Mojo Projects are seasoned concert organizers who have been quenching Malaysians’ thirst for quality live Tamil music for the past four years. Over the weekend, the organizers held their first concert of 2019, Retro Rahman 2.0. Featuring veteran singers like Mano, Srinivas, Sadhana Sargam and Harini, along with Sathyaprakash and pianist Anil Srinivasan.

The night was divided into three segments. The first segment featured the singers taking turns to perform Rahman’s classic hits. The second segment was Anil Srinivasan’s, and the last segment was possibly dedicated to Rahman’s biggest hits by those present. However, Retro Rahman 2.0 felt like something was amiss.

What Mojo Projects did right

The lineup was brilliant

To be fair, Mojo did get a few things right. The selection of artists was commendable. Powerhouses like Mano and Srinivas have come to Malaysia for bigger concerts with AR Rahman in the past, but their visibility during those concerts was limited. But with Retro Rahman 2.0, the audience received a good dose of the two veteran singers.

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Sadhana Sargam was in a league of her own, and her vast stage experience really shows. As for Harini, she may have been in the industry for a good 25 years and done numerous stage shows, but she did look uncomfortable on stage. Her singing, however, was unparalleled. Sathyaprakash’s stage presence and charisma shone bright that night, and he injected an element of youth to the show.

Anil Srinivasan did three beautiful things that night. He had a flute-piano battle with flautist Nikhil Ram, a keyboard-piano battle with keyboardist Karthik Devaraj and a lilting unplugged set with all five singers. The acclaimed pianist performed an instrumental version of Strawberry Kanne in tandem with Karthik that blew the audience away.

Could not have picked a better band

Mani & Band serenaded these singers through the night, and they deserve a special mention. The arrangement and execution of the tunes were superb. Bassist Mani along with Venkat on tabla, Ranjith on the drums, Dickson on the percussion, Karthik Devaraj on keyboard and Sundaresan on lead guitar were the unsung heroes of Retro Rahman 2.0.

Flautist Nikhil Ram effortlessly switched between flute and saxophone, leaving the audience craving for more of his solos.

Very good song selection during the first and second segments

It was nice to hear Mano sing beautiful classics like Aatangara Marame, Kannum Kannum Kollai Adithaal, Swasame and Sevvanam Chinna Penn. Srinivas, on the other hand, performed his tunes – Azhage Sugama, Ennavale, Mulumathy and Sotta Sotta among others. While Srinivas was notably breathless at times, it is understandable. Performing live is nothing like being in a recording studio.

Sadhana Sargam blew us away with her rendition of Snehithane, Kaalai Dhinamum and Vennilave. Harini drove the crowd crazy with her intro of Telephone Manipol, and she continued to mesmerise the audience with her other hits like Netru Illadha Maatram.

Sathyaprakash was the dark horse of the night. His impersonation of Udit Narayanan during the song Kadhalikum Pennin was on point, and he did justice to the tunes Vellai Pookal, Soniya Soniya and Enna Solla Pogirai, although he isn’t the original singer of the songs.

Srinivas, Mano and Sathyaprakash performed the tune Pennalla Pennalla in the style of AR Rahman’s concert in Chennai, with each singer taking turns for each verse. This was absolutely surreal.

No time wasting emcees

The organizers also removed the annoying fillers in between each singer. The singers performed the first and third segments round-robin style. The emcees came out only for brief announcements, and that was sufficient. It was a breath of fresh air to not have to sit through 15 minutes of the emcee trying to engage the audience and often failing. Thank you for doing away with that, Mojo Projects.

But has Mojo Projects lost its mojo?

The dilapidated venue

KWC Fashion Mall may be one of the more affordable venues in the city, but the dilapidated mall seems to have seen better days. A gaggle of concert goers were seen moving from one lift lobby to another, looking for an elevator that actually works.

The ticket holders were made to queue in a car park, between parked vehicles to exchange their printed ticket for a wristband.

