Feature Opinion

Boxer Tour Diary: Chennai Five

“Greetings from India! I am Rohan Kulkarni, an organizing member of Saarang 2019, the annual cultural festival of IIT Madras, India. This is to inquire about the availability of BOXER to perform at the World Culture Shows during Saarang 2019.”

It’s a scam. Must be, right? Well, they haven’t asked for our banking details yet.

Our name is BOXER. We’re a band from Johannesburg that recently played a show in Chennai, India, before, say, maybe playing a show in Cape Town. We’ll be the first to admit that as far as touring SA goes, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But what started off as a suspected scam soon turned into the most epic band mission we could ever have hoped for.

Saarang 2019 – Lost Cities (sounds like season 22 of Survivor, we know) is the largest, student-run, non-profit cultural festival in Asia. Once we’d done our research, we agreed that there was no better way for five guys to combine a much-needed overseas trip with the ability to play our music live to a foreign audience. Besides, Glastonbury hadn’t gotten back to us yet.

We agreed with Rohan that we would travel to India and play Saarang Fest so long as they could provide us with all gear – allowing for much easier travel. He agreed to our tech rider instructions (they were quarter met but we managed) and, just like that, our tickets were booked. We’d be in India from the 2nd of January through to the 12th. A year of shows in SA had taken its toll, we needed a holiday, so, the plan was – travel as much of the east coast as we can, jol hard and top it all off with a show. In retrospect, it worked out really fucking well.

One more hurdle was playing Smoking Dragon, on New Year’s Eve. Meaning a literal trip from a sleepless festival to the halls of OR Tambo. The gifted among you will guess that we arrived in Chennai pretty buggered. That hangover was quickly replaced with fast-flying tuk-tuks, flashing lights and a city that doesn’t stop for a second. Turns out a great cure for jetlag is the fear of dying in a taxi ride to the hostel. Making friends with our awesome hosts and other locals at our hostel, we quickly discovered the best eating and drinking spots around. That being said, India has some major taxes on booze in most parts so R60 a beer quickly got rather daunting. R20 a curry, however, did not.

The plan was always to wing it from Chennai. Our next move came as a nice surprise. We found a 5-bedroom seaside mansion at a reasonable R200 each. BOXER had their own beach mansion guys! With next to nothing surrounding us, we hit the local shebeen (or TASMAC, as they call it) and stocked up on Kingfisher quarts, our host taking tons of photos of the beers. Turns out he’s never come across a beer loving South African before. Also, not understanding hangovers, Kannan, our sweet tour guide/taxi driver/real OG, had us up early the next morning to explore the temples and markets of nearby Mahabalipuram – try say that after a few. The history of this place is indescribable. And we’re on a word limit here, so look it up.

With our life of luxury absorbed, next up was a 100km journey to Puducherry on a local bus that cost R15. What a vibe. Pondy is an old city that falls under French India, in some way independent of the rest of India, it has zero tax on booze and other substances, meaning you’ll find a rooftop bar and pharmacy on every corner. Did someone say Valium? We proceeded to spend the next four days in this incredible city. From racing scooters along the beach promenade at 4AM, to getting kicked out of our hostel due to “alleged” noise complaints – this place had it all.

We hit up the nearby Auroville too, which was certainly a highlight. It’s a non-currency, fully self-sustainable community imagined in the ‘60s by someone called “The Mother”. From food to work it is self sufficient and quite incredible. It also comes with a giant golden monument that took over 40 years to build, the most incredible man-made structure you’ll ever see and “the soul” of Auroville. Darn hippies.

We needed to get back to Chennai for the festival by this time. We were picked up at the Chennai bus station by some very welcoming and friendly students of IIT and welcomed to our guest-house rooms within the campus grounds. The festival was beautiful. Consisting of two main stages and a host of other entertainment options (think comedy, drama, gaming comps and more), you could easily see the day swoosh past you in a flurry of activities. Ari even judged a fucking acapella competition at 8am in the morning. What a champ.

Being the only band representing Africa on the World Stage, we also came across Japanese dream-pop, Belgian electro and Danish rap. Super diverse acts. Our show was well-received, albeit that we got interrupted halfway through it in order for them to announce the Guinness World Record for the longest Dosa ever (like an Indian pancake – yes, our show was interrupted by a fucking pancake). But that’s India.

Without a doubt, if you asked was it worth it, it would be a resounding yes. We have no idea how Rohan found us in the first place but what a trip he had instore for us. So, should you be an up-and-coming band in SA and you get a mail inviting you to Saarang 2020 – Forgotten Temples (or something Survivorish), do it.

Save the money, buy the tickets, go to India. You’ll find our hearts (and Jake’s wallet) somewhere along the East Coast there.

Thank you, India.