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Hail Auto

A three-wheeled vehicle with a two-stroke engine,the autorickshaw is the motif of middle India. Autorickshaw’s is also a sound that Canadians are learning to love.

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
December 21, 2009 3:51:38 am

Toronto-based Suba Sankaran and her band Autorickshaw are making themselves heard

A three-wheeled vehicle with a two-stroke engine,the autorickshaw is the motif of middle India. Autorickshaw’s is also a sound that Canadians are learning to love. We are not talking about the tuk-tuk echoing on the streets outside,but the extraordinary resonance of a Toronto-based band called Autorickshaw headed by Suba Sankaran.

Of Indian origin,Sankaran’s music is steeped in the traditions of north and south Indian classical music,but she brings to play elements of jazz,funk,and pop and bits of folk. Sankaran — whose album So the Journey Goes was nominated for a Juno Award in the World Music Album category in 2007 and whose band was named one of Toronto’s top five jazz acts — is now coming home.

Their latest song City of Lakes is for Bhopal — a tribute to the victims of the gas tragedy 25 years ago. “The single is now available for download and the proceeds will go to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal which treats the survivors,” says Sankaran,34.

How did the band get its name? “Autorickshaw is a blend of modern and traditional elements,so is our band. Therefore,it was the perfect name for our musical vehicle,pardon the pun!” laughs Sankaran.

She began by learning Carnatic music from her father — the mridangam virtuoso Trichy Sankaran — at the age of seven. And even in Canada,where her father had moved to in the early 1970s,she decided that she wanted to be a Carnatic singer. That changed with exposure to western classical music,some rigorous training in piano and jazz and the meeting with the percussionist Ed Stanley. “When I met Ed,we hit it off well musically,it was a unique combo of jazz and Carnatic classical,” says Sankaran.

The band has two drummers — Patrick Graham and Stanley — and the bassist Rich Brown. They collaborate with brass bands,string quartets,choirs and even play with the mridangam and the kanjira. “We have a sparse sound and an open sonic environment that is ripe for collaboration,” she says. Sankaran has also worked with Deepa Mehta on a radio play called Funny Boy.

The band is now working towards their next full-length album and has gigs lined up in India next year. Keep your ears open.

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