Out of India: a family affair

Internationally renowned master percussionist and York music Professor Trichy Sankaran will share the stage with his daughter, York alumna Suba Sankaran (BFA ’97, MFA ’02), and her ensemble autorickshaw, on Sept. 10 at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

Now in its 13th year, the festival consistently garners high praise from international critics for presenting the most compelling, innovative performers in jazz and creative improvised music. The Sankarans’ concert fits that mould with a dynamic double bill bringing traditional and contemporary Indian music together on one stage.

Left: Trichy Sankaran

Trichy Sankaran, an acclaimed mrdangam (South Indian drum) performer, is an award-winning teacher and director of Indian music studies at York University. He has earned worldwide recognition for his artistry. Considered one of the musical form’s most esteemed ambassadors, he is credited with having raised the mrdangam and kanjira (South Indian frame drum) to the status of solo instruments.

Like any proud father, Sankaran is thrilled to be sharing the stage with his daughter. “There are certain fundamentals to parenting: you have to be there, you have to love, you have to care, you have to guide and you have to discipline, boost and cheer. With Suba, it has all been wonderful,” said Sankaran. “She has blossomed into a very fine musician and I’m very proud of her work.”

Suba Sankaran is poised to carry forward her father’s legacy as a creative and influential figure on the world music scene. Her three-year-old Toronto-based band, autorickshaw, stands on the cutting edge as one of the most intriguing acts in Canada’s intercultural musical landscape.

Right: Suba Sankaran

The younger Sankaran is looking forward to the event and the opportunity to showcase their shared love of music. “It has been, is, and always will be, an absolute pleasure working with my father. In my family life there has always been a fine line between the father/daughter relationship and the guru/disciple relationship because I’ve studied with him all my life,” said Suba. “When we share the stage, I just hope to keep up, musically speaking! There is an alchemy – a very magical, unspoken dialogue that occurs when we share the stage. I think of it like a laser beam between the two of us. It is truly a sacred space to share, and I am always honoured to be a part of that.”

Billed as an Indo-jazz ensemble, autorickshaw’s compositions use Indian classical rhythms and melodies as a departure point, infused with elements of improv and jazz. The band features Suba Sankaran on keyboard and vocals, with tabla player Ed Hanley, bassist Rich Brown and Debashis Sinha, a specialist in percussion from the Arab music world. Kevin Breit, known internationally for his work with Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson, will join autorickshaw for their Guelph performance. The ensemble has released two CDs, including the 2004 Juno-nominated World Music Album of the Year, Four Higher.

Left: autorickshaw

The senior Sankaran has introduced many Western musicians and audiences to the intricacies and beauty of Karnatak music, the traditional classical music of South India. He has been featured in solo performances and broadcasts on several continents, and tours regularly with Karnatak artists in North America as well as India. He also frequently performs with jazz, electronic and world music ensembles, and is well known for his compositions for Toronto’s contemporary gamelan ensemble, The Evergreen Club. His recordings include Laya Vinyas (1990), Sunada (1993), Lotus Signatures (1997) and Ivory Ganesh Meets Doctor Drums (1998).

This is just the latest in a series of musical collaborations between this formidable father/daughter duo. Most recently, Sankaran appeared with autorickshaw at the Sound Symposium in St. Johns, Nfld. in July.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.