Many may not have expected it, but when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi made an appearance (although via video conference) at the first ever Global Citizen Festival India in Mumbai, that sea of people realized this wasn't any ordinary charity gig. Plus, speaking mostly in English, PM Modi quoted everything from Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changin'" to Coldplay's "Adventure of a Lifetime," which probably left him walking away with the most brownie points.
A festival of this scale, with these many international big ticket names -- U.K. arena rockers Coldplay, rap veteran Jay Z, pop singer Demi Lovato -- has occurred for the first time in India. An estimated 80,000 people attended Global Citizen India on Nov. 19, catching dignitaries, Bollywood actors and established musicians on one gigantic stage.
In between budgetary pledges and policy announcements by both government and public institutions, the first ever Global Citizen Festival to be held in Asia was easily the biggest music festival produced in India. Bollywood music composers such as Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Arijit Singh and actor-singer Farhan Akhtar gave the crowd their favorite radio hits, and there were even a few actors like veteran Amitabh Bachchan, Sonakshi Sinha and Shraddha Kapoor picking up the mic to take on a rare role as singers, choosing not to turn to the traditional choreographed, lip-synced style of performances.
As much as it started out resembling any Bollywood awards show, an early set by fusion artist Karsh Kale and New Delhi electronica duo Midival Punditz (with vocalist Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy laying down the rap flow) got a few spirits soaring. But that was about as far the festival's lineup would lean into India's independent scene, preferring crowd-puller Bollywood stars instead.
In a 20-minute set that made her the first international performer on stage at Global Citizen Festival India, the global pop star kicked butt with songs like "Confident," "Heart Attack," "For You" and "Stone Cold" before closing off with a song that the crowds finally seemed to recognize, "Cool for the Summer".
British pop rockers the Vamps too had a 20-minute slot, although well into the evening to get the youngest voices in the thousands-strong crowd to sing along to "Oh Cecilia (Breaking My Heart)" and "Can We Dance," stage antics and all. On their second visit to India to perform -- they were in Mumbai in August -- the Vamps seem to have fully fallen for the country, having shot a music video there as well.
The poster boy for music in India and Oscar winner caught fans off guard with an instrumental, synth-leaning opening, but soon worked his way into his best Indian movie hits - from "Dil Se" to "Humma Humma."
Hova don't mess around. His performance might have been the least promoted ever since it was announced in September, but Jay Z came, saw and conquered. The set kicked off with a local flavor, rapping verses off "Bounce" to the Rahman-composed 1998 hit "Chaiyya Chaiyya" and Punjabi MC's "Mundian to Bach Ke." Jay looked amazed as hell at the crowd that may not have known all his words, but raised their phone flashlights and their voices to the choruses of "Drunk in Love" and "Empire State of Mind." He threw in lightning fast versions of "N-----s in Paris" and "99 Problems," but made sure got the full effect of his classic and fresh material, "Holy Grail" and "Big Pimpin'."
An endless stretch of people ahead of Chris Martin, Will Champion, Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman, Coldplay also seemed overwhelmed to start off, but gave India everything they wanted -- from dazzling evergreens such as "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," "Yellow" and "The Scientist" to the dance-y "Paradise," "Hymn for the Weekend" and "A Sky Full of Stars." Martin, the curator of the festival's New York edition which took place in Central Park in September, was running up and down the ramp like an overexcited child, composing himself when he had to sit down by the piano to perform "Magic" and "Viva La Vida."
Performing in India for the first time -- even though they shot the music video to "Hymn for the Weekend" in Mumbai in October 2015 and Martin visited New Delhi in July last year -- the band didn't leave out some of its earliest hits like "Don't Panic" and "In My Place." Martin tried his hand at Hindi but stuck to wearing his most grateful smile, ploughing into the arena rock-sprawling cover of "Heroes" in honor of David Bowie and jamming with Rahman on his specially composed version of the national song "Vande Mataram" -- something that had many choked up. The band's "Fix You," which everyone sang along to, was the highlight of the night, fireworks and all.
Within two months of launching Global Citizen Festival India, the organizers garnered more than 500,000 registered users (Global Citizens) to take up 2,000,000 'actions' to earn their tickets. With a commitment of investment tallying up to 40,500 crore rupees (USD $5.93 billion), anyone who attended the festival is likely to be curious about when Global Citizen plans to return to India with its next edition. After all, it's broken a lot of records.