Concert goers were instructed to go to the 14th floor (which happens to be a car park), and were greeted by a long, snaking queue to the ticket redemption counter. While the printed ticket from Airasia Redtix does state clearly “This is your ticket”, concert goers are forced to queue in the car park of the mall to exchange their printed tickets for wristbands.

It was a little disconcerting to have the concert goers queue through parked cars, fanning themselves with their printed tickets. Perhaps multiple counters were needed for the larger seating zones. While inside the venue, things were otherwise fine for most of the night, up until the end of the concert, when it got unbearably stuffy.

StarXpo, KWC Fashion Mall has worked well for Mojo Projects’ concerts in the past, they may have outgrown the venue.

Sound system lari

Retro Rahman 2.0’s sound system was a little disappointing. While the music came out perfectly, a few of the singers, especially Harini and at times, Mano, were just not audible.  Multiple times, unless the singers were reaching a crescendo, we found ourselves straining to hear them over the music.

Srinivas too, seemed to be having a tough time with the sound system. His rendition of Minsara Poove was marred by the horrid sound of speaker feedback that lasted 30 seconds. This resulted in him singing intro verse once more, after the song was over.

There also seemed to be many issues with Srinivas’ in-ear monitor during the unplugged session. This was not only distracting to the audience as he kept calling the stagehand to rectify it, he also could not engage properly with what pianist Anil Srinivasan was saying.

There was later a moment where the emcee’s microphone was so loud, that it momentarily deafened the audience.

It was almost impossible to hear the singers during parts of the songs Swaasame, Chillalava, Manna Madurai and Malaithuli Mannil Sangamam. While it is difficult to execute a show of this level without a hitch or two, there were one too many issues with the sound system of Retro Rahman 2.0.

And this isn’t the first time we have experienced sound issues at a Mojo Projects concert, which begs the question, could the less than perfect sound system be Mojo Projects’ Achilles heel? This is their seventh concert, after all.

Alcohol sales coupled with distracted security personnel

Mojo Projects also decided to sell alcohol at Retro Rahman 2.0. Most of those who chose to consume alcohol in the audience did so without any issues. Unfortunately, there were a few groups that let the alcohol get the better of them, which resulted disruptive screaming and cheering, to the point that the other audience members could not hear what was going on on stage.

There were security personnel on ground, but they were more interested in pointing laser beams at those who are trying to record the songs on their phones. The disruptive group that was seated in Zone A was not warned, nor removed, in spite of numerous security personnel patrolling the aisle. Isn’t it more important to remove the hooligans than to stop people from recording?

Finale segment lacked upbeat dance numbers.

The song selection for the final segment of the night could have been improved. The finale is usually when everyone is ready to dance, especially those in the Rock Zone, the mosh pit that housed the standing crowd. However, the organizers chose the wrong tunes to end the night. It is not possible to expect the audience to dance to Kicku Eruthe, Malaithuli Mannil Sangamam, Thillana Thillana and Enuyire Enuyire.

The organizers chose to save the best song for last – Muqaala. The crowd went wild.  This would have been perfect closer, if it was not followed by an unrehearsed rendition of Tamizha Tamizha, accompanied by unrelated yells of ‘Saya Cinta Malaysia’ and ‘Malaysia Boleh’ from the two Malaysian emcees.

Overall, Retro Rahman 2.0’s flaws were masked by the singers and musicians’ magnificence. As Srinivas and Sadhana Sargam sang Snehithane, us long time Mojo Projects concert attendees are taken back to the first ever MILFF concert in 2016, where Masala Coffee performed the same tune. Mojo Projects has come a full circle, now that they have brought over the original singers of the tune for a sold out concert – that is pretty remarkable.

Nevertheless, Mojo Projects didn’t fulfill the bare necessities when it came to Retro Rahman 2.0 – a good sound system, among other things. Will they rectify this before their next show?