Kailash Kher – OzAsia Festival 2012

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Saturday 29th September 2012

Kailash Kher and his seven piece band, Kailasa, are big stars in India and, to any people that like the Bollywood genre of films, his name would also be known as both a composer of, and performer on many soundtracks. His voice can be heard on over 200 films, and the Festival Theatre would seem like an intimate venue to a man who has often played to arenas seating 30,000 people. His popularity within the Indian community was clear with just one quick glance around the theatre, revealing very few who did not appear to be of Indian heritage.

Therein lay the problem for me, since I speak neither Hindi nor Punjabi, the two languages that he used primarily during his performance. I did, naturally, expect his songs to be sung in those languages, but his interactions with interruptive members of the audience, possibly calling for him to perform their favourite songs, and most of what was, presumably, his introductions to the numbers were also largely in those languages. Only very briefly here and there did he speak in English and, not always being prepared for when he switched to English, coupled with a strong and unfamiliar accent, I felt excluded from the performance. This was an unfortunate occurrence in a festival that is intended to be, and normally is, very inclusive.

He seemed to have totally forgotten the Oz part of OzAsia completely, which left me listening for over two hours to pop/rock music played by seven instrumentalists, and a voice that was simply another instrumental sound in the mix. It meant nothing to me. The publicity mentioned influences of Sufi and Indian folk music, but with the ever present rock beat and a wall of amplified sound, it all sounded much the same after a while.

The instrumentation was largely western, with five of the seven musicians playing keyboards, electric lead guitar, electro-acoustic rhythm guitar and occasional violin, five string bass guitar, and drums. A percussionist had a range of instruments including tabla, pakhawaj, djembe, and small percussion instruments, such as shakers. The last of the seven, and the most interesting, played the mandolin and the saz, a member of the lute family that is the most popular traditional instrument in Turkey. The only traditional Indian instruments, therefore, were two types drums: the tabla, a pair of drums, one high and one low each played with one hand, and the pakhawaj, a long barrel shaped drum played with one hand at each end, the right hand on the high pitched end.

The kit drummer showed considerable technique, with some nice crisp playing and accurate time keeping, and the bass player also exhibited great skill on his instrument. As I mentioned briefly, the player of the Saz and mandolin generated plenty of interest adding the only real Indian melodic sound to the band. The two guitars and keyboards were competent, but not particularly memorable, and the percussionist showed only a basic skill on the more exotic instruments, using the tables, for instance, more like bongos, and the djembe more like a conga drum. The very fast finger work and the vast range of sounds and complex, intricate rhythms that can be produced from these, and from the tabla, in the hands of a great player were not in evidence. Perhaps he was restricted by style of the music, but I doubt it.

Kher has a raw power to his voice, and an expressive way of singing but, without some idea of the meaning of each song, it was hard to really judge what he was trying to convey, and why he has such an enormous following. This was a rather disappointing end to what had, to that point, been an exceptionally enjoyable and educational festival.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

OzAsia Festival web site

Kailash Kher’s web site

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: Season ended
Duration: 2hrs 20mins (incl intvl)

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