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One stage for folk and fusion

“Our next song — Rhythm Monsters — is dedicated to all those who’ve suffered gender violence. I grew up mostly in Richmond, California and went to Richmond High School. One of my classmates, a 14-year-old girl, had a horrible experience. This is for her,” said Laura Cortese, as she sang a sombre number with her band members.

Laura Cortese and The Dance Cards, a three-member all-girl band with Laura and Mariel Vandersteel on fiddle and Valerie Thompson on cello, performed at American Center last month as part of the OneBeat programme — an initiative to take musicians aged 19 to 35 from around the world to the US for a month to write, produce and perform original compositions.

The American musicians were joined on stage by Malabika Brahma, lead vocalist and composer of Brahmya Khyapa who visited the US last year as part of OneBeat and did a two-week tour along the east coast of America right up to New York.

“That was an experience of a lifetime. I met all kinds of people. I remember this man who was so excited to see an Indian for the first time in his life. There was another girl who was keen on baul music. At the workshop I made quite a few friends. There were musicians from Lebanon, Israel and other countries. Playing together and backing each other up during performances was a great feeling. We still keep in touch and have jam sessions on Skype,” Malabika said.

Community moments are easier to come by along the east coast, reflected Mariel. A crusader for fiddle camps at the school level, she grew interested in fiddle music mostly while watching others play and listening to them. “This kind of music was popularised by Irish pubs. You’ll never believe if I tell you the size of an Irish pub. People jam in impossibly small spaces, sometimes even in their kitchens. Such things are common in Virginia and Kentucky in the US. The surroundings are more conducive to the kind of music that we do,” Mariel said.

American folk, said Valerie, is largely inspired by Scottish and Irish country music. “All three of us went to the Berklee College of Music and were part of intense training programmes. As a child, however, I grew up on the music of Bach, The Beatles, The Chieftains and the blues. I also attended summer folk camps and studied Irish step dance and American clogging. But I always knew I didn’t want to do symphony music. I wanted to do something different with my training in country folk,” she added.

For Laura, David Byrne’s How Music Works has been one of the benchmarks in musical understanding. “Though we do country and play fiddle our work is more Appalachian. We talk of the sights and sounds of the valley and the fields of the east coast. The texture and tones may be different though,” she pointed out.

As the threesome belted out everything from disco to waltz, country house to blues, Sahajiya led by Deb Chowdhury played a couple of warm-up and round-up gigs along with Sanjoy Khyapa and Malabika. “For me, this is world music. A sound where dotara, khol and ghungur melt into the notes of bass guitar, fiddle, cello and mandolin. The journey from mystic to rustic is world music in true sense,” reflected Deb.