Autorickshaw: a musical vehicle

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A singer on stage standing in front of her mic, eyes closed and clapping her hands. On her left, a percussionist is sitting on the floor with his instruments and on her right, a musician is playing bass. © Autorickshaw

This May, celebrate Asian Heritage Month, and bring joy to your students with a fusion of contemporary jazz, funk, folk and Indian music

A virtual mini-series featuring Autorickshaw, a Canadian-based band that blends jazz, funk, folk, and Indian music to create their own signature sound, will be available on the Arts Alive website from April 18 to May 31. With the profound desire to inspire the future generations, we are offering this free series that includes a concert-on-demand, a live teacher's workshop, and a live Q&A session with students. We met Suba Sankaran, the lead singer of the band, and, for a moment, dove into Autorickshaw’s Universe.

Q. Autorickshaw offers a fusion of contemporary jazz, funk, folk, and Indian music. What is the inspiration behind this blended genre?

Suba: We chose the name Autorickshaw because it’s a compound word: the Auto is the automatic part created in more modern times with the three-wheeled motorized taxi which is the most common mode of transportation now in India; the rickshaw refers to the traditional hand-pulled or cycle-rickshaw as an early mode of transportation in and around Asian cultures.  So, Autorickshaw is a blend of traditional North and South Asian music fused with modern folk, funk, pop, jazz, and other influences. Autorickshaw is a musical vehicle for us, pardon the pun. The blended genre comes from our upbringing in a multicultural hub like Toronto and the cultural mosaic that it’s famous for.

Q. We know that the members of Autorickshaw are committed to their role as music educators. Where does this desire come from and why?

Suba: Giving entertainment, with insight, has been the life-blood for Autorickshaw alongside performing. Each member of Autorickshaw comes from a long line of musicians and teachers and doctors and so on. So, I think there’s an underlying desire to educate, to inspire, to encourage people to ask questions and especially to take the veil off the so-called “exotism” of our music and our brand of fusion. This music is necessarily complex, so having some knowledge and insights of the music and the fusion that we create hopefully gives a deeper understanding and more enjoyment when listening.

Q. From April 18 to May 31, an Autorickshaw concert-on-demand will be available to schools for free. What will the viewers experience during this concert?

Suba: Viewers will get up close and personal with the trio. They’ll be presented with a snapshot of Autorickshaw’s brand of fusion, traditional classical repertoire with a modern flair, fiery Indo-originals, offerings of jazz, folk, funk, and other contemporary elements with ample opportunity to learn about the subject matter and sing along as well.

Q. This Autorickshaw mini-series will include a live workshop for teachers. What will they be able to learn and what was your intention behind its creation?

Suba: The live workshop for teachers is intended to give instructors a sense of the roots and underpinning of South-Indian classical music and our unique fusion as well. Including elements of melody, rhythm, vocal percussion and the math and architecture behind the music that we present.

Q. On May 25, Autorickshaw will host a live event on Zoom where students will be able to ask questions to you and your band. Why was this important to you to have this live Q&A session?

Suba: It’s very important to have a live Q&A for so many reasons. Firstly, it gives the students a real-time opportunity to get to know the artists and ask them pressing questions right after they have experienced them on stage and in concert. Secondly, in this time of this global pandemic, I think a Q&A gives a sense of direct connection and community. We’re creating a global village in that moment. Lastly, we hope to inspire these students to continue learning music, to further their studies and to investigate and inquire if they are interested in the subject matter.

Q. What would you like students and teachers take away from this series

Suba:  We want to give students and teachers our sense of joy as we present the music that has shaped us as musicians and as human beings. Music can be a tool for communication, expression, emotion, and a cultural identifier. For me personally, Autorickshaw is a vehicle that has allowed me to find my own voice in the context of our beautiful and diverse city of Toronto with all its influences. So, we are happy to share our unique brand of fusion and hope the viewers will learn something new, appreciate new cultures and blended genres and find joy and inspiration in our presentation.

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