I heard about The Ska Vengers through an article in the Guardian review and having searched them out on Youtube had to make the effort to go and see them while they are over on tour coming as they do from the Jamaican Ghetto in Delhi that I'd guess is somewhere near Connaught Place but could easily be behind the Red Fort.
This gig also coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Indian Emancipation from British rule and the horror show that was partition between India and Pakistan and somehow The Ska Vengers are the perfect band to see on a day loaded with such history.
They were playing at Flat Iron Square on Southwark Street, which is an attempt to bring Pleasure Gardens back to the area although this one doesn't feature bear baiting or prostitutes like they did back in the good old days. Instead, it has a full range of pop up bars and restaurants so I could eat a Vegan Banh Mi before the band started.
Right from the opening number that may (or may not) have been called Turn Me Loose, they had people flocking from the bars and beer garden to hear them playing some very tight indeed straight ahead Indian Ska. Damn, Delhi Sultanate knows how to work it as MC and singer for the band as he called Begum X to the stage and she skanked across the stage and things really got going.
They did the classic Ska/Reggae trick of playing a classic instrumental to show how good they are, choosing (I think it was) the Pink Panther movie theme that metamorphosed into I've Got A Boy as Begum X told us all about her boy in a sultry fashion as she kept on skanking and the brass section punctuated the tale wickedly.
They were soon singing about Vampires while sounding like an over excited Skatalites. Delhi Sultanate was making sure we knew that they were a serious issues band between songs and in the lyrics of Shut Your Mouth as well as dedicating Change to M16 and the Indian equivalent as they got full on Righteous and angry at the state of the world but wrapped it up in infectious fun ska.
They let Begun X show us just how sultry she can be on a wicked cover of No No No (You Don't Love Me), the old Dawn Penn classic from the 60's and the 80's and they played it much more in the 60's style.They Introduced Frank Brazil as being about an Assassin who travelled from India to murder a top British soldier who had obviously not been a nice man when he was in India and got his comeuppance back in London. It's a great tale sung with urgency and in the bands deepest Jamaican Indian accents as the guy on the Nord and Korg keyboards went full on Jackie Mittoo on it. Damn, it was great.
The next number seemed to be called Bomb Bomb or it could have been boom boom? Not sure, but I can say it's a great dance hall ska epic that went into a countdown of "10 X 10 down to 1 X 1" that worked real well.
They also did their Tommy McCook-inspired reworking of El Cumbanchero that they twist through its' lineage of becoming Rockfort Rock and now in their hands it's Red Fort Rock and played in an Agra Vators style. The next song was introduced as being about a Revolutionary Outlaw and like everything else they played sounded upbeat no matter what the lyrics were about.
They then went into This is Ska Vengeance: sort of a theme song and rallying call before they asked us to Reconsider Your Life and don't be an informer. Damn, they had everyone dancing by this point and having a great time.
Then it was time to go all Lovers ska on a pair of well-chosen covers of I Put A Spell on You and Why Don't You Do Right. Both of which highlighted Begum X's more seductive vocal qualities and got loads of us singing along to them as well.
They went full on righteous again on a coruscating take of (I think it was) Kick Up A Rumpus. Wow, they are angry at all the right people. They then gave thanks and praise to all the great Jamaican Ska musicians who have influenced them including Burning Spear.
They closed with one of the all-time Ska classics - yep I'm Waiting For The Man which they intertwine with Pusherman to make it more about drug abuse in Delhi rather than Lou Reed taking his mum's car to go score some smack in Harlem back in the 60's. Whatever, it's joyous and at the same time full of sadness for those caught up in the wrong side of the drugs game. Damn, of all the versions I've heard of this song this is right up there.
Of course they got a well- deserved encore and came back and gave us one more song that had a quite dubby feel to it as they thanked everyone and introduced the band most of whom are the Indian core but they also had a few English interlopers as they couldn't afford to bring everyone over this time. If you get the chance to see The Ska Vengers, take it, for they are one hell of a great Ska band and amazing entertainers.