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Surabhi Ensemble connects Chicago’s global music community to far corners of the world 

By Catalina Maria Johnson


Chicago Reader Concert Preview 8/8/2019



The Surabhi Ensemble was founded in 2010 by Indian veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan, director of the Ensemble of Ragas School of Performing Arts in Schaumburg and “Best Asian Entertainer of the Year,” according to the 2018 Chicago Music Awards. The core of the group has included fellow local musical luminaries such as Spanish flamenco guitarist Carlo Basile, tabla master Dhananjay Kunte, and percussionist Bob Garrett. About five years ago, the Surabhi Ensemble expanded to include oud player Ronnie Malley and bassist Greg Neergard, and more recently it’s incorporated modern and Indian dancer Kinnari Vora and flamenco dancer Leticia Aravena. Along with virtuosic musicianship, the Surabhi Ensemble is known for its activist mission: to demonstrate connections between cultures and how togetherness can create positivity. Earlier this year, the Surabhi Ensemble brought its art and message to Vietnam, Portugal, Spain, and Senegal through the group’s Global Peace Tour, performing in schools, community and immigrant centers, and concert venues, and collaborating with local artists along the way. This concert celebrates the collaborations that occurred during the tour. Along with the core musicians and dancers, joining the Surabhi Ensemble onstage will be two guests who performed with it during its travels: master mridangam artist Ragavan Sai of Chennai, India, who joined the group in Vietnam, and talking-drum master Massamba Diop (whose work appears on the Black Panther soundtrack), who hosted the band in Dakar, Senegal. A third guest musician for this concert is Tokyo-born Chicago violinist Emi Tanabe, who will improvise on a number of pieces and add some traditional Japanese melodies to the program. The ensemble will debut some new collaborative works, including a veil dance by Basile, Garrett, and Vora that combines original music and dance with a traditional Hindustani raga and improvised sections that should highlight Sai and Diop. Other pieces will showcase the Surabhi Ensemble’s delicately textured fusions, shaded with pulsing oud notes, shimmering veena chords, and crystalline Arabic-influenced flamenco guitar, all backed by tapestries of rolling, intricate percussion and accompanied by architectural dance forms. A background video will display moments from the tour, while the group itself shares the fruits of a journey that connected the best of Chicago’s global sounds with musical cultures in other parts of the world.   

Mission Statement: 

The mission of the Surabhi Ensemble is to demonstrate the connections between cultures and to teach a positive message of togetherness in creating, performing, and demonstrating new works of music and dance. Members of the group work in many settings such as schools, hospitals, theaters, concert halls, festivals, refugee organizations, neighborhood parks, and cultural centers to bring this positive message of cultural unity and outreach. 


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