Global Voices: International House to Host South Asian Music Ensemble


Global Voices Metcalf Intern

On Sunday, March 4, International House at the University of Chicago will host the South Asian Music Ensemble, a special repertory ensemble in the University of Chicago Department of Music. The South Asian Music Ensemble explores a range of musical traditions drawn from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and other South Asian diasporas. The 2017-2018 Season features a raga- and tala-based repertoire of North and South Indian classical music. For the upcoming performance at International House, directors Minu Pasupathi and Bertie Kibreah will incorporate classical, vernacular, and popular song styles from the Indian Subcontinent.

The concert features a rich variety of both student and community-member talent. Bertie Kibreah remarks, “It’s one of the challenges but also the joys of ensemble. We are not only open to students, but also members of the community in Hyde Park.” Student members come from all areas of study and musical experience level, from beginner to professional. Some members are of Indian background, and grew up immersed in the tradition, while others had no experience with the genre before joining the ensemble.

The diversity of ensemble members is complemented by the musical complexity brought to the stage by directors Minu Pasupathi and Bertie Kibreah. While Ms. Pasupathi is an expert in the South Indian Carnatic style and focuses primarily on vocals, Mr. Kibreah brings his knowledge of Hindustani, a Northern Indian style of music, and his instrumental skill on the tabla, a Northern Indian drum. Together, they seek to unify these two traditions of classical music which have been “separate and have run parallel for centuries.” In addition to these two unique styles of classical music, the ensemble hopes to expose the audience to a range of various texts, languages, and instruments within the North and South Indian classical traditions; however, with Mr. Kibreah’s entrance into the program, the ensemble has incorporated a variety of genres, from pop music to folk, to its repertoire as well.

This concert will showcase the different regional interpretations of the raga- and tala-based repertoires; that is to say, how each classical tradition utilizes raga or the melodic framework and tala, the rhythmic underpinnings, and combines them into one piece. This concert offers audience members the opportunity to explore the variation between these two aspects of music and observe how these building blocks interact to create a unique and recognizable style.

The comprehensive and far-reaching scope of this performance, both in terms of time period and location of origin, continues the Global Voices’ Performing Arts and Lecture Series’ history of bringing different cultural experiences to Hyde Park and fostering greater understanding between people. Mr. Kibreah attaches a special significance to interacting with Indian culture through the musical medium, “it’s very approachable, yet quite different; you don’t have to understand every aspect of it to appreciate it, which you can’t say about a lot of [art music traditions]”. He himself did not become interested in Indian classical music until the end of high school despite growing up with the genre and taking music lessons as a child.

The International House performance will introduce audience members to this rich tradition, and allow them to interact with a medley of musical styles. Mr. Kibreah’s training as a musicologist has lead him to explore variations of Indian classical music in his work with the ensemble. The upcoming concert’s focus on folk-classical music will give members of the University of Chicago and Hyde Park communities an opportunity to explore not only the traditional body of Indian classical music, but also less known styles.

The South Asian Music Ensemble Concert will take place on Sunday, March 4th at 2:00PM in the International House Assembly Hall. A reception with the musicians will follow at 3:00PM and will feature a short sitar performance by Maestro Aloke Dasgupta. This event is free and open to the public.

The South Asian Music Ensemble Concert is presented by the International House Global Voices Performing Arts Series and the Department of Music, and is supported in part by the Birendra K. and Anila Sinha Fund for Indian Performing Arts at International House. For more information about other Global Voices Events and co-sponsorship opportunities, or for persons with disabilities who may require assistance, please contact Mary Beth DeStefano at (773)753-2274 or