April has come and gone, and summer is just on the horizon. The spring this year seems especially sweet after an extra long, salty winter. I have been having a blast playing music this month. It all started with a last minute call for Meeta Banerjee and myself to play "sitar and tabla music" For the U of M Center for South Asian Studies end of the year party. It was a carbon copy of the CSAS beginning of the year party. It was in the CSAS lobby in their central campus building. We were the background music as professors and students mingled and ate Mediterranean appetizers. We were having so much fun with the music it didn't matter that no one was listening and all we could see from our seats on the floor were people's butts. It was a performance setting, but the energy in the room was so scattered that there none of the pressure to "perform" for anyone but ourselves. It seems that Meeta and I don't play in that type of setting very often. It allowed us to relax, have fun, and play music however we wanted.
We played 2 sets, one was about an hour and the last one was only about 40 minutes. During the break Meeta and I got into this conversation with these two happy old Indian gentlemen about different styles of Indian music. They kept asking me about styles of Indian music that I was not familiar with, (although later Meeta told me that they were refering to the style of music we were playing!....whoops, I just always called it Bengali folk music, never learning the Bengali words for it). The conversation was a little akward, and yet very familiar to me. I have had many conversations with Indian musicians and music lovers who have a hard time understanding how I seem to know so much about tabla, and so (relatively) little about Indian folk culture. I totally understand their confusion.
I was born in the U.P., (of Michigan, not Uttar Pradesh :) I was raised in the land of the Finnish. My first introduction to Indian music was a video of Ravi Shankar and Allah Raka at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was doing research for a ninth grade english paper on Jimi Hendrix. The Indian music definitly caught my ear, but I never dreamed I would be playing it one day. It wasn't until 4 years after graduating high school that I experienced Indian classical music live for the first time. It has been all I can do to keep up with the huge amount of information associated with tabla alone. I have accepted the fact that my musical fascination with India will always be accompanied by a certain amount of cultural ignorance.
Anyway, I am getting way off track.....on to the next show.....
It was exactly two weeks after the CSAS show. It was the monthly Kirtan. It seems the Kirtan chants are growing everytime we meet. The group has been meeting at my house every Monday since January to work on chants and learn the basics of playing together in a musical group. All the extra work is definitley paying off. The chants are becoming very solid, and we are adding lots of new material, which is keeping things very interesting. I look forward to the future with this group. Even though most of the members are not very musically experienced, their work and dedication is worth any bumps in the road on the way to successful musical execution.
On the 25th of April Meeta and I played at the Neutral Zone as part of their Weapons of Musical Diversity series (WSD...get it?!). We played the same show last year, but this year was much different. First of all, they now have a nice stage and built in sound system. We were also joined by a few dance groups, so we only played for a half hour or so. It seemed too short for me, but I enjoy any chance to play. Here was the description of the show put out by the NZ:
Neutral Zone (www.neutral-zone.org), in partnership with SPARSH (www.sparshlife.org), an Ann Arbor non-profit organization which supports healthcare projects for disadvantaged children and women in India, presents an Indian Cultural Showcase featuring youth dances and music - classical as well as modern Indian pop. This show is part of the WMD (Weapons of Musical Diversity) series that Neutral Zone has presented for the second year now to bring people of all ages together for music, dance and celebration of diversity. They are able to offer this free concert with grants from Borders and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.The next day I was back at U of M's art and design building with the Gratitude Steel Band for the second year in a row. We played their graduation ceremony last year and they asked us back again. You may remember that last year the keynote speaker was Martha Reeves and we did an impromptu version of "Dancing in the Streets" that brought the house down, (check the blog archive) This year the speaker was Bob Garfield, who is a radio host on NPR for a show called "On the Media". He was extremely funny and had a great speech, but no spontanious renditions of the NPR theme or anything like that. I had not played with the steel band in a long time, so it was great to catch up and play some great music. I look forward to some shows with them in the summer.
Among the performers are youth groups from the greater Detroit area as well as Meeta Banerjee (sitar) and John Churchville (tabla). From 8:30 till close at 10 pm is a dance with a Bhangra DJ. SPARSH is presenting a potluck of Indian food.
The very next day I found myself at a beautiful farm/performance venue for something called the "Folk Wave Festival" I was playing hand drums and percussion with an Irish - type band called "Cairn to Cairn". I got hooked up with the group through bass player Rob Crozier. Terry Farmer was on the guitar and Rob's girlfriend Kelly was on flute and vocals. They put on this beautiful little concert and had artists come to show work. It was a perfect day and the venue was great. It was a nice room with a stage overlooking a beautiful back yard full of spring flowers. There were not too many people, but they all brought kids, so there was a lot of energy. The music sounded great and the people seemed to enjoy it. I had fun stepping out of the usual musical context. I have a feeling I will be playing with the group again in the near future.
That is all for this month. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!