I was at the Kennedy center millennium stage yesterday to watch a fusion concert by a band from Toronto called “AutoRickshaw”. Their website reads
“Autorickshaw is a world music ensemble that embodies the essence of new forms of expression that are emerging on the Canadian music landscape. Their integration of South Asian tradition with jazz and other popular music forms represents an innovative and refreshing new standard. “

Yes! Above was a clear Bait for me, and I took it. And let me tell you I did not regret it.

The band members - Suba Sankaran - lead vocalists and pianist, Ed Hanley on Tabla, and Rich brown on the bass. Their regular drummer Debashis Sinh was substituted. All of them were incredibly talented.

The concert started off with a fusion mix of near Thillana, with neat beat placements in semi- classical format. Yah! I thought typical start to such fusion concerts. This was followed by a Tamil song that resembled close to Kavidichhindu. It was more sentimental experience as I heard themadura Tamil in my first visit to a Kennedy center concert. The Tabla, Bass and drum parts were composed and placed tight over the melody lines.

The best part of the show was yet to come. - Jazz standards. Jazz standards are well known tunes played by Jazz musicians, something similar to Pallavis in Carnatic music. In general Jazz bands will improvise these standards using on the fly ideas. Jazz artists have full freedom to explore [or freak out] and it is very near to our Kalapana swarms in Carnatic music. The band took a jazz standard and presented it in typical Bolloywood fashion or I called it the R.D.Burman method. This was new to me; I felt the idea to be very unique. The vocalist was very fluent in mixing Jazz scats and Dance “Solukatus”. I have heard standards changed to Latin, Ska etc, however Bolloywood mix was new. Some might remember the song “Palinginal oru mAligai” this might be first the Jazz standard in Kolloywood format.

This was followed by a composition in Charukesi, It was good in places but has room for more. I also felt singer went off key in various places. She sang while playing the piano, this might have distracted her. Next one was a nice melody in Kalyani, typical Carnatic methods used over English lyrics. The concert ended with a fantastic blues about train journey from Chennai. The song took me around Chegalpattu, Maduranthagam, Villupuram till Erodre that brought back nostalgic memories.

I had an informal chat for few minutes with Suba Sankaran after the concert. She has her own recording studio and she is also a recording artist. Her parents hail from Chennai and her dad is a renowned Mirudagam Vidwan Trichy Sankaran, a popular and famous musician from Tamil Nadu. Dr. Sankaran is the Founding Director of Indian music studies and Professor of Music at York University, Toronto, Canada.

The only concern I had in the whole concert was off-key issue. The “Simon side” of my brain kept pushing me about this every now and then. Still over all package was neat, the band has unique and inspirational ideas that should be encouraged; Their CDs are available here. Music has no Language, Borders, Culture barriers, AutoRickshaw is another example.

Good day!.