(Beta also means son in Hindi and is used fondly rather than formally)
Wyclef Jean wears tighty-whities. He can play the guitar with his mouth with the kind of dexterity that makes me think his wife is a very happy woman. He sweats like a pig, climbs like a monkey and will possibly one day regret having called Aadesh Srivastava his brutha from another mutha. Srivastava tried to teach Wyclef how to pronounce “balle balle” and “shava shava” because what’s a hip hop star who can’t get his bhangra lingo right?
While waiting three and a half hours for Wyclef Jean to get onto the stage at Hard Rock Cafe, I began wondering whether Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal may be right, after all, about the world getting Indianised rather than India becoming Americanised. Wyclef was supposed to take the stage at 9.15. His audience started crowding the bar from 7.15. At 10 o’ clock there was no sign of the man. It would be an hour before he started leaping about the stage.
For about three and a half hours, the gathered crowds had nothing to do. I’m quite certain not all of them were entirely sure why they were there. I’m pretty sure most people came with the mentality of “Wyclef? Why not…”. I certainly did.
The only songs I know of The Fugees is “Killing me Softly”. The only song I thought I knew of Wyclef’s is “Gone till November” (once he started belting them out, I realised I knew a few more) which stuck in my head because I heard it in a November. Clearly, I’m not a fan so why did I spend Rs. 750 and what felt like 750 hours in a hot, loud, sweaty bar waiting to hear an artist I’m barely familiar with?
Because I’ve given in to the desperacy that is Mumbai. When local fare involves brainless spectacles like Shiamak Davar (a botoxed dude who dresses his students up in feathers, wears a white trenchcoat and will have you know that he believes. In what, you ask? In himself. In you. In the autistic kids he brings out to do party tricks. The barfbucket is to your right), then you will find yourself giving into the hype that if something comes from foreign shores it will be good, or at least better than what you see here. And so, you will go and watch it if it holds even the slimmest possibility of promise.
Also because I love the jokers that make up this city.
The fact is, when people get dressed for events like this, they look at themselves in the mirror and
a) check if they’re looking like the back-up dancers in hip-hop videos (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t; either way they look gloriously weird because they’re not in a music video but in Mumbai)
b) imagine a scenario where, like in music videos again, they’re standing with a drink and this incredibly cool guy/ girl comes up to them, strikes up a conversation and by the end of the concert, there’s some serious exchange of bodily fluids.
I’m told the latter happens as does wife-swapping. I just don’t know anyone it’s happened to. What I do know is that for three and a half hours in Hard Rock Cafe, it was the Grand Central of checking people out. The men were all dressed in what they considered proper black-man-attire. This ranged from low, baggy jeans to waistcoats and fedoras. Diamond ear studs glinted with gay abandon. Goatees dripped sweat since a fair number wore jackets. One Chinese-American gent came wearing a leather jacket. Maybe he thought it was Brokeback-Mountain night at Hard Rock. Poor baby. There was a fair smattering of white men who all looked bored, as though they weren’t really interested in being there. Except, they’d arrived before I had (at 7.15) so clearly, this pseudo-European sneer was bollocks.
The number of men who seemed to find no way to reach their destination (the bar, the loo, another man) without bumping into groups of women was staggering. One friend of mine decided she would hold her ground, and firmly dammit. Which basically meant that while her feet stayed rooted to her spot, the rest of her started leaning towards me in a way that should only be seen on sappho.com. I had a far better idea – I nicked four of the feathery masks that the waiters were handing out to everyone which the bumping gents had stuffed into their back pockets.
The women showed an interesting range. I spotted two threesomes (two guys and one woman in one case and two women and one guy in another; should have seen the guy’s face when the women decided to leave together, without him). One blond woman decided she would cop a feel of every guy that bumped into her. I’m not sure if it lessened the traffic in her direction but by the time Wyclef came on, she looked reasonably dispirited. Welcome to India. We don’t make grope-worthy men. If they’re grope-worthy, they’re probably even more gay than the regular Indian man (who is to begin with about 20% gay. It’s really a case of national denial that makes us retain the law that declares homosexuality illegal). A friend of mine got sandwiched, literally, between two men both of whom were wearing white shirts which made the sandwich metaphor bizarrely real. Another one got sandwiched between two wearing black suits, which initially gave her great joy because she thought one of them was really cute, except when she’d been unsandwiched, she realised they were dancing with each other. And with a familiarity that leant towards more than 20%.
Topping all this entertainment is hard. Especially when you’re faced with a crowd that’s been waiting as long as we had but Mr. Wyclef Jean was awesome. He came on stage with bodyguards who looked like they were random, homeless people. His bodyguards roamed around the stage moodily. He took to the microphone and said, “Bombay! Have you heard Akon?” (crowd roar) “Have you heard the Black-Eyed Peas?” (crowd roar) “Well, you heard Akon, and you heard Will. I. Am, now you’re gonna hear the real thing ‘cos Wyclef is the godfather.” (huge roar… I’m thinking, does Mario Puzo know of this?) But he lived up to his tall claims.
Wyclef threw himself into the performance, literally, even though there seemed to be quite a few occasions when it was a track rather than him doing most of the “singing” while he just added accents like “Come on!” or “Oh!” or “Bombaaay!”. He kept talking to the crowd, bringing people on stage, leaping up on to the speakers (which was when we were all made privy to the kind of underwear he wears and how he wears his pants below his bottom). He told us he’s an Indian in Bombay, told us about how as a kid he wanted to grow up to the President of the United States and did a mean Caribbean accent for one of his songs. Along the way, the bassist swore at the little Indian boy on the mixing board with headphones larger than his head for lowering the level of Wyclef’s mic. That same mic came apart into three pieces a little while later.
None of this seemed to bother Wyclef. For a little less than two hours, he was all ours and his manic, pacing energy was almost enough to make you forget your own exhaustion. I say almost because it wasn’t totally enough for me. If the section of the audience that he’d flung himself upon had people like me, Mr. Wyclef would have landed with a thump on the ground. Bad enough I’d stood around getting a backache, without having to carry a big black man. However, that wasn’t what happened. A gathering of young people carried him delightedly and little girls screamed, “Wyclef, you’re better than sex!” All because they just felt up his bottom. Though to be fair, it looked like a pretty fit bottom. Fitter than most of the ones they’d felt up for the past 3-odd hours. At the end of the concert, a teenaged girl climbed onto stage and groped the guitarist as well, so that he didn’t feel left out.
The music pounded so hard that you could feel the sound come at you like gusts of wind. The bass, played by a genius man with frenetic frog-like leaping skills, made sure you felt the music, literally. We were all vibrating like tuning forks because of how loud and low the bass was (when I came out, there were no stray dogs to be seen). We’ve also probably lost some of our hearing but what the heck… we lost it while having fun.