Itís Underground

The Bharat bandh on Wednesday didn't stop music enthusiasts from listening to the Brooklyn-based Neel Murgai Ensemble perform for the first time in India, at the India Habitat Centre. Playing raga-chamber-jazz, a curious combination of Indian classical, jazz and minimalist music, the group comprises frontman Neel Murgai who plays the sitar, Ehren Hanson, on the tabla and Camila Celin on the guitar. Murgai, Hansen and Celin are musicians based in New York, who in 2010, formed The Neel Murgai Ensemble.

Last year, the group , along with a bunch of Indian classical musicians from all over the world, formed an impromptu, underground music community, called Brooklyn Raga Massive in New York. They get together once a week to perform at a local bar.

The first piece of the evening was a composition by Murgai, in Raag Yaman, where the guitar, the tabla and the sitar were alternating between intense harmonies and breezy sounds. One could tell that most of Murgai's solos were improvised, while Celin's acoustics aided his soulful sitar melodies in a song titled Charukeshi Monday. Hansen's tabla picked up pace as the ensemble was joined by their fourth accompanist, Asha MacCarthy, on the cello, who added a pensive, almost melancholic touch.

The fifth member, Fakhroddin Ghaffari, accompanied them on the zarb, an African percussion instrument, in a jazzy number titled Panchitantra. They were clearly teasing the audience with their varying melodies ó sometimes contemplative, and sometimes playful. Their final performance was an original composition by Murgai, called Spaghetti Eastern, which was a musical version of "a funky raga-singing cowboy".

The team is planning an India tour next year.

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