LOVELL: Pioneer Works is a three story warehouse on a dead end street in Red Hook. And now on Wednesday nights the place is filled with the sounds of Raga music.
These half of a dozen musicians are part of a group that calls itself The Brooklyn Raga Massive. Raga is a key part of traditional northern Indian classical music. It relies heavily on sitars, tabla drums, bamboo flutes and a type of singing that is less about words and more about vocalization.
Brooklyn Raga Massive is trying to bring raga to new audiences, so tonight on what would have been George Harrison’s 73rd birthday. They’re playing Beatles songs, raga style to a packed house of about 150 people.
LOVELL: Beatles raga style makes sense, since George Harrison brought Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar to the west, that spirit of musical crossover is what inspired Sameer Gupta to co-found The Brooklyn Raga Massive. He loves things like this where they are mixing electric guitars with sitars.
GUPTA: It’s not like two separate colors that are put together it’s actually like one new color that’s made.And that to me I feel like with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. I like the collaborative spirit, to me it comes out very beautifully
LOVELL: And the colors aren’t just in the music. A huge projector behind the stage displays psychedelic images and colorful abstract art set in time to the music. And while most are sitting on chairs some are laying on carpets – eyes closed.
THOMAS: I’ve been following them for about a year now.
LOVELL: Lowell Thomas has been following them from their early days in dive bars to venues like this.
THOMAS: This is a very big leap from where they were, just even nine months ago.
LOVELL: Gupta formed The Brooklyn Raga Massive because the classical Indian music scene felt fragmented.
GUPTS: A lot of red tape and a lot of like things to jump hoops and climb up things.We were missing each other and we weren’t having that chance to feel like we were all in this together in New York.
LOVELL Samir Chatterjee has been an Indian Classical musician and teacher for decades. He says raga is not just music, it’s a feeling that inspires.
CHATTERJEE: It is meant to color the mind. So one day a raga can appear as very romantic , the other day it can just evoke the quality of peace and tranquility.
LOVELL: Brooklyn Massive co-founder, Samir Gupta agrees. Yet the group takes it a step further.
GUPTA: It’s the idea the acknowledging that the music can bring you to a higher level, it can elevate your consciousness and bring you closer to something spiritual. But there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, there is no like – those parts about it are no longer relevant I think and raga massive embraces that.
LOVELL: Brooklyn Raga Massive residency continues on Wednesday nights at Pioneer Works. Amina Lovell, Columbia Radio News