A Raga Grows In Brooklyn
1. Brooklyn: NYC’s largest and coolest borough.
2. Raga: One of the ancient traditional melodic patterns, or modes, in Indian music
3. Massive: Add 1 and 2!
Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM), formed in the fall of 2011, is a true collaboration. It is a huge
community of Indian Classic Music artists who perform in different permutations for
enthusiasts and new fans alike.
“I think part of the mission of the Raga Massive is to demystify Indian music,” says
Eric Fraser, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, music therapist, and founding member.
“It’s not like this thing that has to be presented in a certain sort of way. We do everything from pure classical, to very meditative, to a party vibe. It’s a living tradition.”
The Massive mission is to “expand the Indian music audience by breaking conventional formalities,” explains Eric, which is managed by the artists.
The network of in the collective numbers over 40 members. Other founders of BRM
include Neel Murgai (sitar), Sameer Gupta and Ehren Hanson (table drums), Camila Celin (sarod), and Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu (violins). “We’ve also had people from India come through,” notes Eric. ‘Grade-A musicians are writing to book sets with us. “
Fraser plays the bansuri, a transverse flute made from a hollow bamboo shaft with six to seven holes. “It’s so beautiful sounding,” says Fraser of the instrument. “I started on the bansuri in 2003, with my guru Pandit Gopal Roy in Kolkata, India. I thought when I started playing that I wasn’t going to be a hardcore Indian music player, and so the flute was more universal. But then I found my teacher, and I became fully involved. Indian music is about the relationship with your teacher, and the feeling of the Raga.”
The musicians performed “Bansuri Ragas” in Brooklyn at the beginning of July at Bluebird on Flatbush Avenue. “There’s a time period with Ragas,” Fraser explains. “Some are meant to played in the morning, others between midnight and 3am.”
The concert began after 8pm, so the first piece performed, Raga Maulkauns, is one designed to be played late in the day because it has a cooling effect.
The traditional format is to do something meditative in the beginning. The beat is called a taal; Maulkauns began in ektaal, or 12 beats.
“Things become much more ecstatic as the pace picks up,” promised Fraser, and they did, moving to teentaal, or 16 beats. The second piece was the sweeping Raga Desh. I was mesmerized by the sounds of Fraser's lilting bansuri and by Anirban’s prodigious hand work on the tablas; his fingers went so fast that they literally blurred like fan blades before my eyes.
Raga can be presented in many different ways. “The rhythm cycles are the choice of
True to its name, BRM has achieved massive local popularity, with the audience—and
sometimes the stage—often packed to capacity. “We’ve done a piece by Terry Riley called In C," Fraser said. “This is designed to be played by as many musicians as you can gather. We’ve had up to 30 people playing at the same time—sitars, tablas, dulcimers, flutes, sarods, violins, vocals, everything!”
You can see BRM at Bluebird “every Wednesday until the end of time!” said Fraser. In the meantime, learn more about BRM and buy the music. A digital compilation, Brooklyn Raga Massive Compilation Volume 1, is available by clicking here.