Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM) is a talented collective of “like-minded, forward thinking musicians rooted in Indian classical music.” BRM performed to a packed house at the BRIC House Ballroom in Brooklyn on October 11th as part of BRIC Jazzfest, and I went to see them there for the first time. They gave all of us in the audience that evening a delicious musical treat- after doing the same for elementary school kids earlier in the same day.
South Asian-Western fusion has become trendy in music, food, fine art, cinema, architecture, or fashion. However, attempts at getting it right often fall disappointingly flat. For every superb example such as Slumdog Millionaire, there could be a Bride and Prejudice type of disappointment. Or a real hot mess, such as Trump Taj Mahal, which finally was put out of its misery this month.
Fusing jazz and raga, two radically divergent musical traditions into something that sounds good and makes sense is an extremely difficult feat. Brooklyn Raga Massive Jazz Messengers pulled off this feat with aplomb.
The set included instrumental numbers that can very broadly be placed into three categories, the first being American jazz classics covers with a hint of Hindustani or Karnatik influence including Indian instruments such as tabla (Indian hand drums) and bansuri (Indian flute) performing side by side with piano, bass, Western drum set, saxophone, and violin. The second category is adapting both jazz and Indian musical theories into originally written BRM songs. Thirdly, and in my opinion easily the best category, the group jammed out to primarily Indian raga music with Western influences on the edges, such as energetic drum set solos and string instrument strumming.
While not exactly a band, the ethnically diverse members of the collective who performed together were very much on rhythm as well as on tune. Having played both the tabla and drum set in my day, I could feel how tight the sections were with each other. I cannot reiterate how difficult and impressive it is to pull this disparate group of forces and people into a cohesive whole. The audience itself, as you can expect, was also quite the mixed group of people.
Many fans of rock, jazz, or raga would be able to enjoy BRM’s work. I was joined by a motley crew of multicolored friends and everyone had fun. There is something for just about everyone in BRM performances, and I expect to attend more. It doesn’t hurt that they play in very cool venue spaces such as the Pioneer Works gallery, museum atriums, SXSW, and elegant concert halls. I commend the sponsors NYC Media & Entertainment, TD Bank, and 88.3fm WBGO.org for putting on the show to expose new and old listeners alike to free and fantastic live music which cannot easily be heard elsewhere. Isn’t there something nice to be said for an inclusive, collaborative music effort in these times of political vitriol? Could it mean that just maybe, the good guys are winning?
Performers at the recital:
Sameer Gupta – drums
Pawan Benjamin – saxophone
Arun Ramamurthy – violin
Jay Gandhi – bansuri
Sharik Hasan – piano
Rashaan Carter – bass
Just a few of many BRM videos for you to enjoy: