Take a spiritual voyage with an angelic guide and hard-hitting electronic guitar riffs.

Kabir Café, a unique and oh-so-eclectic Indian folk fusion ensemble, will perform at Flushing Town Hall on Friday, June 14, at 8 p.m.

It’s super fun.

The Mumbai-based group mixes poetry by 15th century mystic Kabir with vibrant Malawian folk tunes and the discipline of Carnatic music, which derives from devotional songs in southern India. Then the sound is topped with rock-and-roll’s gritty energy.

The story behind the band is easiest told in three phases. First, there was Kabir, one of India’s first progressive voices. As with many facts about his life, the exact years of his birth and death are unclear. He was probably born in Varnassi, a Hindu center where the Ganges River’s sacred waters run. According to some accounts, he was an orphan raised by Muslim weavers. Other legends purport that he was raised by parents who had converted to Islam from Hinduism. (Adding to the mystery, he was critical of Hinduism and Islam, but both religions claim him as a follower.)

Kabir led a celibate life and never married nor had children. Some followers say that he revived two dead children – one boy and one girl – who then stayed with him. His legacy lies in his dohas (or couplets) that convey the spiritual themes of freedom, humanity, love, peace, and simplicity. His main argument is that “True God” exists within all humans who are on the path to righteousness.

The second phase involves front man and rhythm guitarist Neeraj Arya. When he first heard Kabir’s words about seven years ago, he found clarity in his own life. He embarked on a spiritual journey of relentless research and interpretation of the verses coupled with a desire to present them in a musically interesting fashion that’s true to their lyrical beauty.

Arya performed alone for a bit until Kabir’s philosophy and fate attracted the band’s other four members — who hail from vastly diverse musical and social backgrounds – about five years ago. The musicians — Mukund Ramaswamy (violin), Raman Iyer (mandolin), Viren Solanki (percussion), and Poubuanpou Britto KC (bass) – would spend time in cafés, discussing Kabir. They didn’t worship the poet; they questioned him and found answers to life’s big questions through him.

The result is the third phase, Kabir Café, and a genre that reflects the universal values of its namesake, integrating his timeless words with the modern age. Over the past five years, Kabir Café has played more than 700 shows in 11 countries, including Dubai, England Israel, Nepal, Singapore and Thailand. The group was named “Best Independent Fusion Band” at the Radio City Freedom Awards in 2017, and its tune “Fakiri” is the theme song for the Bollywood movie “Hindi Medium.”

Kabir Café sings in Hindi. But don’t worry, on Friday night, members will explain the relevance and meaning of the lyrics in English before each song.

General admission is $16, but students with proper identification only pay $10 each. Teenagers can attend for free as part of an ongoing promotion. Flushing Town Hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd.

Images: Kabir Café


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