by Brendan Howe
“We dedicate this music to mother figures who work selflessly to build families and communities, to artists and creators who love passionately and live fearlessly, and to the marginalized and oppressed groups of people who sing of stars,” reads the dedication statement for Brooklyn-based chamber group Karavika’s sophomore album, Of Earth and Sky.
Indeed, Karavika’s significance to their community comes through in this album, which was funded by friends and fans on Indiegogo following their 2012 debut. They have given back by hosting children’s workshops at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, performing regularly on Carnatic Sundays at Cornelia Street Café, as well as in the Brooklyn Raga Massive – a leading organization in the Raga, or Indian classical, renaissance.
With lively, inventive arrangements, Karavika provides space for new ways to think about fusion music. Sri Lankan, Indian, and folk music of the Americas are all in evidence from the outset.
The opening track, entitled Your Passing Touch, presents a walk-down chord progression over which Trina Basu’s violin and Amali Premawardhana’s cello lead the ensemble in a sweeping melodic line, dovetailing dramatically over an energetic tabla performance by guest musician Advait Shah. A short breather, and Perry Wortman’s mandolin takes the lead with a prominent mandolin that alternates between blues and Raga styles.
They continue into an arrangement of the lullaby, All the Pretty Horses, in which Basu and Premawardhana’s voices join in raw, unprocessed harmony, lending an intimate feel to the track. Sameer Gupta imparts his expertise on tabla while violin and cello pizzicati build a dark, American folk-inspired atmosphere.
Basu and Premawardhana’s chemistry in most notable on Raga Behag, as they complement each other like sisters forming a single musical expression from their two instruments. It is a refreshing and reaffirming arrangement with a strong sense of purpose.
As the album goes on, many guest musicians add new sonic layers to the experience – Carnatic vocals, a bamboo flute called the bansuri, another violin, and an Indian drum called a mridangam. The group excels at creating a sense of perpetual motion and communal harmony, with each instrument boldly featured and lending support as each piece unfolds. For Karavika, Of Earth and Sky has truly been a labor of love.