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Festival Review: Global Citizen Festival India, Mumbai

While Coldplay and Jay Z delivered unforgettable performances, the festival should have at least introduced a few of India’s rising indie artists on its platform rather than parade Bollywood names


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Nothing topped the moment we heard the opening notes of “Empire State Of Mind,” Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ 2009 ode to New York City. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

The crowd went crazy as soon as they heard the opening notes of “Empire State Of Mind,” Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ 2009 ode to New York City. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

Given the buzz around Global Citizen Festival’s debut in India since the announcement in September, expectations were obviously high. The non-profit organization behind the event, Global Citizen, played it smart by tying their debut into the country with British rock band Coldplay’s, ensuring a turnout of more than 80,000 dedicated fans who had fought tooth and nail for tickets.

While most of the attendees had worked their way through Global Citizen’s website and completed various ‘social action’ activities to win a ticket, there were thousands who had bought tickets in black for up to Rs. 50,000 – ironic, considering India’s present cash crunch. In addition to overpriced tickets, Global Citizenry braved hours of traffic, long waits in queues, dehydration and hackneyed speeches by public figures to attend what eventually proved to be one of the most outstanding shows ever produced in India, on November 19th.

 

Spare us the actor-singers

Shraddha Kapoor failed to impress the crowd with her performance. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

The scale of Global Citizen Festival India exceeded all expectations — glitzy fireworks, dreamy confetti showers and stellar sets by the world’s greatest showmen, with an army of backup dancers in tow. However, like every production of this level, there were multiple glitches that the festival couldn’t hide. After an unending wait in line at security, we made it in time to catch the first round of performances by Bollywood biggies such as Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Amitabh Bachchan, Shraddha Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar, Sonakshi Sinha, all of who tried their hand at singing, skill no bar. Pitch-perfection must really be an overrated musical virtue, if Kapoor’s pathetic performance is anything to go by.

Ranveer Singh could have made a bigger impact as a speaker. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

Ranveer Singh could have made a bigger impact as a speaker. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

Ranveer Singh’s energetic dance was a completely random and unnecessary addition. Considering he is somewhat of a youth icon, it would have made more sense for him to have spoken about Global Citizen’s goals.

Bollywood’s involvement also meant that we had to save ourselves from being pushed and shoved by Global Citizen’s ground staff in their quest to catch a glimpse of each film star.

Other than a brief set by New Delhi producer duo Midival Punditz and New York-based composer Karsh Kale, there were no independent Indian artists on the lineup, which was a pity. Global Citizen India was the ideal platform to introduce India’s up-and-coming artists to the world. Surely some of them are more deserving of the spotlight than cringy actor-singers?

 

 


Dude, where’s the food?

While we had been told there would be food at the arena – a standard at most festivals – the cash-free system required to purchase it was disorganized. We had no idea where to go to collect the cards required for transactions and nor did many other attendees. Staff at Global Citizen were providing free bottles of water, but doing so for thousands of tired, hungry and furious individuals baking in the sun for the better part of the day made it an impossible task. A girl standing near us passed out six hours into the show.

 

Demi Lovato braves glitches; The Vamps excite teenyboppers

Demi Lovato put on a good set despite suffering audio issues. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

Demi Lovato put on a good set despite suffering audio issues. Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

We were lucky enough to score a spot right near the mini-stage which was connected to the main stage by a ramp. Our proximity to the stage delivered a thrilling experience where all the artists were performing less than five feet away from our faces; it particularly helped that Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has a tendency to favor the smaller stage to be as close to the crowd as possible.

Demi Lovato made her India debut at the Global Citizen Festival and was the first international act to take the stage. The American pop star was a picture of panache as she performed most of her biggest hits including “Heart Attack,” “Stone Cold,” and “Confident,” finishing her set with the infectious “Cool For The Summer.” The audio on her microphone was a bit of problem though; it was set extremely low and her voice was drowned out by the percussion at a few points. The audio glitch cropped up during many other performances throughout the evening.

