By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Through music, South Indian Veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan hopes she can help bring peace.
She has organized a short series of concerts in conjunction with the Chicago Park District. Other featured performers will include Carlo Basile (Las Guitarras de Espana), Kinan Abou-Afach from Syria on cello, Ronnie Malley from Palestine on Oudh, Bob Garrett (Sting’s The Last Ship) on Turkish frame drum/Cahon and dancers Kinnari Vora and Marissa Tapia.
Ensemble of Ragas presents "RAGA MAQAM: Project MiddleEast for a Kinder World", a concert that integrates Raga with Maqam, a musical exploration of history and a blending of cultures. There will be shows at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3, http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/RAGA-MAQAM-at-Garfield-Conservatory/; at Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 4, http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/RAGA-MAQAM-at-Chicago-Womens/; and at 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at Walsh Park Playground, 1722 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago
I had the chance to talk to Ranganathan about the music series.
Q - Great talking to you again. What is the idea behind RAGA MAQAM?
What happens when artists from Syria, Palestine, India, America and Peru meet? Raga Maqam!!
While society is getting lost more and more in battles and bullets, we would like to connect the audience to the vibrant musical landscape of parts of the Middle East as it relates to India so to rediscover and rekindle the wonderful threads of joy, love, artistry, and kindness that have been so inherent in these cultures.
Yes! There is hope. It’s a small endeavor to make people aware of the beautiful music and dance of Palestine, Syria and Turkey and at the same time blend it with Indian ragas and some Andalusian-flamenco rhythms for a new distinctive ragascape!
Q - With everything that has been happening in the world lately, are you are hoping that these concerts will help bring people together?
My goal of creating the band Surabhi and presenting different musical concepts every year is to bring diverse people together. How? I collaborate with these wonderful, accomplished musicians from multicultural backgrounds.
We create and present original works that reflect the music and dance representing our varied cultures, exploring commonalities, and embracing differences. Our audience is treated to a visually delightful array of some ancient instruments.
They get to understand related cultures and ancient musical concepts in a refreshingly artistic setting. Our idea is that they go back home with a piece of love.
Most of our performances attract a very diverse audience. Because we play on the same stage we attract an audience that is eager to explore new sounds plus those who are able to appreciate improvisational Raga music, rumba and Tabla beats, Arabian and Indian dances.
Q - How did the musical lineup come together? Have you worked with all these musicians before?
I have been working with Carlo Basile, the wonderful flamenco guitarist, for about 12 years now. I met Ronnie Malley, Chicago’s multi-talented Oudh artist, on the set of "Walt Disney’s Jungle Book" as a fellow-orchestra member at Goodman Theater!
Kinan Abou-Afach was introduced to me by Carlo about 10 years ago, and Kinan, with Syrian influences in his music, makes his cello weep! I have worked with Dhananjay Kunte on Tabla and Bob Garrett on world percussion – and they are fantastic!
Kinnari Vora and Marisela Tapia are our Indian and Peruvian dancers, who have created some exciting new choreography for our music! It’s a great line-up!
Q - I know that you've previously worked with Carlo, and that he is a fellow teacher in the Ensemble of Ragas. What do you think he brings to this project?
Carlo and I get together quite often to explore various ragas and rhythms from both of our musical systems. I try to learn rumba beats while he learns new ragas.
So it’s been a complementary partnership. He comes up with a cool groove. I compose melody for it.
We jam together and pretty soon we have a neat compositional idea. Sometimes it’s crazy - we tried to play Bach-Raga and Rumba-Taal. It’s fun!
Q - What other projects are you working on? Do you have any dream projects?
If you had asked me this a little over a year ago, I would have probably said tour the world or something like that. But now, at this juncture, in this political scenario, I would like to present our work from community to community, from city to city across the U.S.
To plant seeds of love; help rekindle that spark of warmth and laughter; joyful music and shared spirit. Life is a celebration. Bring it home.