Ragas Live Festival: A Confluence of Classical Music from Around the World


24 Hour Concert in Brooklyn, New York.

An outdoor musical fusion performance by Brooklyn Raga Massive at Festival 2021 at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Adrien Tillman, courtesy of Neel Murgai

“Indian classical music, at its best, is a spiritual and transcendent experience. What we at ‘Ragas Live Festival’ are trying to offer is a blend of the inside and the outside of tradition. We create an atmosphere that welcomes audiences from all cultures, that is fun, exciting and new and attracts a very dynamic audience,” David Ellenbogen, the Festival’s founder, told News India Times.

“Indian classical Hindustani music has a long tradition of night concerts in India, Pakistan and South Asian countries. Ragas Live is an extension of that,” Neel Murgai of Brooklyn Raga Massive told News India Times. “The particularity of this festival is that listeners will connect with the time of day. The outdoor atmosphere will allow watching the sunrise and sunset as the appropriate raga plays. It becomes a shared global experience of focusing on sound,” added Murgai.


The “Ragas Live Festival” (the Festival) will be held in person this year on October 22 and 23 at the Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. Presented by Pioneer Works in collaboration with Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM) and the Society for Arts and Culture of South Asia, the 24-hour concert will include performances on sitar, veena, bansuri, sarangi and classical vocal singing as well than other classical music. other cultures.

David Ellenbogen, musician and founder of the Ragas Live Festival at left and Neel Murgai, musician and creative director of Brooklyn Raga Massive at right, on stage before their performance. Photo credit: Adrien Tillman, courtesy of Neel Murgai

The highlight of this year’s Festival will be a sarod-dependent performance by Manik Khan to celebrate the 100e centenary of his father, Ali Akbar Khan. The Festival will also bring to New York for the first time Parvathy Baul, representative of mystical Baul music from West Bengal. In 24 hours, audiences will also hear famed Carnatic artist Sid Sriram, Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, Iraqi maqam Hamid AlSaadi, analog synthesizer Qasim Naqvi, multi-instrumentalist Kroba Zachary Koeber, Carnatic performer Arun Ramanurthy and trance of Gnawa. music performer Samir Langus with his ensemble of Moroccan and New York musicians.

Ellenbogen has been a musician and radio host on WKCR radio since 1997. The Raga Festival started in 2012 on radio as an all-volunteer effort and had 50 musicians in its first year. “Our goal was to provide the world with the time cycle of the raga,” Ellenbogen said. The festival received a huge response from around the world.

In 2016, the Festival became an in-person event, with radio broadcasting and live streaming. It was produced remotely in 2020 during the pandemic, featuring 90 musicians from 15 countries. “There were artists from Rajasthan in Rajasthan, artists in Chennai, Zakir Hussain in San Francisco and Riley in Japan,” Ellenbogen said. “We had the most outreach that year, reaching around 80,000 people,” he said.

Pioneer Works, which presented the festival, was founded by artist Dustin Yellin and is a nonprofit cultural center in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with a mission to build community through the arts and sciences. The South Asian Arts and Culture Society is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and supports South Asian arts and nonprofit organizations. BRM, the festival collaborator, is a non-profit organization in New York. “We had a community of like-minded, raga-infused musicians who wanted to experiment. We had weekly concerts and jam sessions and we came to participate at the start of the Festival,” he said. BRM’s approach to Indian classical music is not traditionalist. Believing in free form, its artists perform traditional classical music, but also explore and perform music in a spirit of openness and unison with different cultures and traditions.

Murgai, the creative director of BRM is a sitarist, overtone singer, percussionist, composer, teacher, co-artistic director of BRM, and plays original Indian classical music while experimenting with contemporary cross-cultural collaborations. As an artist, he has worked with many artists and ensembles at different venues including Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, David Letterman Show, jazz clubs and music festivals across the United States. BRM continues to expand the audience for Indian classical music in New York. City, and was awarded “A Raga Renaissance Flowering in Brooklyn” by The New York Times

Raga was the very essence of the Festival. Ragas are the melodies of Indian classical music that have a precise structure built around its 7-sour solfeggio ‘sa re ga ma pa dha ni’. A key feature of Ragas is that each one is meant to be played at a particular time of day or night, enhancing and illustrating the mood.

Ellenbogen and Murgai’s fascination with Ragas began with a trip to India. Ellenbogen had traveled in 2007 to Calcutta. “I studied with Debashish Bhatacharya who is one of the greatest guitarists in the world,” he said. After returning from India, he continued to host Radio New York, now inviting Indian classical music artists with added passion. “What drew me to Indian classical music was the unique spiritual and mystical experience I had while listening to Ali Akbar Khan’s ‘Legacy’,” Ellenbogen said.

Murgai’s introduction to Indian classical music was gradual. He grew up listening to Hindustani classical music, mainly ghazals. He said he later learned a lot about music from other cultures when he hosted an international music show on college radio. Murgai was playing guitar at the time, but was drawn to the sitar his friend played. Wanting to pursue Indian classical music, he went to live in India for a year where he learned sitar and Indian classical music from Pundit Ravindra Goswami in Benaras. For over 25 years he studied in New York with his visiting guru Pundit Krishna Bhatt.

Murgai also plays ‘daf’ and has studied overtone singing, overtone choral singing and Western composition. He has composed music for films, TV shows, videos, and theater and dance projects. He leads workshops, lectures and demonstrations in New York schools and colleges, and teaches Indian classical music to children through his group Raga Kids. His BRM holds weekly concerts and jam sessions at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn. Music can become a life, not just a career, according to Murgai. “You have to have a deep passion and work hard and study and practice all the time,” he said.

‘The Ragas Live Festival’ will begin at 8:00 p.m. on October 22 and end at 8:00 p.m. on October 23 at the Pioneer Works in Reed Hook, Brooklyn. Pioneer Works can be reached by F train and B61 bus or by South Brooklyn Ferry to Red Hook. Concert tickets can be purchased at https://pioneerworks.org/programs/ragas-live-2022. More information can be obtained on the website https://www.ragaslive.com. The event will be broadcast on www.wkcr.org and on 89.9 FM NY and can be streamed live on www.ragaslive.com.

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