By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Chicago is not only the city of big shoulders, it is also a city of many cultures.
"Surabhi: A Melting Pot of Music" brings together musicians and dancers from the city’s flamenco and Indian music scenes. Surabhi features dual leads Saraswathi Ranganathan on the South Indian Veena and Carlo Basile on flamenco guitar.
"Surabhi: A Melting Pot of Music" will take place from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. July 9 in the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago. Admission is free and the event is open to all ages.
I had the chance to Sara and Carlo about the upcoming show.
Q - Great to talk to the both of you. Want made you want to be a part of an event like this?
Carlo: For me, I have always enjoyed our collaborations of Indian and Spanish guitar music. When we add the dance element from both cultures, it's even more enjoyable.
Sara: When the City of Chicago was calling for proposals, I thought it would be wonderful to present artistic music that will appeal to a cross cultural audience, which is what our collaboration has been about, all along.
And sure enough we were part of a few music groups handpicked to be on this fun event. The event is also about bringing in artistic music to areas of the city that have restricted access to our kind of music and dance.
So, it all worked out!
Q - Sara, I know that your mother introduced you to the Veena when you were 6 years old. Was it a hard instrument to learn? I know you also teach classes. What is some of the advice that you give to your students?
Sara: Interestingly the Veena, much like the piano, is the first 'go to' beginner instrument for learning South Indian Carnatic music (at least it used to be when I was learning). The frets (like the keys) are pretty straightforward and simple to learn at the beginner level.
But to master the instrument, get the microtones and subtle intonations - and to be able to 'vocalize' the sound is very challenging. I tell my students to listen to a lot of good music, practice and to be in love with it.
So over time, their love and patience will be amply rewarded!
Q - Sara, you have earned many rave reviews for your musicianship. What have you tried to do that separates you from other Veena players?
Sara: I endeavor to keep myself open to different sounds from multiple musical genres. Plus my own strong foundation in South Indian classical music helps with deeper understanding of these various genres.
This approach has helped me with presenting a unique versatile side of the Veena that has a more global presence. In fact it is perhaps one of the reasons I was the first Veena player to be picked for the "Jungle Book" musical directed by Mary Zimmerman.
It's the first time a Veena artist has been featured in an off Broadway show!
Q - Carlo, your flamenco guitar playing also has earned you rave reviews. How do you think your playing has evolved since you first started? What do you think makes you stand out from other players?
Carlo: I actually specialize more in Spanish classical guitar and I received a master's degree in that area. However, I have studied flamenco in Spain as well as R&B styles here in Chicago.
I also have been to Africa (Morocco, Senegal, Mali) and other places to learn more guitar styles too. So, I think I might just now be feeling like I have enough materials to create, compose and collaborate at a fairly high level.
I also feel like I am willing to take some "musical risks" (for better or worse). So, perhaps, all of those things might make me stand out a bit from other players.
Q - Carlo, you also collaborate with other musicians on a regular basis, such as your work in the production "Cascabel" and in the group Las Guitarras de Espana. Do you prefer working on your own or with other people, or do you need both in your life?
Carlo: I need both! Just when you get tired of working by yourself, it's fun to revisit some old collaborations and, perhaps, pick up where you left off. Then it's nice to be alone again.
Perhaps, some time to study again. Then the creative cycle starts again...and so on.
Q - What is next for the both of you? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
Carlo: I have really been blessed to take some of these collaborations so far. I have a wonderful family of musician friends from African, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, and Arabic cultures to work on new projects with. I am sure something will come up!
Sara: My goal has always been to put the Veena up there on the international map. To that end I have been giving individual as well as collaborative presentations.
I have a few projects that I am working on which are in the initial stages of taking shape. I am also excited about the upcoming World Music festival this fall.
I am grateful for my experience working with talented artistes in my collaborative work!