By ERIC SCHELKOPF
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 España, Intercultural Music Production, the Ishti Collective, and Massamba Diop, the Senegalese talking drummer from the 2018 Marvel Studios film "Black Panther."
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.