East Meets Western Suburbs
Aashish Khan, a master of the 25-stringed Indian instrument called the sarod, moved to Naperville last year to establish a school called the Academy of Indian Music. He’s moving rather slowly toward his goal: at the moment he has ten students who receive private lessons in a sprawling vacant house in Oak Brook belonging to one of his former pupils.
Khan is one of the greatest practitioners of northern Indian (or Hindustani) classical music in the world, and is more than qualified to run his own academy. But his qualifications are both a blessing and a curse. He’s the son of famous sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, and his pedigree stretches all the way back to Mian Tansen, a musician in the court of the 16th-century Indian emperor Akbar. Indian musicians traditionally pass their knowledge down to their children, but Ali Akbar pushed music education into the public sphere, founding the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta. In 1955 he came to the U.S. at the behest of violinist Yehudi Menuhin, released the first Western recording of Indian classical music, and became the first Indian musician to perform on American TV. By the mid-60s he was spending most of his time here, and in 1967 he launched a branch of his school in San Rafael, California. It’s still the most prestigious institution devoted to Indian music in the United States.
Aashish, 61, was 5 when he began training under his grandfather Allauddin Khan, considered by many musicologists to be the greatest Indian musician of the modern era. At 28 he joined his father in California to help out at the school, and subsequently made his own debut on the global stage. In 1968 he formed the raga-rock group Shanti–which later featured the young tabla whiz Zakir Hussain, who’d go on to play with John McLaughlin’s Shakti–and contributed to George Harrison’s first solo album, Wonderwall Music. Over the next several decades he gave solo recitals all over the world, released numerous recordings, and worked with musicians from a wide range of backgrounds, including Alice Coltrane, Eric Clapton, and the Philadelphia String Quartet. “I think I can understand the blending of Eastern and Western music better than any Indian musician,” he says.
But his relationship to Ali Akbar has always shaded his accomplishments. “I’ve always been overshadowed by my father and I’m always compared to him,” he says. “I just try to overlook it.” He says he perceived the need for a good Indian music school away from the west coast, and hopes that founding his own school will give him the chance to forge his own identity. He hopes it will let him tour less regularly, too. “I want to devote more time to teaching,” he says. “I’m growing old, and traveling is so hectic these days with all of the security checks and carrying an instrument like the sarod. I just want to settle down in one place and teach my students.”
Meanwhile Aashish is also teaching a class at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where he’ll give his first major recital since moving to town. The performance, on Sunday at 4 PM, features tabla master Swapan Chaudhuri and is part of the World Music Festival; see the pullout guide in this section for more details. Those interested in taking lessons from Khan can call him at 630-841-1200 or E-mail him at Sarode2000@yahoo.com.
Last week the INS denied the great Brazilian singer Lenine a visa because his band hadn’t been together long enough, preventing him from making his U.S. debut at the World Music Festival, but his popular countryman Chico Cesar played a sold-out show at the Old Town School last Saturday. These two dynamic performers are just the tip of the iceberg: Brazil continues to produce some of the most inventive pop artists in the world, and in the last few months several of them have released albums that creatively blend traditional and contemporary styles from Brazil and beyond.
Marisa Monte, now a veteran of the catchall genre known as MPB (musica popular brasileira), hasn’t gone as blatantly high-tech as young artists like Daude and Pedro Luis, but her superb new album, Memories, Chronicles and Declarations of Love (Metro Blue), is as boldly produced (by Monte and Arto Lindsay) as anything they’ve done. Monte’s gorgeous voice contrasts wonderfully with Carlinhos Brown’s stripped-down Carnaval percussion and Melvin Gibbs’s fuzzed-out bass on tunes by Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, and Paulinho Da Viola as well as a raft of sensuously catchy originals.
Lucas Santtana, who cowrote one of Monte’s new songs and plays on several tracks, has also released his own giddy, energetic debut album, Eletro Ben Dodo (Natasha), in which he brings the funk (as well as some electronics-enhanced grooves) to Brazilian forms like samba and afoxe (percussive Carnaval music). At one point he even revamps James Brown’s “Doing It to Death” for an arrangement featuring the berimbau, the twangy bow used in the musical martial art known as capoeira.
Santtana and a whole lot of other contemporary Brazilian pop musicians were influenced by the late Chico Science, the inventor of mangue beat, a style that fused native rhythms like maracatu and ciranda with hip-hop, heavy metal, and funk. Science made only two albums before he died in a car wreck in 1997, but his band, Nacao Zumbi, has regrouped and released Radio S.amb.a. (Stern’s), which honors his legacy by moving forward in the direction he pioneered: over dense polyrhythmic percussion, club beats, spare funk and rock guitars, twitchy bass, and splatters of coloristic samples, vocalist Pixel 3000 sing-raps with a fury that transcends language barriers.
Send gripes, leads, and love letters to Peter Margasak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.