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Supper singers

Listen to live music while you have your food. It’s the way Delhi dined a decade ago, writes Malvika Nanda.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2009 22:19 IST
Malvika Nanda

We have to do much better than a DJ,” says Anthony Braganza, bassist of the band Black Slade. He has enough reasons to feel competitive. For the last 18 years, the time that Braganza and his band of Goans have been based in Delhi, their residence has been at the Sampan, the Chinese restaurant at the Crowne Plaza hotel in New Friends Colony. And, from that vantage point, they have watched the live Western music scene in Delhi come full circle.

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Shakeel Ahmad Khan at Moti Mahal Delux. Photo by: Jasjeet Plaha

When they started out in the Capital, they played all genres between rock and metal. They even got to judge, at college competitions, the then-upcoming bands such as Parikrama. Then the “commercial consideration” of the residence beckoned. Now, the 38-year-old Braganza, the oldest member of the six-member band, says, “You’ve got to watch the crowd and balance it. On popular demand we even do Hindi, albeit with a Goan twist.” So, Sampan is one place where you can have an eclectic mix of Hindi music with a Goan twang, all served with Chinese food.

This customisation would be impossible on a jockey’s console. It’s one of the reasons live music is staging a tentative comeback at Delhi’s diners. When resto-bar @Live opened in Connaught Place a little over a year ago, it made live music its raison d’etre. Band@Live’s regular chart contains cover versions of songs by the Eagles, the Beatles and even John Denver.

Old melodies work best elsewhere too. That’s what Soumitra Ranjan does at the Turquoise Cottage in Gurgaon on Sundays. And he loves it. Ranjan quit his marketing job with an IT company to pursue his love for music. “Life isn’t just about having an impressive resume,” says the 36-year-old.

In between requests, you’ll hear him playing offbeat artistes, or even popular ones such as Don Mclean — but instead of the staple Amercian Pie, he’ll probably be singing Crying or I Love You So. “I personally like melody driven songs. The melody remains with you even after the song has stopped playing… you can still hum it.”

Legend has it that one of the first Delhi restaurants to play live music was the Durbar at the Ashok — and a person no less than Jawaharlal Nehru, who had noted the popularity of the concept in the West, had suggested it.

Sharing the anecdote is Shakeel Ahmad Khan, a singer from the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana who can be found most evenings singing at Moti Mahal Delux in South Extension. Here, the ghazal rules. But here, too, crowd requests cannot be parried.

Patrons often want to wolf down their kababs with Bollywood hits. “One has to move with the times… I sing whatever makes the people feel happy,” explains Khan sahab. So he has had to break into Atif Aslam’s Pehli nazar mein, ghazal style, right after he finished dedicating Tum jiyo hazaaron saal to a birthday boy.

Moti Mahal itself claims to have had a decades-old tradition of qawwalis at its first property in Daryaganj. You no longer get to hear them live at this venue. But Monish, grandson of the founder Kundal Lal Gujral, is conscious of the heritage and says he plans to bring out a branded collection from the songs sung at the restaurant.

Evidently, mixing the ‘food of love’ with the love for food is an old habit here.