Monday, 22 April 2013

Guest post: "Bombay gets the Blues", by Jay Shah (India)

A blues festival in Bombay? “But why?”, one might think. Or maybe... “Why not?”.  The fact that the festival is organized by the Mahindra Group, though, with my friend and colleague Jay Shah being the driving force behind it, explains that this is not a decision that came about by chance. It´s part of a global company´s strategy, as it relates to more than 100 nationalities of customers and employees, to promote art and to enable conversations across culures. mv
Walter Trout at the Mahindra Blues Festival 2013, Mumbai, India (Photo: Ritam Banerjee)
Mehboob Studios, the iconic Bollywood studios in the heart of Bombay (now known as Mumbai) have been coming alive with the best Blues talent the world has to offer during the Mahindra Blues Festival (MBF) each year for the past three years. Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal were here, so were Robert Randolph, Poppa Chubby, Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popovich, Jimmy Thackery and many more. The Best of Blues, in an unusual venue, in an unusual city, you may surmise.
The MBF is a celebration of an art form in a festival far away from the Mississippi Delta, its place of origin.  In a culture so seemingly different, astounding commonalities have emerged. Bombay is a tough city – but a city of dreamers. Struggle and strife is as abundant as triumph and victories. There may not be a better connect between this genre of music with any city in the world as there is with Bombay. Our audacious vision is to create the biggest destination festival for the Blues outside of the United States. We would like to make Bombay to the Blues what Montreaux is to Jazz.
In the absence of a practice of individual giving to the arts and the preoccupation of the government with greater compulsions of providing basic living essentials to the masses, art and culture have seldom been supported in India. Sporadic acts of benevolence for a particular artist or an art event do occur but this lacks a holistic long term plan or vision. We are convinced that corporate houses must help bridge the gap.
The Mahindra Group, is a USD 15.9 billion federation of companies spanning international geographies and straddling businesses as diverse as automobile and tractor manufacturing to retail finance and holiday resorts. We engage with over a 100 nationalities of customers and employees present in all continents except the Antarctic. As a global company we believe we are in a unique position to enable conversations across cultures and have taken a long term view of promoting art and culture as an  enabler of admiration of our brand. Moreover, our cultural outreach activities are directly linked to business strategy, hence are sustainable. They help create shared value between our brand and our stakeholders, securing a positive mind space for our brand.
For greater success in exploring alternate funding sources, Art institutions may wish to closely analyze business plans of specific companies and help them identify ways in which they can derive long term advantage by supporting a particular art form. If one sees a strategic connect and business benefit, funds will flow and art will thrive.

Dana Fuchs at the Mahindra Blues Festival 2013, Mumbai, India (Photo: Ritam Banerjee)
And what strategic connect does the Blues have to our business you may wonder? Mahindra is the largest manufacturer of tractors in the world. The hobby farmers of the Mississippi Delta are our most discerning customers in the United States. They have begun to relate to us on a different plane. We are not just another foreign company trying to sell them a product. They view us as a brand that takes pride in their heritage, celebrates their culture and helps propagate it in distant lands. Our market share has risen and our customer satisfaction levels are amongst the highest. Our products are of course the best one can buy. But our culture connect has significantly boosted our brand’s likability, there is no doubt.
The most endearing by-product of this festival has been the enthusiasm in which the Bombay audiences have adopted it. The connect they feel with the music is intense. The audience comprises of citizens from all walks of life, age brackets and demographics. As Anand Mahindra, Chairman & Managing Director of the Mahindra Group observes, over the years, this festival has become a movement and has garnered a cult like following. The audiences have become believers, a tribe of followers.
I invite you to watch glimpses of the Mahindra Blues Festival and hear the audience testimonies:

Jay Shah has been with the Mahindra Group for the past 15 years doing a variety of assignments. His current charge is to innovatively use art and culture to connect with Mahindra’s stakeholders throughout the world. He oversees the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and the Mahindra Blues Festival and leads internal programs such as the Global Recruit Program, Mahindra Rise Awards and Mahindra Has Talent. He is an International Fellow at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC. 

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