The tension is palpable. I may be lying in bed in my boxers staring at a low resolution stream of a clinical university concert hall in the US, but there’s that all too familiar buzz of communal expectation you get when waiting for the headline act at a major festival. If you substitute the overheard murmurings of (‘I hope they play stuff from their early albums’, or ‘I heard Jay-Z is going to make an appearance’) for the informed musings of the thousands of flute connoisseurs witnessing this online in the chat box (‘F*** off blue shirt’, ‘Azeem Flutestorm!’, ‘Text for nudes 01234 123 456’, ‘Music so beautiful I cry everytiem’) the parallels to any major buzz event are clear.
When Azeem finally takes to the stage he opens with two delectable classical numbers, ably accompanied by his backing pianist, and page turner (who, let’s be frank, was under the most pressure not to cock the whole event up). Suffice to say, his flute skills are impressive. It’s at this point that the feeling subtly evident from the start of Azeemania comes to full fruition, that as opposed to the common cruelness that tends to accompany viral idolisations like this, this is something warmer. We are smiling along with Azeem and revelling in the absurdity, whilst also appreciating a form of music that doesn’t often get this much attention.
Without trying to get too pretentious, there are moments which highlight this as an actual nouveau cultural experience. The guys that travelled from the UK to be there (including one of Durham’s very own) coupled with the fact that from the position of the streaming camera we are sitting just behind Azeem’s mum, a la any low-level musical recital we’ve all been subjected to, grant the realisation that the world is in fact such a small place. Through the mysterious power of the internet a random performance thousands of miles away became the hottest ticket for uni students in the UK that night.
There were however also instances of culture clashes, preserving a sense of smaller scale identity within an ever boundary-blurring world. The UCSB student’s bewilderment at the concept of ‘Nando’s’ (‘I dunno, apparently that’s where they’re streaming it, a fast food chain or something…’) being just one.
Regarding the recital itself, Azeem continues to wow with his ability, and mixes the set up nicely, dropping in an intoxicating jazz cut, introduced by a ‘dude that’s so boring try this’ skit – bet that guy didn’t realise he’d be acting that out in front of ten thousand people- as well as his promised flute-beat-boxing track, which I still can’t really figure out how he did. During this last piece, Azeem gets the entire live audience clapping along, proving that he is a bona fide performer. Any doubts that this would get lost in translation for the massive internet audience are assuaged too. It would have been a great shame if the performance was a let-down, which it most certainly was not. True, the number of those tuning in dropped throughout the set as the novelty wore off, but still a good amount stuck it out to the end to appreciate man and flute.
An hour or so of escapism was what this essentially was. By the very nature of the fact that the bulk of the audience was uni students in exam season, this served as something to distract from the mountains of readings/equations/translations/sport-science-things blocking the view of a summery horizon. Further to this, and perhaps this is where I’m beginning to draw too lofty a comparison, this was an event showcasing the imminent power people can have in community. Following a general election widely disparaged for the undemocratic way in which our votes count for more or less, and how little of us actually affect the outcome, this was a welcome reminder of what can be achieved with the power of numbers. However it started, and however much as a joke, the demand for Azeem was so great that there was no option BUT to stream it live across the Atlantic. And not just to individuals like myself- at unis across the country students convened in their hundreds to watch the stream on a big screen and enjoy the talents of a person they’d managed to pull across national borders. Perhaps the most optimism-inspiring side of this ‘movement’ (hmm, maybe ‘movement’ is a bit extreme) is the fact that Azeem managed to channel this random success he was receiving into a positive force to raise thousands of dollars for the devastating disaster in Nepal. All in all, this was an event that showcased the best side of human nature in its generosity, and light-heartedness. In the face of a lot of shitty things going on in the world, this was at least a funny and sincere way for fostering a sense of local and worldwide community.
Perhaps the heavy rumours of Skepta or Ed Miliband showing up didn’t come true, but this is doubtless not the last we’ll see of Azeem. UK university tours, collabs, and a Notorious B.I.G covers album are all possibilities mooted, but one thing is for certain- when that Darude –‘Sandstorm’ video drops on YouTube, it’s gonna get live.