Review: IIFA Rocks brings Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the music of Bollywood to the Tampa Convention Center
Despite co-host Vivek Oberoi using the adjective "rocking" at nearly every turn ("Everything's going to be a really rocking time!" he proclaimed on the green carpet beforehand), Thursday's IIFA Rocks party at the Tampa Convention Center was much more of a fashion show than a concert.
That was to be expected, as IIFA Rocks was Tampa's first true taste of Bollywood's polish, glitz and glamor on this, the weekend of the first Indian International Film Academy award on U.S. soil. (For an overview of Thursday's events, click here for Stephanie Hayes and Caitlin E. O'Conner's report from the carpet, and click here for our report from inside the ceremony.)
But in between lengthy and dramatic runway shows (featuring popular Bollywood performers like Anil Kapoor, Yami Gautam and Malaika Arora Khan; plus Miss America Nina Davuluri and Tampa notables Bob Buckhorn, Brad Culpepper and Brooke Bennett), the music and choreography that are a hallmark of Indian cinema did get several fine spotlights.
There were four big musical elements to the four-hour show. The first two were medleys of popular songs by playback singers, who provide the vocals to the music in Bollywood films. Flanked by scores of elaborately festooned dancers, Monali Thakur gave a performance as energetic as any American pop star, though much (if not all) of her set was lip-synched. Singers Bhoomi Trivedi and Ankit Tiwari had -- as Vivek Oberoi might put it -- a more rocking edge, especially Tiwari, who brought a big, belt-it-out voice to his brand of rock 'n' roll power balladry.
Tampa native DJ Ravidrums made the most of his moment in the spotlight. Appearing onstage as a silver bolt of energy, ensconsed in his custom drum kit, he surrounded himself first by neon-clad dancers, then a Daft Punk-like drumline on the runway. His thundering rendition of Shine Like the Sun, performed with a live singer, brought a welcome blast of EDM ebullience to IIFA Rocks.
In many ways, IIFA Rocks was a typical made-for-TV awards show -- corny banter, prompter snafus, awkward set changes. And it went on, and on, and on. By midnight -- more than three hours after the event had begun, and two hours after it was supposed to end -- many fans in the less-than-half-full house had begun to trickle out, and those who were there had trouble sustaining applause.
And that was before Oberoi announced that Pakistani pop maestro Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was about to play an hourlong set. "He is gonna give you the hits like never before," Oberoi promised. "The show of a lifetime."
Khan, who specializes in a devotional genre calleed Qawwali, is actually a name some Americans might know. Though Western audiences may be more familiar with the work of his uncle Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat has collaborated with artists like Derek Trucks and the composer James Horner.
And it was in his performance that the music of Bollywood truly came to life at IIFA Rocks. Backed by an 11-piece band, seated crosss-legged at center stage and pumping an accordion-like harmonium, Khan crooned over warm pop melodies, beaming as he offered Tampa a sunny, earthy taste of Indian culture.
The setlist would be lost on most Americans, but otherwise, it was like any other concert. Fans cheered for the hits they knew, and applauded when Khan got absorbed into a real hot jam, scatting and singing with a legitimately lickety-split flow. It was jazzy and organic, yet the pop melodies were real and transcended cultural barriers. At times his performance called to mind Peter Gabriel, or perhaps something by latter-day Paul Simon or Sting.
By 12:45 a.m., the house had thinned considerably, and many of the remaining fans had left their seats to try to snag a selfie with Oberoi, who was still enjoying the show. As well he should have -- the performance by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan may be what many fans remember most from America's first IIFA Awards weekend.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*