The year 1985 saw the birth of two iconic names in modern music: the debut success of the legendary Norwegian band a-ha, and the launch of the world famous Rock In Rio music festival. In 1991, a-ha played the festival for the first time: their concert, in front of 198,000 fans at the Maracanã Stadium, was a world record for a paying audience.
To celebrate both the festival and the band’s thirtieth anniversary year in 2015, the band have been invited back to perform at the festival for a second time. In September 2015, a-ha will return to Rock in Rio for what promises to be a very special concert.
When a-ha were asked to appear at Rock In Rio II in 1991, it was the sort of opportunity that was difficult to say no to. The original Rock in Rio had taken place in 1985, in the purpose built City of Rock complex. Over 10 nights, just under 1.4 million people saw headline sets from Queen, AC/DC, Yes, Rod Stewart, George Benson and James Taylor, with other acts performing including Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osborne, The B-52s and Scorpions.
The second Rock In Rio festival took place over nine nights in January 1991, this time at the city’s legendary Maracanã Stadium. The headline acts for Rock In Rio II reads like a ‘who’s who’ of music from the early 1990s. There was Guns N’ Roses, who were putting the finishing touches to their eagerly-awaited albums Use Your Illusion I and II. INXS had recently followed up their eighties classic album Kick with X. Prince, riding high with his Batman and Graffiti Bridge soundtracks, was readying a new band, the New Power Generation, and a new album, Diamonds and Pearls. George Michael had just released the critically acclaimed Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, while New Kids on the Block were the biggest boy band on the planet.
But the biggest audience of the whole festival was for a-ha. For some in the western media, the band might have seemed a strange choice of headline act. As lead singer Morten Harket remembers, by 1991 the band were ‘round the corner’ in Europe and North America: there, the ‘first big wave was rounding off’. In South America, however, something special was happening – ‘a second wave, a different wave’, as Morten describes it. A-ha had first toured Brazil in 1989 and such was the response they quickly found their concerts upgraded to football stadiums and audiences of 90,000 a night. Everyone, it seemed, loved a-ha. ‘Brazil has a very special place in our hearts’, says Magne, and the feeling was clearly mutual.
When a-ha arrived in Rio for the festival, Morten remembers that ‘the size of everything took our breath away. Earlier in the week, I’d sneaked into the stadium to watch Guns N’ Roses from the side of the stage to 160,000 people. It was a great gig and my first real glimpse of the size of the audience. It was an awe-inspiring sight. I couldn’t wait for our turn.’
For Paul Waaktaar, too, the performance was a big deal and an important one in the development of the band: ‘Playing Rock in Rio was huge for us. Since we had started out as more of a studio based band, it took us a long time to get comfortable as a live act. I feel we achieved that with Rock In Rio and other shows in South America during that tour.’
On the night of the concert, a-ha were supported by an eclectic list of artists including Debbie Gibson, Information Society and the Happy Mondays (‘they were there and they were not there at the same time, if you know what I mean,’ Morten remembers with a laugh). The band knew the concert was going to be big, but even they were taken back by the size of the audience: ‘As we were preparing to go out on stage, I was taken aside by Mel Bush, the promoter,’ Morten recalls. ‘‘We’re still counting,’ he said, ‘but we think this is a world record crowd we’ve got out there, for a paying audience. We’re approaching 200,000 people. The record is 197,000. It’s looking like we’re over that.’
Morten remember clearly heading out on stage: ‘It was an awe-inspiring sight, that hot, humid Rio evening, standing on stage and observing that near 200,000 strong, beautiful, passionate audience. Everything I knew about Brazil and South America was captured in that stadium: the sense of equality and coming together I’ve always experienced. I felt humbled.’
For Paul, too, the audience was something special: ‘Around that time we were releasing more introspective albums like East of the Sun and Memorial Beach. The energy explosion and the sheer amount of people gathering to hear our songs was a striking contrast.’
‘The huge concert at Maracanã Stadium in 1991 is one of the absolute highlights of a-ha’s career.’ says Magne Furuholmen. The chance for a-ha to play Rio again in 2015, then, was an offer the band couldn’t refuse. ‘It was just impossible to turn down this request to celebrate the festival’s 30 year history,’ Magne explains, ‘especially as it coincides with the 30 year anniversary of the band itself. This felt like I imagine it must be to hear about the 1000-year wave approaching shore; even as a retired surfer you just want to dust off your board and throw yourself into the water.’
As we reported earlier, there will be new deluxe album releases to celebrate a-ha’s 30th anniversary. As well as the Rock In Rio anniversary concert, we are also delighted to announce that Warner Music will be releasing some great a-ha packages throughout 2015. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hunting High and Low, a Super Deluxe Edition of the album with be available in June, remastered and packed full of bonus content. The much anticipated series of a-ha Deluxe albums, launched in 2010, will continue with new editions of Stay on these Roads, followed by East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Memorial Beach. East of the Sun will include a bonus disc of a-ha – Live in South America, available for the first time on DVD. 2015 will also bring LP releases of Hunting High and Low and Scoundrel Days, which are back on vinyl for the first time in years.
Tags: Brazil, Concerts, Rock In Rio