Relying heavily on Indian artists new and established, curation was still king at the scaled-down two-day edition but a lot seems in transition
For more than a decade, Bacardi NH7 Weekender has kept its date with its original Pune edition. The coronavirus pandemic had something to say about that, even as the festival went digital in 2020 and showcased pre-recorded sets by the likes of The Lumineers and musician/actor Shruti Haasan.
Mind you, this was a festival that pushed on even as its parent company Only Much Louder (OML) was scraping through serious employee allegations of a history of misconduct at different levels. Artists who had once been reluctant and had even vowed never to perform at Bacardi NH7 Weekender perhaps saw some assurances of turning over a new leaf when esports company NODWIN Gaming bought out the music festival from OML last year.
The new showrunners (to some extent, only in name, given that OML employees also moved to NODWIN Gaming) had their work cut out for them when it came to hosting the first on-ground edition early this year in Pune. Originally announcing Delhi NCR and Kolkata editions (which meant Meghalaya was out of the picture), there were – and are – several question marks still with how Bacardi NH7 Weekender will look in future editions.
After all, even this edition was postponed from January to March 26th and 27th due to the Omicron variant’s spread at the start of 2022. The Delhi and NCR and Kolkata editions are yet to get a new date. Given that cases were at an all-time low in Pune and other parts of India, facemasks were required but not enforced once you were past the festival entry. Although to their credit, the very first point of entry demanded a double vaccination certificate to proceed.
Curation-wise, the festival stuck to Indian and Indian-origin artists – a familiar blend of crowd-pullers like Ritviz, Prateek Kuhad, Taba Chake, The Yellow Diary, When Chai Met Toast, Lifafa and Seedhe Maut alongside exceptional, rising talents like Kayan (who debuted her live set) RANJ x Clifr, Lojal, Tanmaya Bhatnagar and T.ill APES. It can’t be a festival without Ankur Tewari and the Ghalat Family and the seasoned singer-songwriter and his band certainly brought in a celebration sound to Weekender, much like dependable disco-funk duo Madboy/Mink.
The even newer artists were dealt the unenviable early slots at the festival, where temperatures sweltered at 35° Celsius. Undeterred, day one saw rump-shaking action from Kottayam artist Tribemama Marykali and her band, whose sound was suitably tropical and groovy at the Casa Bacardi stage. She caught her breath a few times between songs, but her energy didn’t flag. On a different energy level at the Jack & Jones stage on day one was Dimapur-bred singer-songwriter Abdon Mech and his band, rolling out waves of electric and acoustic rock as he urged everyone to tune in to the lyrics of heartrending songs like “Doesn’t Make Any Sense,” “Waiting For Your Call” and “Again.”
Day two of Weekender gave the early slots to electronic duo Kayoben – harpist and singer-songwriter Nush Lewis and producer Shadab Kadri aka Riatsu – who kept things immersive and escapist (presumably from the heat). At the Red Bull Off The Roof stage, singer-songwriter Anoushka Maskey brought in that familiar somberness from Mech the previous day, joined by keyboardist Aaron Myles Pereira. Maskey’s songs “The Search for Wild Geese,” “Hollow,” “Eventide” and “So Long Already Again” were about personal yet relatable struggles delivered with openhearted resolve.
Raja Kumari live at Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Pune in March 2022. Photo: Fleck Media/Mitsun Soni
It’s definitely a contrast to the festival’s resplendent tagline of “Do what makes you happy again” but that’s not necessarily new. A lot of artists had important reminders of loss, grief and isolation, some of which they suffered during the pandemic. This was on display alongside uplifting, party-starting music.
The former came from Mech, Maskey, Taba Chake’s dazzling headline set with his band (remaining as effortless as ever in his storytelling) and Samar Mehdi filling up the stage with tabla artist Swapnil Bagul and artist Sarah Mehdi. On day two, Tanmaya Bhatnagar’s shook off a few jitters about being on a big stage with a band (and a black electric guitar which she could have easily shredded on) and offered up her most vulnerable self with songs like “Kya Tum Naraaz Ho?” “Careful! It’s My Heart” and “Wherever I Go, I’d Like To Be All I Need.” The poignant set transformed into funk and pop-rock levels on some songs like “Stuck In The Middle,” aided by drummer Suyash Gabriel, bassist Amar Pandey and keyboardist Rishabh Sanghi.
Shantanu Pandit brought in more of the laze-around, slacker-rock sort of sound on the Bacardi Arena stage and it was hit or miss if you didn’t really know his material. Unless you did just want to laze around in the early evening with a drink in hand. That was certainly not on the agenda over at the Red Bull Off the Roof stage, where Bengaluru duo RANJ x Clifr were tearing it up, complete with a pair of dancers (Srilakshmi and Moodzii aka Abhijeet) who were offering up a gender-fluid dimension to partying down.
Even though RANJ x Clifr took their moments to speak about loss and the tough couple of years behind us, songs like “Conversation,” “UNO” and “School Bus” were amped up. As if the dancers weren’t enough, they called in friend and artist Lojal to rage on “Spirit,” elevating this set to banger-level perfection.
