A confession: if your absolute favorite band in the world is Coldplay, I’m judging you.
It’s not you. It’s me (and my militant music fanaticism).
There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with Coldplay.
But I’m still judging you.
Coldplay shouldn’t be your absolute number-one band, man. They just shouldn’t.
Top 5? Maybe. A staple of your teenage years? Of course. Guilty pleasure, whenever you’re singing in the shower? YES!
But #1 live band, touring right now? Nope.
Coldplay are the epitome of mainstream; of scratching the surface, and ignoring the ocean of electrifying live music out there. Saying Coldplay is your favorite band is like saying Avatar is your favorite film. Impressive; hugely cultural significant, but just a bit boring.
So why am I so excited for their debut India performance?
Will Mumbai look this good? Image source: Axom Live
There are three reasons.
The first is sentimental – an echo of the four years I spent working in the events business, bringing international acts to India. I’ve worked on shows with some legendary artists: Above & Beyond, Armin van Buuren, Bonobo, Buddy Guy, Explosions in the Sky, Giorgio Moroder, Joss Stone, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Swedish House Mafia, to name just a few.
Yet for all four of the years I worked in music, the mere suggestion of a Coldplay show was the Moby-Dick of the biz: a fantasy so outlandish it didn’t even bear mentioning. The wisdom was this: no promoter would be able to book them without going bankrupt. And even if someone could, the band’s touring schedule was already planned out, years in advance.
But deep down, booking Coldplay was something every Indian promoter dreamed of. Because Coldplay, despite their lack of hipster credibility, remain arguably the biggest live act currently at their rockstar peak. Sure, there are bigger names – the Stones; U2 – but Coldplay are still very much in their prime. Their music, if you ask me, has gone downhill, but their faces, and their fame, remain remarkably fresh.
Every promoter dreams of bringing the biggest band in the world to India – now it’s finally happening. Am I jealous that I’m not part of the show? Absolutely. Am I relieved that I won’t be fielding any ticket requests? YOU BETCHA.
The second is romantic. I still believe that nothing unites people quite like music. There’s a giddy wonder in being part of a happy crowd, a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands: connected by song, joined by sound.
When a crowd and a band are in sync, there is peace in the world, however temporarily. It is religious ecstasy without religious dogma – the spectacular, infinite joy of the spectacular, infinite present.
When people stop thinking and start being, living in the moment, letting go of their fears and insecurities, the world becomes a beautiful place.
Individuals become part of a greater whole. We find that great current of compassion running between all of us, and we realize what a great, noble, caring, considerate species we can be.
Perhaps no band in the world right now is better at creating these ecstatic, stadium-sized moments than Coldplay: swirling, twirling blurs of light and color and confetti and sound. It’s exhilarating; it’s inexplicable; it’s magic.
Then, of course, the house lights will come on, and the moment will be gone, and we will all shove and push and kick one another as we fight to get to the exits and into our cars.
Coldplay fans act like they forgot about Jay. Image source: CBS News
The third is political. I’ve long been a political apathist (is that even a word?) My political philosophy professor, Anthony Kammas, didn’t teach me much. But he did teach me to be suspicious of democracy. Not the idea of democracy, but the practice of it.
In a democracy, we’re presented with the illusion of choice and the hope of progress – within the finite constraints of the existing system. This candidate or that, one politician or the other. It’s all the same, really. We’re controlled: by what we see, what we hear, and what we read. It’s all part of the status quo: ultimately, the rich will only get richer, no matter who we vote for.
But I also believe that any gathering of the masses, any free assembly of the citizenry, is inherently political in nature. Yes, I know it’s just a Coldplay concert (why has everyone forgotten about Jay-Z, by the way?)
I should mention here the haunting image of our Prime Minister on stage in New York two years ago. Mr. Modi at a music festival in Central Park – bizarre. The Mumbai edition of Global Citizen is being staged with his support and approval, and it is not a political protest. No doubt we’ll see him on stage at the MMRDA grounds, at some point.
Our PM can't wait to hug Hugh. Image source: Indian Express
It is evidence, however, that politicians, the government, the state, recognize the important of speaking to the youth, in a language we understand. Without our support, they lose their mandate. It says a lot about the state of things that a concert featuring two international musicians and a handful of local actors are getting this city’s English-speaking millennials more excited than we’ve been for any election.
Most politicians try to unite us in fear: fear of what the opposition might do. But this show, even though it will only be one night, even though it will be just a blip on our radars, has the power to touch and inspire people, in the hope that music, that love – not fear – can make this country better.
We shouldn’t fall prey to the idea that the only way to make things better is by paying for concert tickets (either with money or social media posts). That’s just dumb. But the Global Citizen Festival is a reminder that there are other options out there, options outside the political structure (voting, paying taxes, and hoping for the best).
This show is about two things: encouraging us to become better citizens, and pressuring the state to become more supportive to its people.
India is home to thousands of NGOs doing noble work, trying to making Indian lives better. They’re doing good, moral things, with and without the government’s help. But, to my knowledge (and please comment if I’m wrong), Mumbai hasn’t been this swept up by an extra-political mass movement since Aid Bhopal in 1985.
My limited travels through rural India have shown me what an astonishingly beautiful country we live in. Yet all of my revelatory experiences in Indian villages have been due to one fact: the fact that I only have to visit them.
It’s easy to romanticize village life (India is home to both rural and urban villages, by the way) when you’re a grown man who’s never faced any sort of discrimination. It’s easy to be touched when you’ve been educated extensively without financial constraints, when you’ve always had running water and adequate sanitation.
This Coldplay (and Jay-Z!) concert isn’t going to change India overnight. It won’t fix our government; it won’t solve our problems.
But it does suggest, potentially, an alternate future, one in which we won’t rely exclusively on the political system to make things better. When we’ll look to the private, to the artistic, to the human spheres to improve our collective lives.
I think we should give it a shot.
And I think that even if Coldplay isn’t your favorite band, you should make every effort to be there.
Maybe one day, Young India will be able to organize a festival of its own: without Coldplay or the government’s support – a festival celebrating its own values, celebrated on our own terms.
This, hopefully, is a step in that direction. It won’t be our Woodstock. But it will be one hell of a party.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Kunal Bambawale
Cover photo credit: Coldplaying.com