Surreal: I’m a music star in Calcutta

Fifteen minutes of fame in Kolkata


The Ultimate Festival Concert

Christian and I returned to India from Nepal and immediately flew to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for a Mynta world music festival concert that was booked only a week earlier.  It was called the Fusion Fiesta, which was organized by a Kokata tabla player, Tanmoy Bose.  The festival even paid to fly three of Mynta’s members back to India from Sweden.  Fazal was not available, so we again played with renowned ghatam (clay pot) player Vikku Vinayakram, as well as his 19-year-old grandson who is already a virtuoso kanjira (tambourine) player.  We opened for truly perhaps the best drummer/percussionist I’ve ever heard, Trilok Gurtu.  We were preceded by several Indian groups as well as groups from Germay, Egypt, and Azerbaijan.

Vikku Vinayakram in Kolkata
Vikku’s grandson, Swaminathan

This festival really treated us “like the stars we always knew we were.”  It was amazing to arrive and find our life-size photo posted on walls and kiosks around the concert venue.  I’ve never had my photo posted so many times for any concert I’ve ever played.  We stayed in the festival’s designated 5-star hotel.  It was very strange to look down from the seventh floor and see a slum, i.e. a collection of huts constructed of scavenged materials housing the poorest of the poor.

Slumview from the seventh floor (Kolkata)

Last Days in Mumbai

After our final concert, the rest of the guys in Mynta flew back to Sweden.  I had always planned to spend a few extra days following the tour, in order to meet up with as many friends as possible in Mumbai.

The most important meeting was with keyboardist Louiz Banks, the “godfather of Indian jazz.”  Readers of my blogs will remember that I first met and performed with Louiz in 1982.  He was the one who invited me into the Bollywood film industry, where I worked for approximately a month in most 1982 and 1983.  In those days, I made more money musically working in India than in California, which is probably a comment on how little I was earning in California in those days.  Also, I had performed in a Mumbai jazz club with Louiz during the tour in early 2012.  There was no public performance this time.  But we had a great jam session with Louis, his son Gino on drums, and India’s premiere bass player Sheldon.  These guys are world-class musicians, and I feel honored to be able to play with them.

Coming home to Reno was a “back to reality” moment, due to the fact that in India I was spoiled by being taken care of by Mynta’s manager/agent, Manish.  Manish arranged all the logistics, from pre-booked taxis to airline tickets to hotel reservations.  At the airports, he would collect all our passports, check us in, and distribute our boarding cards.  Anytime I needed rupies, he’d say, “Sure, here’s a couple of thousand…”)  On our final nights, he went over and beyond the call of duty to stay up late into the early morning hours to personally drive us to the airport.  (Most international flights depart in the middle of the night.) 

Thoughts at Large

Because I’m writing this in Reno, having arrived after the long journey via Dubai and Seattle last night, I’ll simply try complete this series of reports from India and Nepal with things I didn’t get around to including in previous blogs.

  1. At the first-class hotel in Nagpur, in the brochure listing hotel services, it stated that the services of an astrologer could be engaged by contacting the concierge.
    Papaya Heaven
  2.  The Arabic news network Al Jazeera was vilified after 9/11 for its airing of Osama Bin Laden’s recordings.  The reality is that Al Jazeera has evolved into a credible competitor with CNN, the BBC, and other international news organizations.  It has reporters throughout the Middle East, enabling it to report on news that is missed by the other major news organizations.  Its presence greatly aided the fledgling democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. 
    A Mumbai Street Seller
  3. CNN World is different from CNN USA because it omits any programs dealing with domestic US politics.  It’s actually a relief to hear the news without the analysis of talking heads with competing viewpoints. 
  4. The RT network is Russian Television.  It has a certain derogatory slant to its commentaries, reminiscent to me of Fox News’ pervasive anti-Obama slant.  It was ironic to see on RT an interview with Julian Assange in conversation with the founder of Twitter, promoting openness in government.  By contrast, the US government is promoting secrecy, similar to what the former Soviet Union’s government did in attempting to hide its actions.
    Residents of the slum opposite our 5-star hotel
  5. It’s amazing that practically everyone, even the poorest of the poor, in India own cell phones.  Even the manual laborers, such as Manish’s cook and cleaning lady, had cell phones enabling them to maximize their service work.  For example, Manish’s cook was a lady who serves six different families daily, by spending up to two hours at each one, preparing enough food for the families to eat for lunch and dinner. 
    Rush hour in Mumbai
  6. Amazing to see, a bicyclist was texting while riding down a busy street, texting while weaving between cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
  7. Three-wheel motor-taxis (called tuk-tuks in Thailand) are banned in downtown Mumbai and New Delhi, but not in Kolkata.  Kolkata/Calcutta still has bicycle rickshaws. Image
  8. A symptom of extreme poverty is the “garbage pickers”, i.e. people who pick through the piles of garbage deposited in empty lots or improvised dumps.
  9. India has many poor unemployed men who live on the streets.  Thus practically every business and apartment building has a 24-hour guard at its gated entrance.  I realized that this model of personal protection is the republican vision for America, except that the guards would all have assault weapons. 
    Boom Boom
    One of several guards at the entrance to the Kolkata hotel

Hi, I'm Dallas Smith

My blogs offer the vicarious pleasure for my readers to learn of my travels and musical adventures.
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Comments (2)

  1. Vishnu

    February 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Hay Dallas >> This is Krishna from Sri Lanka. Nice to see photographs of my Guruji. He is not only a great musician but also a beautiful human being. Wish i was there.

  2. Inge Skeans

    February 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Thanks, Dallas, for your wonderful travel reports! What an inspirational trip, and an adventure just to read about it! Your personal wise and international perspective on situations and conditions in the world is very refreshing! The photography is outstanding! What a gift to those of us who are not able to travel as much! Your blogs are something to look forward to and to share.
    Inge in Karlstad, Swedens

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