Dublin concert unites stars of world music
By Lou Fancher
In today’s largely combative, competitive global landscape, joyful fusion that eradicates racial, economic, spiritual and social divisions without one-upmanship would be a welcoming achievement.
A crowning example of this meld-without-menace phenomenon arrives March 25 with “Soul and Spice,” a classical Indian and jazz concert at Dublin High School. Presented under the arc of Dublin’s Arts Space Grants program that offers free use of city facilities for arts organizations, East Bay Marathi Mandal hosts the all-star concert.
Featured performers include tenor saxophonist George Brooks, Grammy Awards-nominated classical Indian violinist and vocalist Kala Ramnath, pianist Osam Ezzeldin, bassist Kai Eckhardt, and percussionist Selvaganesh Vinayakram.
East Bay Marathi Mandal came into existence in 2015, and is active in arranging programs for youths, adults and seniors with the goald of bringing people together and promoting arts and culture, says member Neha Kulkarni of San Ramon.
With 400 members located in an area that extends from Sacramento through Contra Costa County to the Tri-Valley and the South Bay, the nonprofit organizes arts performances, nature hikes and community heath workshops.
Reaching a young generation to preserve ongoing enjoyment of Indian culture is a priority, a goal that is aided by Dublin’s support for diversity, Kulkarni says.
Similar serendipity happened in the life of Brooks, who emerged from conservatory music training and proceeded to blow his horn with blues giants like Etta James, Albert Collins and Roy Rogers. When his wife received a fellowship to study Indian vocal music in India, Brooks’ interest in world music led him to study with Pandit Pran Nath, a renowned North Indian vocal musician.
Back in the Unites States and living in Berkeley, he layered new music onto his established expertise while performing with minimalist composer Terry Riley. He taught at Mills College, among other Bay Area institutions, made nearly a dozen recordings, and formed and continues to perform with and compose for his large ensemble, Summit.
It is therefore natural that Brooks would attract as collaborators musicians whose homelands are in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Speaking of the approximately 90-minute concert in Dublin, Brooks says the Indian diaspora has increased the opportunities for performing Indian music.
Large cities with universities as a driving force express special interest; the Bay Area is a center of classical Indian music because of people like tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. “He moved here,” Brooks says, suggesting that Hussain’s mere presence was a groundswell force. “Indian kids learned classical Indian music and now they listen to JayZ. They want to make music of their own.”
In the same way, Brooks’ history of listening to and performing a trifecta of music caused him to better recognize and be inspired by parallels and contrasting elements in the genres. Patterns and rhythmic cycles are common to Indian ragas and minimalist music. Improvisation is shared by jazz and Indian musicians, albeit with differences.
“Jazz musicians are inspired to wander away from the original note material. They have the philosophy of freedom found by casting off all rules, saying something about yourself. Indian musicians will go deeper inside and explore the colors within a five-note scale. They appreciate the joy of that inward search into the particular expression of those notes,” Brooks said.
If melodic territory distinguishes Eastern from Western music, common ground is found in the beat. “The world’s music shares similar understanding of rhythm and time,” says Brooks. “A steady beat can be agreed upon right away.”
About the performers joining him in Dublin, Brooks says, “Kala is a rare talent. She plays a Western instrument that’s well suited to Indian music because it doesn’t have fixed pitches. it’s nice to see a powerful woman instrumentalist when there are few in classical Indian and jazz music.”
Ezzeldin, he says, is an adept, modernist performer whose early interest in Bollywood films influences his work. Eckhardt’s “love of thumb-popping funk” and humanitarian interest in healing with music informs his bass playing.
Vinayakram arrives steeped in classical traditions but has developed modern approaches that include a hybrid drum kit and complex, groove and swing sound.
The performance is not a lecture demonstration and although Brooks will explain any unusual elements, the concert will primarily feature solo, duet and ensemble playing of the world’s music.