Ganavya Doraiswamy & Rajna Swaminathan confront historical oppressions with a fusion of jazz and Carnatic music | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Ganavya Doraiswamy & Rajna Swaminathan confront historical oppressions with a fusion of jazz and Carnatic music 

click to enlarge Ganavya Doraiswamy & Rajna Swaminathan

Ganavya Doraiswamy & Rajna Swaminathan

Adrien H. Tillmann

The works of Ganavya Doraiswamy and Rajna Swaminathan offer a highly personal take on Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) that seamlessly blends ideas from different time periods and genres. On Doraiswamy’s debut album, 2018’s Aikyam: Onnu (Yāttirai), the vocalist and composer suffuses jazz standards such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Hoagy Carmichael's “Skylark” with a spirit all her own, singing in a mix of English and Tamil, using styles beholden to the tradition of vocal jazz as well as to Carnatic music, and interweaving the material with Tamil anticolonial songs and Indian spirituals. The eloquence with which she merges these systems highlights her interest in addressing caste-based oppression and makes a provocative invitation for us to consider the commonalities between different cultures. On her 2019 album Of Agency and Abstraction (Biophilia), Swaminathan plays the mridangam, a traditional double-headed drum, with an ensemble that sometimes includes Doraiswamy, creating jazz pieces that draw from Carnatic music to bolster their restless tension and invigorating energy. At their duo performance at this year’s Frequency Festival (booked by former Reader staff writer Peter Margasak), Doraiswamy and Swaminathan will fluidly move between their own original compositions, devotional poems, Buddhist texts, and jazz standards. Their music tackles historical systems of oppression, and they aim to explore these social realities in a manner that provides opportunities for healing. Expect musically and thematically multifaceted works that open up a space for deep contemplation.   v

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