Saturday, May 4, 2013

Talkin' bout my generation

Yesterday Osibisa performed in Bangalore.  Osibisa needs no introduction to people of my generation.  This Ghanian Afro pop band made waves in the seventies and eighties with their spirited music and their 1983 India tour was even shown on Doordarshan (the one and only national T.V. channel that existed at the time), which was my introduction to this band.

'Afro pop' doesn't do them justice.  Perhaps their own name is more telling.  Band members explain Osibisa as meaning 'criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness'.  Wikipedia says that this is derived from 'osibisaba', the Fante word for highlife.  (Highlife is a genre of music that originated in Ghana about a century ago and spread to the English speaking countries of Western Africa).  Osibisa's music is full of small explosions - mainly of happiness but also of sounds and beats - chants, jazz, rock, hip hop and lots of percussion.  I had never seen them live before and it was a spirited, fun performance despite the fact that the original remaining members are getting on in years (the founder, Teddy Osei, suffered from a stroke some time ago and seems paralysed waist down; but he can still talk and sing and beat the drums with gusto).  The new members are talented, full of life and deeply involved in their music.  As with most African bands, this one generates music and rhythm effortlessly, making everything look deceptively simple.  In fact, it's very hard to produce such peppy stuff that has a happy, lingering quality.

We were lucky enough to make it to the show despite having read about it just that morning.  I visited the venue after seeing a small, uninformative announcement in the papers and reached to find the place buzzing with activity.  The band was up on stage, dealing with lights and sound.  The local staff couldn't help me with tickets so I finally collared the first person in sight, who was a very pleasant young man from the sound section.  (In fact everyone there except the band and me seemed to be awfully young!  I wondered how it would all work out).  As a matter of fact, it worked out fairly easily, with help from the young generation's favourite instrument - the cell phone.  The girl in charge of tickets called someone, who confirmed that she could not give me any real tickets.   Instead she took my cell number and reserved a couple of seats for me.  She told me to call her when I reached the venue in the evening and reassured me that hard copies were not required until the last mo, that everything would be fine; in a nutshell - that it was cool and I could chill.  So I did.

The concert was fun, with a mix of old and new compositions.  For me a lot of it was new, as I had heard only songs which Doordarshan had condescended to show.  Many others tripped down memory lane (physically tripping as well because they were no longer as young and agile as their minds led them to believe).  Basically everyone had a good time including a large bunch of school kids from an international school who left their seats and began dancing at the base of the stage, in front of the performers (and slightly blocking our view).  Not done in my time (we were meant to be seen not heard and in fact, not even be seen on some occasions).  But then, this is a new world altogether..

I give here a few links to Osibisa's music.  One of their most fun songs is 'Who's got the paper' which (like some of their songs) consists of four lines, most unprofound and quite addictive.  There is no live recording on youtube of this song; I provide a 'down the memory lane' kind of link, with pictures of the group etc.

Another link to the same song that reminds me of my most fun, early twirly dances with Rags is
Watch it only for a few minutes (at the danger of getting dizzy) and don't resist the temptation to try out a few steps.

The next link shows Osibisa's skill in percussion, followed by their song Kelele (a song of togetherness) and some funk (a rhythmic kind of music).  This recording is not of very high quality but is a good illustration of their live performances and how energetically they reach out to their audience.

And finally, their take on the Indian prayer 'Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram' - a bhajan (devotional song), one of Mahatma Gandhi's favourites.  This is something Osibisa has been playing in India on most of their visits, a kind of tribute and a prayer to a common god, sung in their own style.  And, being an upbeat African style, they have zoomed into the intrinsic rhythm (and brought out the beat!) of this old Indian bhajan.  To me, it sounds good but purists may not agree.  The audience yesterday, comprising largely of people of my generation, who had seen many gentle, liberal days, was thrilled with the song.  The other component of the audience (the schoolkids) had likely never heard this bhajan before and were happy with the beat.  So, we all stood and clapped for this group that has succeeded in reaching out to people of many generations, over many decades through their music.

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