Dr. L. Subramaniam’s Global Fusion Knows No Borders

It was 1988, I was living in New York. Mira Nair’s award-winning movie Salaam Bombay! had just been released. I remember its strong impact on me and how I was riveted by the poignant and highly effective soundtrack which gave it another dimension. The score was by Dr. L. Subramaniam, the esteemed master of Karnatic (South Indian) violin.

Here’s the trailer for Salaam Bombay! with music by Dr. L. Subramaniam.

Exploring further, I discovered not only Subramaniam’s Indian classical recordings, but also his East/West fusion works and cross-cultural collaborations. The recipient of many awards since a young age, and equally trained in classical Indian and Western music, Dr. L. Subramaniam is a prolific recording artist who has worked with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell, Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi Menuhin, Ali Akbar Khan, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke, Zubin Mehta, and the New York Philharmonic, to name a few.

Watch Subramaniam and Yehudi Menuhin performing together.

Watch a jugalbandi (duet) of Hindustani and Karnatic music featuring Ali Akbar Khan and Subramaniam.

In 1999, L. Subramaniam’s Global Fusion was released on the Detour label; it featured Balinese Kecak chant, Japanese koto, Chinese erhu, Spanish guitar, Australian didgeridoo, tabla, percussion, keyboards, and bass. Each of the cultures represented retained its distinctive language, yet conversed harmoniously with South Indian music. It was an enticing and original global fusion that got a lot of airplay on my KPFK radio show. The Global Fusion project’s live concerts have had many incarnations over the years featuring varying musicians from different parts of the globe.

So when Corky Siegel called me to propose a concert of Dr. L. Subramaniam in which he was also taking part, I did not hesitate. Siegel is a virtuoso harmonica player who has performed with his Chamber Blues ensemble at the Skirball. I had not heard the two musicians play together, but was confident of their respective talents and capabilities. In the mastery of their instruments and openness for exploration, they have plenty in common.

Siegel and Subramaniam were introduced through their mutual friend Jim Bessman, writer for Billboard magazine. Mani (as Subramaniam is affectionately called by his friends) was eager for Corky to perform with him at a concert in Chicago. Corky was hesitant, not being sure of how the two musical idioms could work together, but Mani would not take no for an answer and showed up at his door in Chicago with a piece (“Lullaby”) he had composed for Siegel. Corky not only performed at the concert but went on to tour with Mani in India, the U.S., and Qatar. Siegel says both the challenge and the reward are to bring the blues to Indian music while keeping it exciting and avoiding getting lost in technicalities.

“Once,” says Corky, “Mani gave me a piece of music that was beyond my grasp. He said to me, ‘Corky, I didn’t hire you to play every note, I hired you because you make people happy.’ That’s how I understand what we are all doing in the band. It is very important to have technical correctness but not to let that be a burden. The bottom line is how are we making people feel? And how do we feel? My understanding is that Indian music and instruments have been specifically designed for going to the heart of feelings and to heal.”

Dr. L. Subramaniam could not agree more. In the CD liner notes of Global Fusion he writes: “The philosophy of ‘Global fusion’ is ‘promoting peace and harmony through music.’ The essence of ‘Global fusion’ is blending and combining without losing anything. We are all different in our wonderful ways, we are still human and just as all our music is different, the base is the same.”

If you love great music and musicianship, then you won’t want to miss the rare opportunity to experience Dr. L. Subramaniam’s Global Fusion at the Skirball on Friday, February 22, 8:00 p.m., featuring master blues harmonica player Corky Siegel, violinist Ambi Subramaniam, keyboardist Vasanth Vaseegaran, guitarist Mark Sgagna, bassist Jerry Watts, and drummer Russell Miller.

Here’s a clip from a performance in Toronto.

Posted in Music, Recommendations and tagged .

About Yatrika Shah-Rais

Born in Iran, Skirball Music Director Yatrika Shah-Rais studied and lived in the U.K. and France before moving to the U.S. in 1984. Tune in to Yatrika every Wednesday morning when she hosts "Global Village" on KPFK 91.5 FM. What is she listening to right now? I am currently enthralled by Ethiopian jazz pianist Samuel Yirga and his album Guzo. With every new post by Yatrika, we'll update her profile to share the latest and greatest from her personal playlist.

One thought on “Dr. L. Subramaniam’s Global Fusion Knows No Borders

  1. Dearest Yatrika,

    I’m honored that Dr. L. Subramaniam would invite me to work with him. I’m honored that you invited me back to the Skirball for a 2nd time. And I’m honored that you would write so kindly about my involvement in Global Fusion in the Skirblog. Thank you so much for your great great work in helping to bring worlds together in the many ways you do. It was great to see you and spend a little time with that glow that surrounds you and uplifts everyone around. It was also meaningful to Holly and I that we were your first and last presentation at the Skirball.

    Hope we can work together again sometime soon. Yours, Corky Siegel

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