Newspaper article International New York Times

A Raga Renaissance Flourishes ; Nonprofit Collective Is Helping to Revive Indian Classical Genre

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Raga Renaissance Flourishes ; Nonprofit Collective Is Helping to Revive Indian Classical Genre

Article excerpt

A nonprofit collective is helping to revive an Indian classical music genre.

The jeweled raiment and serene kohl-rimmed eyes of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, were projected on a screen behind the stage one recent evening at Pioneer Works, the exhibition and performance space in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

With an ensemble that blended Western instruments and traditional Indian ones, the tabla and sarod, two vocalists -- Roopa Mahadevan, wearing a glittery silver sari, and Haleh Kilmer, in dark jeans and boots -- sang selections including a tribute to the goddess rendered by Ms. Mahadevan in the haunting melismatic style of southern India. The evening celebrated Indian female cultural figures as well as the female members of the Brooklyn Raga Massive, a dynamic nonprofit collaborative formed in 2012 with a mission to expose new audiences to Indian classical music.

Such weekly events highlight different elements of the raga, the backbone of Indian music, and conclude with lively late-night jam sessions in which any musician who observes the house rules is welcome to participate. The Massive's free-floating operations are a vital part of a flowering of Indian music in New York.

On April 6, the collective will offer a birthday tribute to Ravi Shankar, the influential sitar player who collaborated with Western musicians including the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal. Mr. Shankar's impact led The New York Times in 1966 to declare that the raga was "becoming a rage in America," although it deemed it a "curious fad." The Massive refers to its current contemporary movement as a raga renaissance.

Yet according to Par Neiburger, the artistic director of the World Music Institute, the Massive is unusual in that, in contrast to the top-down traditionalist approach of most Indian musical organizations, with loyalty to individual teachers and a guru- disciple hierarchy, its structure is free-form and democratic.

"There is a lot of improvisation in Indian classical music," Mr. Neiburger said. "But the basic forms lend themselves to a tradition that is kept intact and hasn't really been modernized in any extreme way."

Recent events presented by the Massive at Pioneer Works, where the collaborative is in residence until April 27, have included explorations of the Hindustani music of northern India; Indian film and dance; a collaboration with African musicians like the Malian singer Awa Sangho; and a tribute to George Harrison and the Beatles. Coming events include an exploration of Carnatic music, the idiom of southern India, on Tuesday, March 29, and, on April 13, a lineup mixing Cuban rhythms with raga melodies.

The Massive has also explored the influence of Indian music on Western classical composers like Terry Riley, performing his "In C," a Minimalist work from 1964, last year at the Rubin Museum; a recording on the Northern Spy Records label is due out later this year. …

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