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Monday, June 4, 2012

Abhijeet Sawant @ Hamilton Fine Arts Center

June 3, 2012

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Imagine the songs of the soundtrack to one of your favorite movies—not necessarily a musical and from nearly 40 years ago—are revived on stage by current singers, the biggest star among whom is a boyishly handsome reality show winner from the previous decade. An unlikely scenario, you say?

Welcome to the importation of Bollywood entertainment to the U.S. The above concept filled most of the seats of Hamilton High School's Fine Arts Center in Sussex Sunday with, among other numbers, tunes from 1973's Yaadon Ki Baarat, several of which were crooned by mid-'00s first season "Indian Idol" champion Abhijeet Sawant.

But Sawant was not alone. If one goes by the cinematic metaphors supplied by the the show's template, Srikant Narayan played a supporting role as the hero's confidante, while Shruti Rane and Deepthali Sathe, a finalist in another talent competition TV program in her Indian homeland, supplied the roles of ingénues. For about 20 songs over the course of two hours, the quartet both separately and together (along with another older-looking female singer who went unidentified to me due to my not being fluent in the Hindi in which most of the evening's singing and talking took place) assayed numbers from the aforementioned classic film and others from historic motion pictures blessed with memorable tunes.

It was easy enough to tell Sawant was applying his pipes to songs from the Bollywood cannon because they didn't sound much like his post-"Idol" solo albums; if the music videos from them to be seen on YouTube are any indication, those records are filled with slick, often traditionally danceable (by Western/European club sensibilities) internationalist pop supplemented by the integration of native instrumentation. The best of it is fine stuff, though not far removed from hits by male heartthrobs big on pop radio in the States to whom Sawant bears at least superficial physical resemblance, such as Enrique Iglesias and Bruno Mars. 

The more extravagant arrangements and effusive emotions of Bollywood song craft make for a richer showcase for Sawant's vocalizing; and though he numbered among the rest of the talent on the bill by never appearing to have broken a sweat, even while extending the occasional notes which elicited swoons and hollers from many females in the audience, he was up to the more frenetic pace and ornamented arrangements of the material.

One thing Sawant was unable to do at which Narayan bested him, however was inspiring grown men to dance with each other. The last, especially rollicking number in his initial four-song set, got a gent in a turban and another of shaven pate to raise their arms, stomp and prance among themselves, in a definitely non-sexual manner, for a brief while before being escorted back to their seats. As his and Sawant's style seem to emanate from a similar root, the easiest way to note Natayan's advanced vocal maturity was via the deep tone of the humming that prefaced a couple of his pieces compared to Sawant's. From a few of the words Narayan spoke in English, it appeared that he may have been the only one on the bill to most reference the source narrative to preface his songs, too.

If the guys' singing bore some similarities to each other's, it was arguably even more so the case among the ladies. Rane and Sathe both sounded to be highly influenced by prolific Bollywood soundtrack singer Asha Bhosle, who recorded three contributions to Yaadon Ki Baarat. Though she has released music in many other styles beyond the Bollywood work for which she's best known, she's best recalled by '90s Britpop fans as being an inspiration for Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha." Though the two young ladies seemed to be channeling Bhosle's piercing soprano to one degree or another, they offered evidence of their individuality as well, with Rane the more demure presence to Sathe's brasher approach. The night's closing collaboration between Sawant, Narayn, Rane and Sathe synergystically brought out some stellar belting from each participant.

Urging them on as well throughout the show was a six-piece band that kept everything moving at the lively pace the music demands. Surf rock, Sergio Leone spaghetti Western soundtracks, and classical sitar repertoire, among other sounds, seemed to have been amalgamated into the guitarist's aesthetic. When not replicating what sounded like accordion, strings and other instruments, one of the keyboardists was capable of some ferociously funky jazz organ. And for as much of a beating as his hands were taking playing congas and tabla, the man playing them smiled throughout the show in apparent pleasure of adding his touch of  percussion. 

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