If anyone kept a curious eye out for Lojal after that cameo, the Manipur-origin, Bengaluru/Goa-based artist’s own performance flipped the script in terms of what to expect from a festival set. Joined by dance troupe CH__LK and a band comprising multi-instrumentalist Jose Neil Gomes (who later joined Raja Kumari on stage as well), bassist Alan Santosh, guitarist-keyboardist Samarth Bahl and drummer Abhishek Debsikdar, Lojal was shapeshifting at every given chance – going from Afro-rock jams to hip-hop and more. At one point, the band packed off stage and Lojal ran a dizzying beat off his laptop, making his intentions clear as a jam master who intends to get everyone moving.
Seedhe Maut on the Red Bull Off the Roof stage at Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune in March 2022. Photo: Fleck Media/Mitsun Soni
Bacardi NH7 Weekender seemed to have eschewed Bollywood favorites this time around (possibly for budgetary reasons) and in terms of sonic styles and genres, hip-hop, singer-songwriter music, electronic, and rock were weightily represented. There was just a smidge of electronic music – Kayoben, plus headliner Ritviz’s leap to a grandiose live band setting, Anyasa aka Anish Sood brought dancefloor sounds with a journeying amount of fusion, while Lifafa impeccably and steadily built up his set for the swelling audience. In fact, it felt like the festival looked out for its comedy programming (and even added a gaming den), whereas an electronic stage was sorely missed. Maybe it was also the festival’s way of hosting more live artists at a time when clubs across the country are relying heavily on India’s DJ-producers.
With hip-hop artists, there were showstoppers aplenty. Bengaluru’s T.ill APES brought the house down with groovy goodness, led by rapper Hanumankind and a surprise appearance from Mumbai artist Yashraj. Soon after, Singapore-based Tamil/English rapper Yung Raja was his fiery, playful and wholesome best, giving a shoutout to Thanjavur and digging into pumped up favorites like “Mustafa,” “Mami” and “Big Smile.”
To top it off, New Delhi duo Seedhe Maut, joined by DJ Blunt and even a cameo from Sez on the Beat (who’s working on their next album Nayaab), raged around on the Red Bull Off The Roof stage. A sea of hands never stopped bouncing in unison, feeling songs like “Namastute,” “Shaktimaan” and “Nanchaku.” In what was a fitting tribute, the duo saluted Swadesi’s late MC Tod Fod by playing “The Warli Revolt” for the crowd to live through a formidable friend’s prowess.
Over at the Bacardi Arena, Prateek Kuhad had every bit of the thousands of attendees hanging on his words – from “Tune Kaha” and “Did You/Fall Apart” to “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan” (a Bollywood hit he prefaced in best enthusiastic way with the question, “Are you ready?”) and “Cold/Mess” (which was the confetti moment of day one). Kuhad’s new material, including the latest single “Just A Word” and “CO2” were surprisingly well-suited despite their brighter pop direction, which can only bode well for the future setlists once his new album The Way That Lovers Do is out.
Prateek Kuhad’s finale at Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune in March 2022. Photo: Fleck Media
All in all, there was still a sense of curating special sets that artists also often reserve for a big stage like Weekender – Mumbai pop artist Kayan aka Ambika Nayak traded in her DJ set for a live band, focusing on diverse songs and a sense of style which had all eyes glued. Her excitement was easily transferred to the crowd and to band members like bassist Hashbass, drummer Linford D’Souza and guitarist Siddharth Shankar.
Osho Jain, making his Weekender debut, was a perfect poet and performer. Jovial and affable, there were bluesy joints (“Bachche Hi Toh Hai”) as well as his signature introspective style (“Khud Se,” “Tu Aisa Kaise Hai?”). Joined by vocalist Sanchi Mannotra, saxophonist Jayesh Malani, keyboardist-guitarist Pulkit Jain (who shined on “Pyaare”), bassist Hansel Dias and drummer Bharat, there was a sparkle in Jain’s set that would definitely make a fan out of anyone hearing him for the first time.
If there’s anything to be said for topline artists like Raja Kumari, The Yellow Diary, When Chai Met Toast, Ankur Tewari and the Ghalat Family, it’s that they served their stage just as expected. Well-oiled machines who know their way around commanding a large sea of people, the bankable names across genres were understandable picks for the oft-repeated “Weekender State of Mind.” Ritviz’s Words of Vizdumb was also specially crafted, proving how important the Weekender stage was for the Pune-bred artist. Joined by Bombay Brass, you could tell that the horn section was unmatched – Kishore Sodha, Rhys Sebastian, Ramon Ibrahim, I.D. Rao – plus guitarist Sanju Aguiar, drummer Jehangir Jehangir and bassist Saurabh Suman, among others.
While Bacardi NH7 Weekender could prove in this scaled-down, two-day edition that Indian headliners can pull in the crowd of thousands, that’s only one way to see it. Whether it was due to Covid-19 related restrictions or just the pandemic effect, tickets didn’t sell out completely unlike previous editions. It’s likely that many were unconvinced of a festival without international headliners, which Weekender has arguably been known for. This March edition was certainly fun, but it seemed like an in-between edition that was executed under different conditions before it was too late in the year. With another edition slated for late 2022, there’s plenty of work ahead of Bacardi NH7 Weekender and we certainly hope it doesn’t slow down again.