When Shankh Lahiri arrived in Tampa 11 years ago, he set out to find “like-minded” people – skilled musicians who were open to fusing Indian classical music with electric jazz, blues and funk.
The result was WAHH World Fusion Band, one of the Bay Area’s most unique ensembles. Music is performed on sitar, electric guitar, bass, drums and tabla.
The band is performing Saturday at the Palladium Theater.
Tabla is a hand drum used in Indian classical music. Lahiri grew up in India and studied with some of the instrument’s masters.
“I come from a family of musicians,” he explains. “My father was a sitar player; it brought students from the United States and Europe, and since childhood I was exposed to different types of music, jazz and blues and African and Cuban music.
He spent several months a year based in New York, traveling the country and the world, playing with top players from East and West.
“I was doing a bit here and there, playing with other musicians, but starting a band? It’s a big responsibility. It’s like introducing a new baby into the world.
But that’s what he did when he arrived in the Bay Area. WAHH – this is an Indian exclamation, a kind of “Wow!” — began when Lahiri met Tampa musician Ray Villadonga. “He was very interested in world music and world culture, and had an interest in collaborating with Eastern musicians,” Lahiri recalls. “He was very interested in starting something.”
Villadonga played bass and other instruments as part of WAAH. He and Lahiri composed much of the music.
He died of cancer in 2017, recording one final album with the band – Brother Ray – in several marathon sessions of 12 hours.
For Lahiri, who runs the Shruti Foundation & Shruti School of Music, a Tampa music school, concert promotion company and cultural organization, his vision for this type of group could only be realized in the United States.
“If I had wanted to do only traditional music, I could have stayed in India,” he says. “It’s the best place to play traditional music.”
Although several main players have stayed the course, some of the musicians who perform with WAAH are transitional. It’s particularly difficult, according to Lahiri, to locate world-class sitar players in Florida.
Kunad Hari, who will play sitar at the Palladium, recently moved from New York to the Orlando area.
The other musicians will be Peter Mongaya (guitar), Seth Lynn (bass), Thomas Griggs (guitar) and Michael Washington (drums). Guianna Brave is the voice artist. The music is a clever mix of jazz structure, improvisation and Hindustani sounds, resplendent with their raga mood swings and their unique musical subtleties (micro-notes and micro-rhythms).
Bandleader Lahiri also contributes additional vocals and percussion, as well as his fleet-fingered tabla work.
“The tabla is not a very loud instrument,” he explains, “so the mix is very important – how you mix with drums, bass and guitar.
“I have to work with very particular drummers who understand that I play silent instruments!”
The tickets are here.