British pop-rockers The Vamps followed soon after and while most of the older crowd wondered who the young band was, teen girls in the audience went into a tizzy. Frontman Brad Simpson was a bundle of energy, bouncing all over the stage and running across ramps before finally getting the entire audience to sing along to the classic “Oh Cecilia (You’re Breaking My Heart)” with its Simon and Garfunkel-sampled refrain. Simpson the showman also playfully pulled along one of the camerapersons with him to provide the audience a glimpse of the artists’ view from the stage.

 

A.R. Rahman and Jay Z tug at heartstrings

But it was Oscar-winning music maestro A.R. Rahman who wowed the crowd with his set, starting out with an eerie track and rolling out hit after hit like “Dil Se” and “Humma Humma” and the crowd favorite – the cult 1995 tune “Tu Hi Re.” The audience also fell in love with one of his band members, 18-year-old Mumbai bassist Mohini Dey, who delivered a fiery solo at one point.

Jay Z and the audience played a game of mutual surprising. The American rap icon kicked off his set with “Bounce” which samples Rahman’s “Chaiya Chaiya,” before delivering his bhangra-laden collab with British artist Panjabi MC “Beware of the Boys,” smoothly transitioning into “Drunk In Love” and slowing it down for “Holy Grail.” While the crowd did sing along to “In Paris,” “99 Problems” and “On To The Next One,” nothing topped the moment we heard the opening notes of “Empire State Of Mind,” Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ 2009 ode to New York City. The roar of the crowd singing along to the chorus had the rapper stunned and grinning wide.

 

Torture before the treat

Coldplay joined A. R. Rahman for a touching acoustic rendition of India’s national song “Vande Mataram." Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

Coldplay joined A. R. Rahman for a touching acoustic rendition of India’s national song “Vande Mataram.” Photo: Courtesy of Global Citizen India

The interval between Jay Z and Coldplay was absolute torture. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to keep the crowd cheerful by interjecting jokes and quoting Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan during his video-conferenced speech, DJ duo The Elektrovertz (consisting of Nina Shah and Malika Hayden) sucked the life right out of the crowd soon after. The producers played an unimaginative set to an exhausted audience who had at this point been standing for at least eight hours at a stretch.

But all was forgiven when 16 years of begging came to fruition and Coldplay took the stage for the first time in India. The crowd came alive to welcome Martin, guitarist Johnny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion onstage with cheers and tears. The band launched immediately into hits like “Yellow,” “The Scientist” and “Clocks.” It would be an understatement to say that Coldplay gave it their all, working through the list of fan-favorites like “Hymn For The Weekend,” “Paradise,” “Magic,” “Sky Full of Stars,” and “Viva La Vida.”

Martin displayed infinite energy as he danced from stage to stage, light on his feet and covered in generous amounts confetti. The band paid tribute to the late David Bowie with a cover of “Heroes” before joining Rahman for a touching acoustic rendition of India’s national song “Vande Mataram.” While the entire set was an ethereal explosion of color and sound, nothing had the crowd more enraptured than when Coldplay began to play their 2005 breakthrough “Fix You.” In no time, the entire audience turned into a massive choir singing along to each lyric. The band ended their surreal set with their 2015 hit track “Up&Up” and a promise to return to India.

While the itinerary could have done with at least six to seven cuts – there’s no point having over a dozen Bollywood actors doing the same shtick (the crowd got furious enough to boo Frieda Pinto off the stage at one point)– Global Citizen Festival India not only managed to fulfill the dreams of thousands to see their favorite artist perform in India, but also claimed to win big development numbers: 20 lakh actions of charity and $3.37 billion raised to help over 15 million people in rural India gain access to education, clean water and toilets. Never mind the plastic mess the Global Citizenry left behind after the show.

The mess left behind by the crowd of 80,000 almost defeated the purpose of the entire festival. Photo: Ornellius Saldanha

The mess left behind by the crowd of 80,000 almost defeated the purpose of the entire festival. Photo: Ornellius Saldanha

 

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