The Bombay Royale
+ Shaolin Afronauts
30 September 2017
by Jason Leigh
I used to really like the Shaolin Afronauts. I believe that their three quarters of an hour of afro beat, 70s soundtrack noodling was competent although the repetitively individual instrumental soloing and subsequent applause from the audience did wan after a time. Perhaps I am fickle, but their unappealing hooded robes detracted from an otherwise engaging performance. Although leader Ross McHenry acknowledged and thanked seamstress Jenny Ridge, one of the troupe’s mother, in that they had been wearing the same robes for ten years, the band appeared as though they were dressed in Op Shop drag. It might just be time to retire those ill-fitting outfits and otherwise save them for the occasional pagan ceremony. Their performance and songs and those of the Bombay Royale, like the not dissimilarly ethnic music influenced Cambodian Space Project who performed at last year’s OzAsia festival, had me thinking about the degree of separation from covers to originals bands. There is nothing wrong with the former as people do want to be entertained by what they know but it can be disappointing when there is less of a challenge for the audience.
When the Bombay Royale came onstage, the back projection of clips from Bollywood films was superfluous as the band themselves were so interesting to watch, dressed in their outrageous caricature costumes that had you pondering what the back stories intended might be. Their fusion of Bollywood, spaghetti western soundtracks and science fiction as performed by a parallel dimensional Village People was greatly appreciated. Initially there was much enthusiasm from the audience who participated in dancing with some teaching from leads Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya, the Mysterious Lady and the Tiger, respectively. The set list even indicated a Dance Workshop after the first four songs. In the middle of the set there was lull during the less straightforward dance songs when the band apparently had some technical difficulties related to the bass amplifier but this was not noticeable in the sound reaching the audience. Stand out performances during the second half were “RoboBeeZ” and the last song “Wild Stallion Mountain” before they encored with a couple of songs from their debut album You Me Bullets Love including “Jaan Penechan Ho”.