How Michael Jackson is helping local bands in Mumbai

Sunday, 16 June 2013 - 8:48am IST Updated: Sunday, 16 June 2013 - 9:49am IST | Agency: dna

Tribute gigs are in demand because of the nostalgia factor and also it pays musicians well. Then why don't we see more such bands in India?

Twenty-three-year-old Madhura Haldipur grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Beatles, Scorpions, Bob Marley and was hooked to Iron Maiden in college. “I was furious when I realised I was a generation too late to attend a live Beatles concert,” she says, adding,
“so, I chose the next best option — a tribute gig and try to imagine it’s the real thing.”

Haldipur has attended tribute gigs for Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and is looking forward to a
tribute to Michael Jackson, that’s being organised by Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai on June 27, in which local bands have been invited to play. The wait staff will even do the moonwalk.

Similarly, BlueFROG, Mumbai, paid tribute to John Mayer earlier this month, while Higher on Maiden, the official UK-based Iron Maiden tribute band, performed in Assam in May to 1,000 cheering fans last year.

Almost famous
Tribute bands dedicate their music to emulating one specific classic act. It’s really big abroad. There’s Michael Jackson tribute Who’s Bad in San Francisco; 1974Abba, an Abba tribute, The Bohemians, a Queen tribute group since 1996, in the UK; and Gallus Cooper, a tribute to singer and song-writer Alice Cooper, in Glasgow.

It’s serious business. Vamsi Tadepalli, founder and sax player for Who’s Bad, says their dancers have been trained by choreographers that the late Jackson used himself. While the band formed in 2003, a demand for their performances grew in 2009 after the King of Pop left the stage forever.

In India, tribute band members are most often members of other bands that play their own compositions. But tribute shows work very well.

Anisha Banerji, vice president, marketing, at Hard Rock Cafe, explains why, by comparing tribute gigs to wearing a pair of old pyjamas. “Tribute shows work well overall; they have higher footfalls. A band singing a tribute to a famous classic band reminds the audience of old times. They can sing along since they know the lyrics and after a couple of drinks — it’s just a fun place.”

Tribute gigs apparently also pay better. Corporates usually ask for tribute gigs, says Howard Pereira, lead guitarist with Mumbai-based rock band Overhung. “If a venue normally pays you Rs 40,000, a corporate show will pay double (for a tribute gig) and the frequency of shows is higher too.”

By that logic, shouldn’t we see more tribute bands in India? And why isn’t that the case? India only has a few such bands. We traced a few — the Jar of Flies, an Alice in Chains tribute; The Thrillers, an MJ tribute band; Think Floyd, a tribute to Pink Floyd, and Mob Marley Inc, a Bob Marley tribute.

Self-respect trumps all

Former Parikrama bassist Chintan Kalra says playing covers or adaptations of songs by well-known bands was once ‘taboo’. “It was a matter of self-respect to play only your original compositions,” says the Delhi-based Kalra, who founded Mob Marley Inc in 2010 to celebrate the 65th birth anniversary of the reggae icon.

Everyone stands to make money including the bands and venues, says Kalra. “But it’s not fair to piggy-back on the tried and tested musical compositions of iconic bands... You can’t get famous off other people’s credibility,” he says.

Besides newer venues and educated audiences are more open to original compositions than they were a decade ago.

Sometimes playing covers helps a new band break the ice with the audience. “Playing covers is an art in itself, if you do justice to the classics, the audience will be more curious to hear the band’s original compositions,” says Banerji.

Bradley Tellis, vocalist of Mumbai-based alternative rock band Colour Compound, moonlights with other musicians in the city when tribute nights are organised. “It’s an opportunity to jam with other musicians that I look up to.”

He has previously performed at tribute gigs organised for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews Band. But he prefers to concentrate on the sound of the band and draws the line at physical imitation. “If you sing an MJ song, it’s fine but if you try to dress like him, the audience will not take you seriously,” says Tellis, who was one of 18 musicians who played at a John Mayer tribute at blueFROG last week.

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