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article imageReview: Musicians, dancers bring rich spirit of India to North America Special

By Mark J. Allan     Sep 28, 2015 in Music
Courtenay - Many people witnessing a performance by the Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers on a current North American tour will never visit India. No matter. For a couple of hours, audiences will feel like they’re on the South Asian sub-continent.
The 17-member Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers captivated a near-sellout crowd Sept. 26 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, B.C., on Canada’s west coast.
Masterminded by band leader Rahis Bharti, a spell was cast from the opening solo by Amrit Hussain, the group’s other tabla player.
The first of many ovations from the crowd was loud and sincere.
What followed was a boisterous, colourful, joyful affirmation of Indian culture, specifically the cultural heritage of the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where Bharti was born and raised as part of the seventh generation of a musical family.
The evening’s focus was on a type of fusion music in which Bharti melds traditional Indian sounds with a marching band, complete with a four-piece brass section.
The orchestra’s timing was uncanny throughout and a testament to their talent and teamwork as they tour throughout the world. The troupe recently completed a 10-date European swing before opening a campaign on Canada’s west coast that will keep them in North America through November.
Bollywood Masala, whose sound is heavy on percussion and brass, is introducing North Americans familiar with sitars and tablas to lesser-known Indian instruments.
They include the khartal, a hand-held percussion instrument; the dholak, a two-headed drum; and a shruti box, a fascinating instrument capable of sounding like a harmonium or producing the sitar-like drone associated with Indian music.
North Americans will already be familiar with the trumpet, trombones and cornet in the brass section.
The audience was treated to female dancers twice before intermission with different brilliantly coloured garments for each dance.
Although it was an older, more staid audience typical of the Sid Williams Theatre, the band achieved mass participation during a traditional Rajathstani song called Nimbooda.
Led by lead singer Sanjay Khan (not be confused with the Indian film producer, director and actor), the crowd learned the many ways the Hindi word Nimbooda, which means lemon, can be sung. Khan frequently treated the audience to some inspired wailing.
If anything, the second half was more engaging than the first.
Besides the dancers returning in yet a third costume change, the 17th troupe member made a memorable appearance.
A handsome, young Dhoad gypsy from Rajasthan impressed the crowd by dancing while balancing a large pot on his head with as many as four drinking glasses in between. Hiking the degree of difficulty, he did it while standing on three small swords, then a bed of nails.
The evening's performance closed with a snake-charming dance, without cobra.
Bharti and the troupe bade farewell to delighted standing audience members who left the theatre buzzing after a rich serving of Indian culture.
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