Eric Martin to India since 2014. Talker first focused on retro acts upon realising that live music events didn’t cater to his age group. “I wanted to bring artists I liked and listened to.”

With a handful of artists coming to India repeatedly, how does one keep these acts fresh? The solution, Talker said, was not to repeat cities. When he brought Vengaboys in 2015, they performed in Mumbai, Goa, and Chennai. He is now planning to make them return, but this time to his hometown Mumbai, plus Pune and Bengaluru.

It’s just business

Cold business sense is an incomplete explanation for these acts’ return, since not all their concerts in India are runaway successes. It’s possible there is more at play here, perhaps a genuine affection for these acts.

Bare Bones, Adams’s 2010 acoustic live album, did not make a dent anywhere but in India, where it was declared a hit. Michael Learns to Rock’s eighth studio album Scandinavia (2012) was released in India before anywhere else. And after Poets of the Fall found a worshipping crowd at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur on their first visit to India in 2007, the music label Saregrama released their first best-of compilation album in India.

Another reason for the popularity could be the ties that these musicians consciously formed with the country from the time their career was at the peak—and not in their last days.

Adams’s first Indian concert came two years after his Grammy win in 1992 that was televised on Doordarshan in India. Poets of the Fall’s first Indian gig took place in 2007, a year after the release of their hit song Carnival Of Rust, which received frequent airplay here. Michael Learns to Rock’s first Indian concert in 1996 was after two back-to-back bestselling albums and a greatest-hits compilation exclusively released in Asia and South Africa. The 2001 Indian tour of Vengaboys happened a few years after the release of their global hits Boom Boom Boom!! and We’re Going To Ibiza.

Kare Wanscher, the drummer for Michael Learns to Rock, said in an interview earlier this year: “What happened back in the ’90s was one big coincidence that we had a certain style of music that hit the right audience at the right time which was the Asian Indian audience and that time Asia was not an attractive market for anybody. Many of the big American artists didn’t focus on Asia and when we went there we were one of the first western bands to play in many cities in Asia which gave us a special connection with our fans.”

When Poets of the Fall performed a gig in Kolkata in 2012, there was pandemonium. E365 Entertainment Everyday’s Kinjal Bhattacharya, who organised the concert, recalled that the tickets were sold out online in just 36 hours. “There were at least 2,000 fans more who climbed the walls of Nazrul Mancha [the venue], or bribed a security guard, or laid their hands on the complimentary passes meant for sponsors or partners, or stood in the rain outside the venue just to hear POTF [Poets Of The Fall] live.”

The popularity of these acts was fuelled by listeners who were just leaving high school or had just entered college. And as a 1989 study says, 24 is the age by which one’s musical preferences get solidified—after that, one is likely to keep returning to that music.

Tista Sen was in college when she saw Adams perform live in Mumbai in 1994. Young women around her shrieked as the Canadian disappeared from the stage suddenly and popped up on a faraway platform beside them, Sen remembered. “Bryan Adams represented young and sexy,” Sen said. “He was a big part of our college parties. There were the fun songs like Summer Of 69 and then, near the end, there were the boyfriend songs where everyone would get cosy.”

What binds retro pop, dance, and rock bands is melody, said Rock Street Journal director Anirban Chakraborty. “Be it Arijit Singh or old Hindi songs or even these English songs, we Indians are suckers for melody.”

When news of Adams’s return to India broke early this year, many people who have become jaded with the Canadian rocker’s hits, protested. Chakraborty didn’t agree with them—“People are connecting to these artists on an emotional level. Bryan Adams is a classic. To see him and Keith Scott [Adams’s guitarist and touring partner since 1979] perform is like seeing U2 or The Rolling Stones, who are still together.”

FM Rainbow’s Fali R Singara, a radio jockey at All India Radio who plays English songs, pointed out another connection. “What are the maximum songs of Bryan Adams, Michael Learns to Rock or Air Supply really about?” Love.

“Most radio listeners tune into FM Rainbow and request love ballads,” Singara said. “Between 6 pm and 7 pm in the evening, we get a Bryan Adams song request daily.” And the best part, he noted, is that listeners who often have no understanding of Western pop or rock end up listening to it because they don’t switch off the radio after the previous RJ who played Hindi songs went off the air. “Once they like the melody, they want to go out of their way to understand the lyrics. Language is really an illusion when it comes to music.”

Perhaps this explains a curious Sunday night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Kolkata, when the cover band on stage was exclusively playing Hindi film classics. “We have a mandate to play Hindi songs only,” a band member grimly said after a request was made to play something as instantly recognisable as Queen’s We Will Rock You. But later, in the middle of spirited dancing and commotion, the band slipped in Summer of 69, and nobody noticed. As if it was a Hindi song.

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