Soothing sounds slated for The Linda in Albany

Veena Chandra plays the sitar and son Devesh the tabla in this photo taken from video.
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Veena Chandra plays the sitar and son Devesh the tabla in this photo taken from video.

Soothing sounds of the sitar will fill The Linda on Sunday as part of a new series presented by New York Folklore and WAMC.

The three-part showcase, which will continue in February and March, highlights traditional musicians and artists from around the globe who call the Capital Region home. It was born out of NY Folklore’s Mohawk Hudson Festival that took place in October.

“When we did the festival, we had 50 artists in the space of just a few hours performing and we really wanted to give the musicians some time to really shine,” said folklorist Anne Rappaport, who organized the concert series.

The first show in the series, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Sunday, will feature Pakastani music brought to the stage by a trio including Shaman Raphael, Daniel Walayat and Aurelius John. The latter plays the dholak, dhol and tabla. Raphael plays harmonium (or pump organ) and Walayat joins on the keyboard.

Latham’s Veena Chandra and her son Devesh Chandra are up next, welcoming audience members to join a long-held family tradition.

“Every evening, our tradition is to still down and play some music together so on Sunday we’ll basically be doing that at The Linda,” said Devesh, who plays tabla.

Veena has been playing the sitar since she was a child, growing up in India. She was first taught and inspired by her father before going on to study with other sitar players, including the late Ustad Vilayat Khan Saheb.

After moving to the Capital Region more than 30 years ago, she founded the Dance and Music School of India and has spent decades teaching students of all ages how to play the sitar, along with classical singing, dance and more. Beyond that, she’s taught at Skidmore College since 1990. Both she and Devesh teach at Williams College.

With the pandemic, nearly all of their classes through their Dance and Music School have been online and chances to perform live and in-person have been far and few between. However, since April of 2020, nearly every Thursday Veena’s performed sitar on Facebook Live, sharing a new raag, or improvised melody, each week.

“We thought instead of worrying about it too much we could put our focus on some of our music,” Veena said.

It’s perhaps the perfect type of music to share at this time.

“The sound of the sitar is very peaceful,” Veena said. That’s often how people describe their mood after listening to the Chandras play, though for Veena, it goes beyond peaceful.

“For me, it’s more than relaxing. It’s a very blissful state of mind that I reach by playing. So it’s part of my life. I feel very good when I play,” Veena said. “For us, it’s like a spiritual journey much more than just entertainment.”

Traditional Indian music is improvised, often opening with a few melodic phrases in free time and building upon those with the introduction of a pulse or rhythm. Veena and Devesh also respond to the audience and their surroundings when they perform so they don’t often come to a performance with a setlist.

“Mostly what happens is when we get on the stage we know exactly what we should be doing because we see the audience . . . that’s how we decide which raag we are going to be bringing,” Veena said. “I’m considering a couple of raags but it may change when I get up on the stage because it has to connect to the public also.”

“When we perform we want you to feel like you’re in our living room,” Devesh said. “That intimate feeling is how Indian music is meant to be absorbed. So in a concert, whether we’re playing in a large hall or a smaller space, we want you to feel like you’re in our living room listening to us.”

“You sort of go on this ride with us through a melody and you experience it in a lot of the same similar ways that we do. It’s longer-form music for sure, it’s not like 3-minute songs, but through it, we take you on an experience.”

The show also highlights the work that the Chandras are doing to preserve and promote traditional Indian music in the Capital Region, for which Veena has won many awards over the years.

“It’s something that is lived,” said Devesh. “We’re performing it on Sunday but we live it. I think that’s important for an audience, especially an audience that’s coming to see a folk art [show] to understand that this is a part of the artist’s life that they’re sharing with you.”

The series will continue on Feb. is 13 with Patrick Kasong and the Wa Lika Band. The performers for the March showcase have yet to be announced.

“These talents are all over the Capital Region, whether they’re doing these things professionally or not. I hope that the Capital Region community, in general, is made aware of these incredible musicians,” Rappaport said.

Tickets for Sunday’s show are $10. For more information visit NYFolklore.org or TheLinda.org.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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