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Colonial Cousins Return for Their First Public Gig at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

The Indian fusion/pop duo of Hariharan and Leslee Lewis talk about how getting on the same stage together is like being back in the Nineties

Anurag Tagat Jan 24, 2023

Colonial Cousins' Leslee Lewis and Hariharan.

Indian fusion and pop duo Colonial Cousins – singer-composer Hariharan and singer, composer and producer-guitarist Leslee Lewis – will perform at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai on February 12th, making it their first public concert since late 2013. The festival, which takes place between February 4th and 12th, is spread across 10 venues in the Kala Ghoda and Fort area of Mumbai, with a theme of “Past <> Forward” this year.

The Colonial Cousins, best known for songs like “Krishna,” “Sa Ni Dha Pa” and “Indian Rain,” among others from their 1996 self-titled album, say they’ve been performing at private events along the years but felt like Kala Ghoda Arts Festival was the best platform to start their year returning to the stage. Hariharan says, “We were actually itching to get together, because all these days, wherever we go anywhere, me as well as Leslee, we used to get questioned – ‘What’s with Colonial? Are you together? Are you doing shows?’ So this was a kind of constant reminder to us.”

Lewis, for his part, says the show is going to be “rock and roll, as usual.” But he goes on to add that there are younger audiences who might be brought in by parents who are fans of the duo. “There’s a lot of the young generation that hasn’t experienced us actually. So I think Kala Ghoda will be a space where we can experience the Bombay audience.” Although they’ve performed as solo artists at the festival a few times, the Colonial Cousins performance brings to the front the Nineties-generated idea of fusion and Indian pop that called out to Carnatic, Hindustani classical and rock sensibilities alike, with more socially-conscious messages, as heard on “Krishna.”

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Even as the band went on to release albums like Aatma in 2001 (with the song “Kai Zhala” becoming a new, playful classic) and Once More in 2012, Colonial Cousins feel that they were among the artists who set the standard for fusion in the Nineties, something that Lewis says “percolated into so many other people’s music.” He adds with a laugh, “I guess we’re the O.Gs.”

Their music continues to have a draw beyond any generational gap, as Lewis notes how he’s often tagged in covers on Instagram. Hariharan adds, “There’s a lot of youngsters who have started listening to Colonial… What the music hits them with is a clarity of thought.”

They joke that their band members have gotten younger since the time they started out, but once they get on stage together – like they will this February – it’s almost like being taken back to 1996. “It’s back to the Nineties, back to us. We can’t quantify it, but it’s there,” Hariharan says. Lewis adds, “There’s a camaraderie that has been maintained from the Nineties. And I think that that’s really what keeps the essence of Colonial Cousins alive on stage.”

For all that deep talk, Lewis is happy to call Colonial a “timepass band,” something that evokes laughter from Hariharan as well. There are more gigs in the pipeline and Lewis is waiting for them to lock in. Hariharan adds that there’s new material as well. “We are coming up with singles. Maybe one or maybe two. At least two we should come up with. And yeah, and we should drop it soon,” he adds.

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Get more details on Kala Ghoda Arts Festival here.

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