Words by Sandra Edmonds
Delhi. Built on the preserves of seven cities, including one that dates back to the time of the Mahabharata; Delhi is a city synonymous with politics, history, art, literature and culture. Unfortunately, on most days of the week the Delhiite’s love for music is drowned out in a cacophony of noise comprising car horns, auto rickshaws, buses and people. Discovering Delhi’s music therefore is easier said than done. Unless you have the Jazz at your disposal, like I do, to Groove With Honda around the national capital discovering its musical side. The common stereotype about Delhi is that the average Delhiite listens mostly to Punjabi bhangra pop, but as we discovered over the course of the evening, the musical taste of the average Delhiite is as eclectic as the collection of historic monuments that the city is peppered with.
Our journey starts on a very humid Wednesday evening. Being Independence Day week, traffic was quite heavy, so despite only staying 12km away from my first destination, I knew I had at least an hour of traffic to look forward to. The minute I got into the car, I ranked up the volume and began singing along to Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’. Once the windows were up, it felt almost as though I was isolated from the noise and the traffic around me.
First on our list was The Piano Man Jazz Club in Safdarjung Enclave in South Delhi. Over the past two years, The Piano Man Jazz Club has become one of the best destinations in Delhi, if not the country, for live music. On any given day of the week you are guaranteed a night of jazz, wine and some soulful vibes. We were lucky to catch the international jazz trio, PLINT – Pablo Lapidusas International Trio, live in action as they completed the Delhi leg of their tour. The Piano Man Jazz Club is designed as a cosy room (with a mezzanine floor) where musicians are given the utmost respect not just by their hosts but also the audience who understand and respect the genre that is jazz music. There was also a brief moment where Arjun Sagar Gupta, owner of The Piano Man Jazz Club had instructed his staff to stop service during a song originally composed by Pablo Lapidusas himself, aptly titled ‘The Silent Song’. The food and drinks were promptly served the minute the last note was played. As a musician, that is probably the highest form of respect one can receive from an audience and venue.
Our next stop was the Summer House Café in Hauz Khas, which isn’t too far off but Delhi’s well-surfaced wide open roads, fast flowing traffic and the peppy Jazz were too much of an invite to pass on. So instead of heading straight to our destination we cut a path to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and more importantly the iconic Rajpath that connects Rashtrapati Bhavan with India Gate. I have never driven down this strip of tarmac bisected by Janpath before so I was actually quite thrilled to be here. The climb to the top of Raisina Hill atop which Rashtrapati Bhavan stands tall is fairly sharp but the Jazz’s 1.2-litre i-VTEC petrol engine with 89bhp and 110Nm on tap pulls the car’s compact body up the slope without a whimper.
The presidential palace itself is an imposing structure, lined by the North Block on one side and the South Block on the other. It’s a sight that fills one with patriotic fervour. I gingerly turn the car around at the massive iron gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan itself and then head back down Rajpath. The start of the down slope with the lit up length of the road falling away towards India Gate gives off a distinct feeling of an aeroplane coming in to land on its flare path with you as the pilot. It’s quite magical, especially when viewed from the greenhouse like spacious cabin of the Jazz.
Back on plain ground and among Delhi’s pacy junta, the Jazz has no trouble keeping up. Its convenient, continuously variable transmission, channelling the power and torque to the front wheels in tandem with the demands from my right foot. Soon enough however I set course for my real destination – Summer House Café in Hauz Khas.
Summer House shot to popularity after Chris Martin from Coldplay shocked Indians with a surprise performance in 2015. The café is an experience altogether, inspired by the wide-open spaces of a summer house (hence the name). Summer House Café hosts various events including live bands and comedy nights. However, they are more popular as a platform for many independent artists. We managed to catch their Boxout Wednesdays, which seem to be quite popular. The entire venue was engulfed with heavy drum-n-bass and deep dubstep sounds. With some interesting visuals to set the mood for the night, Boxout Wednesdays is a night organised with Boxout.fm, which is an online radio station, focusing on alternative music and culture in India with the need to take more music to people. As an added bonus, there are a wide variety of food options along with incredible discounts for their spirited guests.
On the other side of the main road is Hauz Khas Village, a unique hamlet in the heart of the city comprising restaurants, lounges, eateries and shops. Tucked away, deep inside its labyrinthine streets is Garage Inc. But to get there we must cut through bumper-to-bumper traffic. In these conditions, the Jazz swings into its familiar easy-going nature that I have come to love after my drives through Pune and then Mumbai. Its light steering makes short work of all the weaving I have to do to get past the chaos of oddly parked cars, cars that are honking and cars that are reversing. Meanwhile, the freedom that the automatic transmission provides is exhilarating.
My friends from Delhi have recommended Garage Inc to the sky and I think that it might have had something to do with the fact that I moonlight as a singer. Yep, you guessed it right. Garage Inc is in fact a karaoke bar. Rather, it’s a bar where karaoke nights are held twice a week. They also host hip-hop nights and acoustic sessions. The ambience is extremely infectious and the place usually picks up post 9:30 in the night. But once it does, all the so called bathroom singers in Delhi give us a treat, singing songs of Metallica as well as Beyoncé. Joining the bandwagon, I decide to do a couple of tracks and join in the fun as well. What a perfect way to fuel me for the rest of the night. So whether you consider yourself tone-deaf or a straight-up professional, head on down to Garage Inc and join in the fun. After jamming to a couple of tunes, I decide to head on out before I get boxed in by the rest of the crowd at Hauz Khas Village on their way back home.
My final stop is Auro, one of the newest places in Delhi for live music. Spread over 7,000 square feet, this kitchen and bar situated at the entry of Aurobindo Market opens out onto a terrace with its own bar, interestingly made from an old shipping container. For our evening we had Third Son to entertain us and get the crowd dancing to his unique techno, house sounds. What a perfect way to end the night.
Driving back to the hotel in the Jazz with little to no traffic, I was able to truly appreciate the beauty of the roads of Delhi. Stepping on the gas, the refined petrol motor of the Jazz revved freely. As did my spirit, at the idea of another city explored.