Tiranga, Royal Festival Hall

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The Independent Culture

There's no such thing as a typical world-music concert: the good thing about this catch-all genre is that it can happen anywhere, in any form. One mightn't have thought, for example, that a ceremony celebrating Indian independence - and taking as its theme the development of India's national flag - would qualify as a musical event, but Tiranga ("Three Colours") triumphantly quashed all doubts on that score.

There's no such thing as a typical world-music concert: the good thing about this catch-all genre is that it can happen anywhere, in any form. One mightn't have thought, for example, that a ceremony celebrating Indian independence - and taking as its theme the development of India's national flag - would qualify as a musical event, but Tiranga ("Three Colours") triumphantly quashed all doubts on that score.

After exhaustive diplomatic formalities, plus a documentary film showing how the sun and moon gave way to the spinning-wheel, and then to the sun-wheel that sits in the middle of today's tricolour flag, India's finest performers illustrated the process in words and music. Having been road-tested in Delhi, this event was now in London under the auspices of Asia House.

"The first ray of sun/ Is a saffron beam." With ringing words - first in Hindi, then in English - Javed Akhtar began declaiming the poem he had written for the occasion. Then that master of Hindustani song, Pandit Jasraj, gave it a musical dimension - and the warmth of his tone was like the sun coming up. Plucking a small zither with his right hand while his gesturing left hand spun notes into the air, he was flanked by two pensive-looking women who leant their heads against their tanpura drones like statues in a frieze.

After more poetry - "A mantle of ice rests on the shoulders of the Himalayas" - Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma showed what crystalline beauties could be drawn from the santoor lyre, and the green of spring inspired Vidhwan U Srinivas to turn his electric mandolin into a weeping slide guitar. Then came fireworks, courtesy of Zakir Hussain's tabla and V Selvaganesh on the tiny kanjira frame drum. While Selvaganesh produced jazz, Zakir Hussain delivered a dazzling series of impressions - rain, drumming hooves, thunder, the roar of a racing car. When they all played together, the hall lit up.

Bidden to Notting Hill Arts Club's basement premises, I found a prettily lit space with a bar hung about with pampas grass. This was a DJ gig by the Parisian-based Favela Chic - where chic means a Brazilian favela (shanty town) cleansed of all poverty and disease. The pleasant young clientele danced desultorily and didn't talk much - occasionally a girl would lean up and bawl into her boyfriend's ear - because no conversation could possibly be heard above the din.

Moreover, nobody was paying much attention to the music, because this was a Michael Heath panorama come to life. If its purpose was to promote a new album - Favela Chic: Postonove 3 - the best way to listen was at home; and, yes, there are some very nice hip-hop sambas on it.

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