Review: Bollywood Brass Band @ Southbank Center (London, 12th June 2014)

Who said that the best brass bands in the world are Balkans? Perhaps someone who had never enjoyed a live performance by the Bollywood Brass Band: one of the most thrilling and enthralling horn ensembles.

Their recent gig at the Southbank Centre was no exception: after two hours of funky and overwhelming Indian rhythms, they left their audience breathless. The Bollywood Brass Band, born in London more than 20 years ago, has rapidly become an institution in the British Indian panorama. They started playing traditional qawwali, Punjabi and Bhangra tunes, but, step-by-step, they have turned into a musical potpourri: a spicy garam masala of global rhythms and wild dances.

Their show at the Purcell Room was just a taste of their energetic charge. The audience, regrettably confined to their seats for most of the gig, couldn’t fully benefit from the band’s blazing flame. In front of a similar drive you would nothing else but scream like a trumpet, shout like a saxophone and howl like a trombone. Not to mention the outstanding tablas, the superlative sousaphone and the glorious dhol.

After a smooth introduction, which rattled off the origins of Bollywood giving the spectators a taste of some of the most popular soundtracks matched with their original clips, the performance shifted into high gear When the unforgettable images of Devdas or Barsaat appeared on screen or the rain of Dum Dum Diga Diga began to pour down and in those moments when the train of Chaiyya Chaiyya clattered or the legendary figure of Raj Kapoor or Dilip Kumar came into view, the audience went into raptures.

The nostalgic effect induced by images and sounds created a strong bond between the band and the audience. But that was just the starting point of the night…

The Indian grooves set free by the ensemble forced the audience to forget their cushy seat and put on their dancing shoes. Also a traditional Bollywood dancer backed up the band on stage, showing the moves and inciting the spectators into more and more elaborated choreographies.

In the end, when the wildest tunes alternated themselves, the whole of the Purcell Room was moving to the beat, a sound which had finally become a high-explosive mixture of Indian, Middle East and Brazilian patterns. The rhythmic wave shook every fixed chair of the hall. You couldn’t avoid leaping up and grooving to the tireless beats of the Bollywood Brass Band.

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