Inside the Austin DIY Raga Labs!

BY AMBAL BALAKRISHNAN

It all starts with an idea. During one of our numerous chats, my sister-in-law Rema said she and I should collaborate and bring DIY RagaLabs to Austin. Rema’s daughter Shakthi was part of Indian Raga Labs twice before, both times in Houston. It was our desire to put Austin on the map of Indian Raga!

That is how our fun, exhilarating and enriching journey started.

We reached out to Sriram who gave us a green signal and enthusiastic thumbs up. He also forwarded us a super-organized email with information on how to put together a DIY Raga Labs. He also introduced us to Shantala Rao who was person behind the Bangalore Raga Labs. Shantala spent an hour with us over skype and poured so much valuable and practical tips (planning, giving creative license to participants etc) on how to put together a successful lab. Rema and I also reached out to our buddy Sangeetha Sampath who is a carnatic musician and participant in Bay Area Raga Labs.

From Day 1, Rema knew that our local multi-talented artist Poornima Rao should be the Creative Director. Poornima is a “vainika” and vocalist, originally from Mysore area who has collaborated with local teams on creative productions. Her work with Stage Sanchar was quite amazing, as any Austinite lucky to have watched the show would tell you. Rema said Poornima has a natural knack of bringing out the best in children, and with that our stars lined up for the next step.

Over the next few weeks, we short listed participants. Rema reached out to parents and we set up a first intro meeting. From the first meeting, the chemistry between the young participants and the Creative Director was obvious.

Next for next month,  Poornima ran 2-3 hours practice sessions over the weekends.  Every attempt, the participants came together better. The violinists practiced together themselves to ensure they are in full sync with the singers. Families took turns hosting the meetings.  There was much laughter and fun. There was chai, chaat and chats.

When we got ready to do the audio recording…it was almost bitter sweet. Because, all of us realized that the weekend meetings are drawing to a close. We recorded over 5 hours in Dan Benkmens studio.

Rema and Poornima spent several hours in Dan’s studio finalizing the audio for the video recording the subsequent weekend.

We completed the video recording on one of the docks on the Colorado River. One of the parents was kind enough to help us through the reservation process for using this gorgeous location. We were fortunate to have some professional photography by Balaji Janakiraman, who is one of the parents of the lab participants.

Throughout this journey, Sriram was always just an email away. He responded back to our queries promptly. He gave such great and candid feedback on the audio and video recording to polish it off.

I’ll miss hanging out with the DIY Austin Raga Labs group. However, all good things must come to an end.

Or should it?  Rema already has some more ideas and plans. I wonder what fun project we’ll collaborate on next!