After weeks of hype on television and radio, rapturous applause greeted the Colonial Cousins as they walked on to the big square stage in the middle of the cavernous Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo. This applause was expected, given the heavy rotation of their videos on MTV Asia. Their brand of mature adult contemporary pop has struck a chord with many Lankans who have a penchant for ballads and music of the mellower kind. After some preliminary small talk with the audience, the twosome launched into “Alright” from their debut album, a funky boppy tune with feelgood lyrics. Hariharan really opened up and let rip on the vocals – his reputation as a fine singer in the bhajan and ghazal traditions are clearly well deserved. Lezz, Stevie Wonderesque in his plaits, was the communicator.
Highlights of the show included the spiritual “Krishna”, its moving message somewhat spoiled by Lezz plugging the song´s inclusion in the MTV Viewers Choice award. Even though his songs don´t sound like advertising jingles, I guess the pitch-man in Lezz couldn´t resist the soft sell. Then there was a hypnotic rendition of “Indian Rain”, locked down by a unified bass that throbbed throughout the stadium. (Though if you listen closely to that last song, you´ll find a direct ripoff of melody from “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles.)
Initially, this reviewer thought that the whole fusion ´thing´ was some sort of a gimmick, but it comes across well when the Cousins do it. It helps educate the audience when the artistes respect the traditions of the music. The Cousins have the knack of writing songs with very open structures which allow them to pursue the intermingling of influences. Both are sincere, if slightly restrained, performers.
It was perhaps too much to expect guitarists Vernon Reid from Living Color and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt to accompany Hariharan and Lezz to Colombo, but the backing musicians proved excellent, including a soulful flautist and an agile percussion section.
After the success of the duo´s MTV Unplugged project, it will be interesting to see what comes next. Perhaps the Cousins could use their newfound pop success to bring to prominence the work of other Indian classical artistes, Hari Prasad Chaurasia for example, whose work has been limited to releases on the Real World album. Their role should change from being local popsters to that of leaders of a New Asian School, spearheading the introduction of South Asian music to the rest of the world. Then everything really will be “Alright”.