Tour Diary: Advaita In South Africa
The Delhi band's guitarist, Abhishek Mathur, on their shows in Johannesburg last monthFeatures October 01, 2012
Playing an international gig with your band is huge – one doesn’t even dare to dream about such gigs when you first pick up the guitar as a teenager to figure Metallica covers with your friends. This was Advaita’s fifth trip outside India and once again, we were all keyed up. Our two gigs in South Africa were part of the Shared History festival, a multi-event, multi-venue extravaganza.
Even before we could land, I saw that Johannesburg was a beautiful city. Africa looked different from any other place we’ve been to – the landscape was in stark contrast to anything that we’d seen. We had been warned that it could get cold as it was still winter there, but I had forgotten to carry warm clothes in my hand baggage and was in for a real shiver session the minute we got off the flight.
Eventually, we drove out in a nice, heated car and got to the place we were staying at – a quaint old villa that was much nicer than a regular hotel. We were greeted and made to feel at home by the Teamwork production guys – these are the nicest people we have ever worked with [it was Teamworks productions who had taken us to Singapore three years ago as well]. Not only are they very organized, but also large-hearted in their treatment of their artists.
In the evening, there was some good whiskey along with some long conversations about the Indian music scene with Naresh Kamath, who was also down for the same festival along with Kailash Kher’s band Kailasa. We called it a day at around 3 or 4 in the morning and thus ended day one of our trip.
After a hearty breakfast and four glasses of apple juice, we were ready to leave for soundcheck to the Bassline Club – one of Jo’burg’s most renowned music venues. The crew was really welcoming and seemed excited about having a band from India in their club. After the soundcheck some of us decided to take a walk through downtown Jo’burg even though we were at the receiving end of a lot of advice about not venturing about too much for safety reasons. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that we were all inadvertently walking in some kind of military formation (much to the amusement of the locals I’m sure) and there were a few relieved sighs once we were back at the club.
The gig had a shaky start due to some sound issues (there was a separate engineer just for the stage sound, and some of the settings seemed to have changed since the soundcheck), but soon things got sorted and the momentum began to build up. The crowd (in this case mostly uptown white kids) really liked the set and we got a good response. Looking at the crowd and the other bands on the roster (who were kind of new age punk I guess), we played tracks that we don’t play very often these days such as “Mandirva” and “Dust”, which were a wise choice.
After the gig, a lot of people came up and told us how they didn’t expect a band from India to sound like this and that they really liked how the classical music blended into our sound. Our first gig in South Africa had gone off well, but deep down, we still felt we could do more.
It was an early start to day three as we had to drive really far to the outskirts for our gig at the Eldos Jazz Festival. The sun was out and it was a fabulous day for a festival. The minute we got to the park where the festival was being held, we knew this was going to be different vibe. Most of the crowd was from the local areas (predominantly black). We later found out that the local administration is heavily involved in this festival and it is almost a community affair. We managed a decent soundcheck after stripping down the rig a bit, as this was a festival with several big artists and we didn’t want to waste our allotted time setting up.
We were the third or fourth band to play and a sizeable crowd had gathered by then. We were a bit nervous as all the acts before us had been phenomenal. They all had that infectious African rhythm and the atmosphere was electric by the time we got on stage.
What happened for the next hour or so is something we’ll never forget as a band – the crowd just went berserk and really got into our vibe. People were dancing and hanging on to every note we played and sang. This is what every artist dreams of and we felt so much love from the Eldos jazz festival crowd that day, we still can’t stop talking about it. We were all also really happy as we put on a really tight show. Once again, we were swamped with people coming up to us and hugging us and getting pictures taken (can’t deny that’s a nice feeling). We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the other acts – all of which were just brilliant – but one stuck with us. Don Laka, one of the superstars of the continent, a fantastic piano player with an impressive backing band, brought tears to our eyes.
Our final day in Johannesburg was spent doing touristy stuff including shopping at the crafts market and checking out clothes. We then drove outside the city to a place called the Lion Park where we got to see the famous African white lion. There were ostriches running around and for those who haven’t seen an ostrich, this bird is pretty daunting at close quarters.
Giraffes too seemed a lot taller than one imagines them to be – but are extraordinarily friendly animals. We also took a trip into the lion cub cage – which was quite an experience. The young cubs were still teething and wanted to bite my sweater off. In the evening, we packed up our stuff and headed back to the airport and began the long journey back home.
Here are some photos from Advaita’s tour. Captions by Abhishek Mathur