Friday, June 1, 2007

Graduates: Suba Sankaran

Published in North York Post. [June 2007]

A fusion reaction
Sounds of the world unite

Report Card:
Student: Suba Sankaran
Graduated: Earl Haig Secondary School, 1993
Best Subjects: Music, Dance, Drama
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Vocalist for autorickshaw

It takes some people nearly a lifetime to find their calling. Suba Sankaran found hers at the age of four.

While at the Nava Ratri Festival in Connecticut, she got her first taste of life as a performer. She sang God Save the Queen in Sanskrit lyrics.

"That was my first time thinking that I can see myself doing this," she says.

Today, as the vocalist for the acclaimed Toronto-based world music ensemble autorickshaw, Sankaran has been making a name for herself throughout the city recording tunes that fuse Indian music with modern sounds for radio, theatre and film.

Sankaran grew up in a musical family. Her family is Trichy Sankaran, a man who is widely considered to be among the top players of the Indian percussion instrument the mrdangam.

Once at Earl Haig, Sankaran found like-minded musicians who were into similar kinds of experimentation.

"I had a rock band. It was a Queen cover band. We were named Racial Harmony, and we did the whole battle of the bands thing," she says. "I remember that we worked hard to do the whole orchestra thing for Bohemian Rhapsody."

After leavin Earl Haig,she's branched out with as many musical projects as possible. Though her main focus, autorickshaw, is what she's best known for in the city.

Now on their third album, autorickshaw has a comfortable repertoire: which is either "steeped in Indian music and taken to a modern place or rooted in more contemporary music, like jazz or pop or funk," Sankaran says.

In addition to autorickshaw, you can find Sankaran on stage with a number of different projects.

She works with her father's band, Trichy's Trio, which has a more traditional South Indian classical repertoire. As well as a group called Nathaniel Dett Chorale.

"It's an Afro-centric gospel chamber choir based out of Toronto led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor," she says. "We sang for Nelson Mandella, Bishop Desmond Tutu and for Peter Gabriel."

Sankaran is full of fun stories but admits that the life of a self-sufficient musician can be difficult. "As an artist, you want to be creating," she says. "But I spend more of my time doing e-mails and corresponding with people, working out rehearsal schedules and things like that as opposed to just sitting down and playing."

Of course, considering all of the happy and unique experiences she has had as a musician, she is still optimistic.

"Never give up. You never know which person or what contact is going to lead you to the next person," she says. "Keep trying and keep asking questions. Don't be shy because there's no harm in asking somebody who may know the answer or may lead you to a person who knows the true answer."

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