Rasika Shekar concert in Houston: “Incredible, memorable”

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BY PRADEEP ANAND

Writing that first sentence about an incredible and memorable musical experience is always difficult.

Well, I succeeded! That first sentence has been established, and now I have to move on to explaining why I thought it was an “incredible and memorable musical experience”.

Very simply, Rasika Shekar is an exceptionally talented performer who took us into a musical ionosphere from the very first note that came out so melodiously from her flute.

And then she floated us into this sublime state with songs and compositions in so many different genres, from the energetic singing of Punjabi folk songs to the subtle moving ghazal classics of Mallika Pukhraj and Mehdi Hasan, a mix of Jagjit Singh, with his sister Hrithika Badri, and AR Rahman compositions-instrumental and vocal. And many popular songs from Bollywood movies.

And then there were Rasika’s own compositions – Departure, Uproar and others – which added a distinct jazz component to this flight on the wings of his superbly crafted music.

But what made my evening extra special was the tribute she and her band paid to a composition by a team that included the late Paco de Lucia, a Spanish flamenco guitarist and composer. He was one of the first flamenco guitarists to explore jazz by teaming up with other guitarists like John McLaughlin and Al di Meola.

I discovered John McLaughlin in the 1970s which quickly led me to the trio and Chick Correa (Piano Jazz), in a few months, and an incredible career, thereafter, in Jazz and Flamenco music which was completed by Bizet’s opera Carmen.

Around 1990, Paco de Lucia teamed up with Chick Correa and flamenco guitarist Manolo Sanlucar to compose Zyryab, which was a tribute to Ziryab, a poet and musician from the Umayyad court in Cordoba, Spain. He is often credited with introducing the Persian lute, Barbat, to Spain. This instrument then evolved into the Spanish guitar.

And Zyryab is one of my favorite musical compositions, ever. It’s just awesome.

Rasika Shekar (on her flute) and her band paid incredible tribute to this composition. They seemed to be possessed by the musical spirit of the Cordovan poet/musician of the 8th-9th centuries. It was so ethereal and sublime.

And then there was no descent from this Cloud Nine even a day later when this article was written.

Rasika sang and played on various flutes. As well as being a superb singer, having been trained in Hindustani and Carnatic vocal music, she was amazing on the flute, moving from mood to mood, phase to phase as needed, in a pleasant, powerful, subtle and complex way.

Shubh Saran was terrific on guitar, playing the lead at times, switching to the beat when needed, making the instrument sound so native and integrated into the song being performed.

Christian Li played the keyboard like a jazz piano virtuoso, with notes and improvisations that suited our stratospheric musical aura so well.

Engin Kaan Guaydin on drums and Gilber Masoor on percussion were energetic co-conspirators in this creative musical enterprise, adding subtleties of rhythm and tempo that complimented Rasika’s flute and vocal melodies.

And, in one corner, Adam Neely played bass guitar with such precision and filled out the sonic spectrum very well.

And the band members’ solos were a great expression of their art. We thought they could have gone on a little longer.

In fact, I couldn’t help but think that I could have sat and listened to Rasika Shekar and his band late into the night. When the concert ended, our hearts cried out, “Again! Bis!”

Congratulations to the Indo-American Association (IAA) for bringing this stellar spectacle to the Wortham Center, a venue worthy of this outstanding program.

More kudos to IAA for attracting stunning Indian talent to Houston and realizing its vision to create a culturally vibrant local community by expanding entertainment, education, and imagination in the region through Indian heritage arts and culture. .

The IAA schedule for the remainder of 2022 is as follows:

Rukmini Vijaykumar – Bharatanatyam, June 10, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Andean-Indian – Folk melodies, July 09, 2022, 8:00 p.m.

Dr. L. Subramaniam with the Houston Symphony, August 06, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan – SABRANG, September 10, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Ustad Shujaat Khan – While my sitar sings softly, September 24, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Ye Jo Desh Hai Mera – Let’s celebrate a thousand lights for peace, October 02, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

We look forward to enjoying these programs just as we enjoyed an evening with Rasika Shekar.

For more details, please visit www.iaahouston.org.

PS: Rasika Shekar is a chemical engineer (Rutgers University). Later, she studied jazz and flamenco music at Berklee College of Music and earned a master’s degree in performance.

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