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Cross-border Entertainment

June 2003
Cross-border Entertainment

One can't think of a more divergent pair of entertainers than Asha Bhonsle and Adnan Sami; yet musical magic was created when they came together recently for a live performance at the handsome new Arena at the Gwinnett Civic Center. Our veteran music correspondent VIREN MAYANI reports on the concert as well as engages in a t�te-�-t�te with the performers?

Asha Bhonsle and Adnan Sami ? wide borders divide them in more ways than one. She is a living legend in Bollywood who has ? in her more than 50 years in the business ? entertained three generations of Indians; he is a Johnny-come-lately who has taken the South Asian music scene by storm. She is the quintessential Indian; he has Pakistani roots and a British upbringing. Her music manifests through her singular commitment to her chief claim to fame, singing; his music resounds with his versatility as a renowned concert pianist, who is also an accomplished singer and composer. Lastly, she is a grandma who will celebrate her 71st birthday this September; he falls at the tail end of Generation X!

Yet, none of this mattered on Sunday, April 27th when more than 4,500 desis from all over Georgia and neighboring states converged at the new Arena at Gwinnett Center to witness the magical fusion of these polarities ? and in so doing, gave Atlanta its first-ever sold-out desi concert. The credit in no small part goes to star local promoter Mark Premji who has revitalized the show promo business in the community by innovative measures such as offering ticket sales through ticketmaster, to name just one.

The concert in Atlanta was part of a national tour titled ?Kabhi To Nazar Milao'. Besides anchors Asha and Adnan, the tour also featured another veteran Bollywood singer Sudesh Bhosle (who ably doubles up as a mimicry artiste, having perfected the voices and styles of many thespians from Amitabh Bachchan to the darling villain of yesteryears, Ajit) and pop video sensation Meghna Naidu (who evoked only lukewarm responses from the audience).

Directors Morani and Nadiadwala deserve credit for keeping ?Kabhi To?' relaxed enough to let the playful Adnan indulge in his off-the-cuff antics.

What was unique about this concert was the eclectic mix of musicians in the orchestra, as both Asha and Adnan insist on their own troupes. Speaking with Kedar Bhagat the percussionist who also sang with Asha on stage and who is a budding music director with Soli (the lead guitarist) and Karl Peters (the jazz bassist who routinely performs with the likes of Sivamani and Louis Banks and who was the silent strength of Adnan's percussion entourage), it was interesting to discover how the musicians for this combined tour were gathered together and how a successful chemistry was created between them ? a chemistry that was quite apparent on the stage. Without a doubt, the orchestra contributed enormously to the evening's success, a score that was impromptu and uncharted, considering Adnan's various tangents and playful interludes.

A pre-concert fashion show and variety dance program by local talent, while well conceived, stretched the audience's patience to its limits ? generating much heat for promoter Premji from irritated patrons.

The show began with a music video of Meghna Naidu, but the fun started with Sudesh Bhosle who opened with his favorite composer R.D. Burman's ?Mere Mehboob' originally sung by Kishore Da. He continued with ?Dekha na hai re socha na'.

Soon, the imposing Adnan Sami Khan hogged the stage with his ?sizable' presence. At perhaps 400 lbs, his physique competes with his talent ? both of immense stature. Though, once he gets down to business, his roly-poly sumo wrestler physical persona is quickly overshadowed.

One soon discovers that Adnan is one of those entertainers who are worth watching live in concert, more than just listening to their albums. Sure, there is his musical talent (popular American magazine, Keyboard has declared him "the keyboard discovery of the decade"; Swedish Radio & Television Broadcasting has referred to him as the fastest keyboard player in the world.). And then there is his singing. With its deep resonance, Adnan's voice is peculiarly Eastern and exotic.

But it is his stage presence that further enriched the experience at the Arena. He made the concert fun and interactive as he worked the audience. First, he played to the gallery for a few minutes, inciting one side of the audience against the other to shout louder and set the tone. Sitting center stage with Roland's Phantom keyboard he played and sang ?Hoila Hoila Hoila' followed by ?Mehbooba', both filmi songs. He then rendered some of his new compositions: ?Teri Yaad' and ?Tere Bina Jiya Jaye na' also adding ?Ishq'n Ishq'n Hogaya' to complete his first round on stage.

Asha Bhonsle, on the other hand, had to do no more than just sing to regale the audience in equal measure! She is such a central icon of Indian music, and her fan club is so vast and deep-rooted that she needs no stage antics. To her credit though, Asha does attempt to lighten things up much more than her sister, the even larger icon, Lata Mangeshkar (most folks, I suspect, might enjoy Lata much more on tape in the solitude of their home or car, than in a live concert).

Asha's performance kicked off with ?Kambakht Ishq', followed by the oldie ?Aaiye Meherbaan'. She mixed the slow with the sultry in a manner she is so famous for ? with ?Chura Liya' (the R. D. Burman song that has been remixed over twenty times), ?Do Labzon Ki He', ?Kajra Mohabatwala', ?Sharara Sharara', ?In Ankhon Ki Masti Mein' composed by another legend Khaiyam (Umraojaan), ?Yeh Mera Dil', and she closed her first session with ?O Hasina Zulfon Wali'. Most of her renditions were Burman's (popularly known as Pancham) compositions. Any surprise?

Sudesh Bhosle's Amitabh remix raised the tempo even higher. Ashaji returned next with ?Dum Maro Dum', ?Aaja Aaja, Bahon Mein Chale Aao', and ?Piya Tu'. Adnan then joined her to perform the one song that the audience was eagerly awaiting: ?Kabhi To Nazar Milao' performed with a grand piano that was quickly placed on stage for the concert pianist. Performed with rhythm and in adlib that song thickened the air in the Arena. Meghna Naidu performed her dance debut and hit single ?Thoda Resham Lagta Hai' next, gyrating with gusto, much to the pleasure of an appreciative crowd. The program reached a crescendo when the much waited for ?Lift karadey' was finally sung by Adnan.

The audience was not yet ready to call it curtains, so Adnan was inspired to come out again and perform a few more favorites including: ?Teri Unchi Shaan' and ?Nain Se Nain To Mila'. The program was a memorable evening.

Above all, seeing two very divergent masters come together to deliver a synergistic whole much larger than the sum of its parts, was quite an experience.

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