Autorickshaw (Tala-Wallah Records)
The word autorickshaw sums up this Toronto quintet’s musical repertoire. When I used the search word
autorickshaw, I found a handful of sites that sold just that, motorized rickshaws. We forgot sometimes that
India despite it’s ancient traditions does also have a contemporary side. On one hand, visitors of the country
can still partake in the old way, by riding in a rickshaw that is pedaled by a human or take a ride in a more
modern vehicle. The Canadian group Autorickshaw, not to be confused with modern Indian transportation
reflects on the musical diversity that a city such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver have to offer. And part of
that musical diversity includes musicians trained in both jazz and classical Indian traditions. You would be
surprised how many similarities these two genres share. For instance, jazz and classical Indian music both
rely heavily on improvisation, syncopation and the analytical mind. I first encountered Autorickshaw performing a set with Harry Manx and Tantra at the Vancouver Folk Music
Festival. Vocalist Suba Sankaran had pulled out a steamy jazz standard in which she added a few vocal tricks
of her own. To say that she left me speechless is an understatement. In the past, she worked with her father,
the mrdangam master, Trichy Sankaran and she trained as a classical singer and pianist. She eventually took
up jazz and working with choirs or contributing to a film soundtrack. This eventually led her to work with tabla
player Ed Hanley (an exceptionally talented musician). Also appearing on the recording are Dylan Bell and
Rich Brown on bass as well as, percussionist Debashis Sinha.
The first track, Ganamurthy hails from south India and represents the Carnatic tradition with the exception of
the bass guitar and tabla that embellish the song. Ganamurthy which praises Lord Krishna is a raga originally
composed by the 18th Century saint composer Thyagaraja in Adi tala (8 beat cycle). Kapi-Wallah translates
to either raga or coffee merchant. And the musicians drank lots of coffee when recording this challenging
piece. It is also a Carnatic raga that was commissioned by choreographer Natasha Bakht, thus marks the first
musical collaboration for the ensemble of musicians and the birth of Autorickshaw. Cloudscape/Monsoon
ventures into jazz territory and features Suba on piano and vocals, Ed on percussion, Debashis on drums and
Dylan on bass. Cloudscape/Monsoon shows off Suba’s jazzy vocals and piano chops while recalling the work
of Charlie Parker.
Sammi Ninne, a traditional varnam composed by Karoor Devudu (Sree raga) again features the 8 beat cycle,
but brings in the tabla thus marrying the north and south Indian classical styles. Ikat highlights Ed’s tabla
prowess. And the final track, Sunrise fused Indian and Indonesian music using the 8 beat cycle. The
recording features tabla tarang (a set of three tabla tuned to different pitches), kanjira, bass and vocals.
Autorickshaw brings in all their musical influences from classical Indian, classical and jazz music without
succumbing to creating Asian fusion music or chill out music like their UK contemporaries. The music on this
recording possesses an organic quality that emphasizes the musicians’ talents and passion for different types
of music. This CD marks the debut of a group that has only been around a year or so, but if it is any indication
of future projects, Autorickshaw will be leaving listeners speechless for years to come. Hailing from Ontario,
the home of the late Glenn Gould, Autorickshaw might also be called virtuoso and certainly unique.
Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.