The marriage between Eastern and Western music is something we are accustomed to, having heard it all through a plethora of ensembles. However, Vasudha Sharma adds a spin of her own, making what she’s doing that much more unique.
Vasudha Sharma is no newcomer to the world of music. Those who can recall Coke [V] Popstars, Channel V’s version of the international television talent hunt Popstars in the early 2000s, will remember Aasma, a group Sharma was part of. Modeled after ABBA, Aasma achieved mild success after emerging as the winners of the second season in 2003. But by the mid-2000s the band had disappeared from the public eye. That, however, did not dampen Sharma’s spirit, not by a long shot.
Post-Aasma, Vasudha Sharma decided to study music further and headed to the famous Berkley School of Arts, an institution that has given us the likes of Norah Jones and John Mayer. Her career path was quite clear - to make her own music. Upon returning to India, she got into music composing and worked on movie scores. However, it was in live performances and albums where her heart lay and Sharma soon found herself surrounded by like minded artists who helped her get the sound she desired.
Fast forward to a chilly night on 28 December in Kathmandu. Hotel Annapurna played host to a show that garnered a lot of buzz. At the center of it all hung a banner that simply said ‘Vasudha Sharma Live’. The mercury was dipping at an alarming rate out in the garden, the venue of the event, and the attendees were huddled around the lampbox heaters, doing their best to keep warm. Slowly, the band members positioned themselves on stage and a booming voice emanated from the speakers as gracious applause welcomed the singer on stage.
Sharma began by extending her good wishes to all in attendence. Then came the serenading voice that we were all waiting for. The one number that shone through was her rendition of the classic Dama Dam Mast Kalandar. It had a drive and fervor that had everybody moving to its rhythm. Another song was based on Kabir’s dohe called Maula, a real punchy track with an outro worthy of being called ‘progressive rock’. Now, while Sharma was at her charismatic best, the show stealer was Andrew Ferrao on the keys. Some of his solos on the keyboards were a thing of beauty.
All the songs on the setlist were from ‘Attuned Spirits’, an album for which Sharma has toured extensively. The next track Ganga was off it as well. Ganga is what Bhojpuri songs were all about before film music brought the sweetness behind the paganistic devotion to a screeching (and I mean screeching) halt. The song was given a Western twist that could appeal to many alternative music fans as well. She then headed to the west of India with her song Dhola, an out and out groovy Rajasthani tune.
“The next track is Jagi Jagi Raina, a song I wanted to record for a long time. It is the first single from the album,” said Sharma as she took to the higher scales. What proceeded was what can be best described as one of the best fusion songs around. The blend of raga with western melodies spoke volumes of the group’s capability, of how they could make beautiful music in unison. Next was a blues track called Cruel World showcasing the bands versatility. Right after that, Vasudha shimmied to show the crowd a few Punjabi dance moves as the Punjabi song Jugni was up next. The crowd moved and jived, the rhythm keeping up in the next song called Sajna Blues which had a keyboard solo that had to be heard to be believed.
The penultimate song, as Sharma explained, was something from us, to us. And thus began Musu Musu Hasi Deu. The crowd sang along and probably gave her the best ovation of the night. As the show was set to wrap up, she asked if we were warmed up enough. The crowd was pretty warmed up for sure and for her encore the audience clamored for Dama Dam Mast Kalandar. The singer obliged and the crowd broke out, clapping along with the beat and sang along as much as they could. She thanked the listeners and then quite generously made rounds meeting fans and taking pictures.
All in all, a show worthy of the appeal and pomp. Vasudha Sharma has come a long way from her Aasma days and has a lot more music left in her. A live act well worth the buck, undoubtedly. !