Saturday, June 17, 2023

Chicago-based Surabhi Ensemble will premiere new work during upcoming show at City Winery in Chicago


The Chicago-based Surabhi Ensemble wants to use its music to show how we are all connected.

Surabhi Ensemble will perform at 8 p.m. June 26 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Joining the ensemble will be members of Sones de Mexico, Las Guitarras de EspaƱa, Intercultural Music Production, the Ishti Collective, and Massamba Diop, the Senegalese talking drummer from the 2018 Marvel Studios film "Black Panther."

For tickets and more information, go to Surabhi Ensemble’s website at

I had the chance to talk to bandleader and Spanish guitarist Carlo Basile about the show.


Q – I know the June 26 show at City Winery is a tribute to talking drum master Mamadou Tama (Modou Sarr), who passed away recently. Did you ever work with him and if you did, what did you value the most about him?
Yes, I worked with Modou personally and with him via Surabhi Ensemble. Modou came alive whenever and wherever he performed. 

He always brought his A game and I loved that about him. If you listen to the Surabhi tracks ”Raga Blues,” “Malifarka,” and “Swan Song” you will hear his drum, his voice, and his skill on the talking drum. 
Q – During the show, I know Surabhi Ensemble will be premiering new work and previewing material for a 2024 tour of India. What are you looking forward to on that tour?
We are currently discussing many options and fortunately we have already received many invitations to perform in Gujarat, Pune, Bangalore, Goa, and Chennai. We will see how the logistics allow us to make as many quality performances in India as possible.

But this will happen in late 2024 and early 2025. I am most looking forward to really getting a more in-depth knowledge of the regions in India.

We have so many people in our group and on the ground helping us, I feel like it will be memorable and very special. 
Q – I know you were part of Surabhi Ensemble's 2019 tour of Vietnam, Spain, Portugal and Senegal. What was it like being part of that tour and what were the highlights for you?



That 2019 Tour was pre-COVID of course and totally magical in many ways. We made a very convoluted itinerary happen and really connected with each culture we visited.

Just one highlight was visiting and performing in a small Portuguese town. As we ended our performance, the entire audience stood up and sang a local folk song in our honor. 

It was an emotional moment and unforgettable moment for all of us. 
Q – You yourself have traveled to more than 30 countries to perform, teach and study Spanish and ethnic guitar styles. It seems like you have used your music to show people that we are all connected to each other.
I used to be a social worker and I’ve realized that, either consciously or unconsciously, I continue to do social work with my music. For sure, the music and dance provides opportunity to make connections. 

Those connections continue when we put our instruments down as well. 
Q – Last year, Surabhi Ensemble debuted "Scenes From the Pandemic" at the Chicago World Music Festival. What would you like for people to take away from that particular piece of work?
Globally, we all experienced the pandemic in many ways. We got together as a family in the Surabhi Ensemble and wrote down some of the emotions we experienced in the last three years.

Then we created music and dance pieces to depict those emotions. We added video and multimedia elements, as well. 

We hope that folks can see this work and relate. We hope that it inspires thought and healing as well. This work will continue to evolve. 

Q – You have worked with so many people over the years. Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?
I really enjoy working with the Surabhi family. I would say that I look forward to other collaborations as they happen naturally through our travels and curiosity. 

I don’t consider myself to be virtuoso or perfectionist by any means. But I have just enough skills to find common ground with other artists whom I've met along the way. 

I like that feeling. I try to find artists who have a common world view…to me that’s more important than working with any famous artist or virtuoso. But it might be fun to do something with Peter Gabriel.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Aurora native Nick Wiesner to celebrate release of new album with CD release party at The Venue in Aurora


Singer-songwriter Nick Wiesner hopes that his music helps people through their struggles.

The 21-year-old Aurora native is set to release his debut studio album, “Valerie Blaine,” on June 23. To celebrate the release of the album, Wiesner will perform at 8 p.m. June 23 at The Venue, 21 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Aurora.

Also on the bill is Mirabelle Skipworth and The Brink Of. General admission tickets are $10, available at The Venue’s website,

I had the chance to Wiesner about the new album.


Q – Great talking to you. I understand this is your debut studio album. What was it like to make an album in a studio this time around?

It was so surreal. I just got to work with so many people who were just so professional and so committed to putting their all into this project.

Q – Where did you make your debut album, “Flight”?

That was made in a spare room/garage of one of my friends. It was just one mike and no drums.

Q – And your EP, “Growing Up,” where was that made?

That was made in my bedroom.

Q – And that was released in May 2020 and comprised of songs that you wrote during the COVID-19 quarantine. So I guess it made sense that you made the album in your bedroom.

Yeah, that was kind of intentional. I wanted to share the quarantine experience that I was having. I was in high school at the time.

Q – Does your debut studio album, “Valerie Blaine,” have guest musicians on it?

Yes. I think there are close to 15 people who ended up contributing in some way.

Q – So I understand the album is named for a person who you never met before that person unfortunately passed away.

It’s a very unfortunate story, but it is what inspired the whole album, really. About two years ago, when I was finishing high school, I was also going through some very challenging mental illness struggles.

It’s a pretty big focus on the album. That’s essentially what this album is for, suicide prevention.

Because I struggled with that near the end of my high school experience. That’s actually why I started writing the song “Valerie Blaine,” because I made it through an attempt. The first verse is about me and my experiences.

I learned about a fellow high school student who had committed suicide like the day after I started writing that song. So the rest of that song after that first verse is dedicated to him.

I chose the name Valerie Blaine because I didn’t want to share his name. That’s not my information to share.

But I wanted it to be a specific name because it’s a very personal issue. Everybody deals with it differently and nobody can truly know how anybody else is feeling.

I made it a fictional person so it can apply to everybody who deals with it, but in a broad spectrum.

Q – I understand that you consider “Valerie Blaine” to be the most personal album you have released.

Yes, which says a lot, because I don’t really write music that doesn’t have at least some sort of personal connection.

Q – And of course Mirabelle Skipworth is on the bill with you at The Venue. I know she is originally from the area.

She is like the reason I am a musician today, actually. They used to run an open mike night at Tredwell Coffee in downtown Aurora, which unfortunately, is now closed.

Mirabelle heard me perform at Tredwell and she told me she thought I was really good and that she thought she could get me some gigs.

Q – That’s nice when musicians can come together like that.

Yeah, and she’s all about that.

Q – Ultimately, what would you like your music to do for people?

If people are struggling, they can listen to the songs and feel heard. They might not necessarily feel all better right away, but just feel justified in their sadness or justified in their struggles.