Who: Garaj Mahal
When: Monday, Dec. 29, doors at 9 p.m.
What do you get when you mix upbeat jazz improv with a Middle Eastern feel and American funk? Garaj Mahal.
The foursome is Fareed Haque on sitar and guitar, Kai Eckhardt on bass, Eric Levy on keyboards, and Alan Hertz at the drums. The group came together in 2000, after Haque and Hertz met through a mutual friend in management, who thought their sounds would be good together. Hertz was good friends with Eckhardt, Levy was one of Haque’s top students, and from there, everything just fell into place.
“It was a very easy, natural fit,” Haque reflected.
Their sound immediately meshed, with the foursome walking into the studio to record their first album, Mondo Garaj , just after meeting.
“There was a lot of magic in terms of the chemistry before all four members of the band,” he said.
But they’ve also clocked a lot of hours building and developing their unique sounds, and trying to ensure that they stay fresh and on their game. While each comes from a unique musical background, they share a lot of common interests.
“Kai is, of course, African and German in his heritage. I’m South American and Pakistani in my heritage, so we’re both people of colour, and that has its certain connection,” Haque pointed out. “But we’ve both been pretty heavily interested in Indian music, and I think that’s common with everybody. We’re all musicians who have a good understanding of jazz, are very interested in Indian music, but add to that, we all like to have a good time, we like to party, and we like music that is fun and funky.”
According to Haque, these fun and funky elements, which are an essential part of jazz music, have faded away as the genre has evolved.
“I think a lot of people associate creativity with this kind of angst-ridden, painful, soul-searching process,” he said.
That definitely isn’t the approach that Garaj Mahal takes with their music; instead, they’re busy keeping the party alive. Even their name lends itself well to the party atmosphere and feeling.
“When we originally started the band, we didn’t have a name, and we held a little informal contest on our website, and we had about 800 name submissions.”
Garaj Mahal came out on top.
“It was the one that rung the most true, because we were kind of loose and funky and a little raw — garaj — but then we were also interested in the elegant, spiritual and more formal complexities — so mahal,” Haque explained.