With “Raga Maqam,” a unique cross-cultural collaboration takes flight

With “Raga Maqam,” a unique cross-cultural collaboration takes flight

How does music allow us to speak across traditions? In the boundary-blurring project “Raga Maqam,” the musical language of India and Iraq collide to form new harmonies.

“If you’re new to this idea,” curator and musician Arun Ramamurthy told ALL ARTS earlier this year, “basically we are bringing together two traditions: raga, which is a modal musical framework in Indian classical music, and the music of maqam, which is … the Arabic modal music.”

Borne out of a partnership between the India Center Foundation, Brooklyn Raga Massive and Lincoln Center, the collaboration layers the classical frameworks of the two countries to create a new structure of communication based in music. The resulting format allows for experimentation without making it so that one tradition must sacrifice its space for the other.

“Oftentimes the challenge in cross-cultural collaborations is that each person is trying to play the other person’s language,” composer and performer Amir ElSaffar said. “And they lose their own grounding or their basis  they’re not operating from the strongest place. What I’m trying to achieve here is an opportunity where everybody can play in their own musical language, but they don’t clash  even if it’s a slightly different tonal system.”

ALL ARTS will be following the project as it unfolds and takes shape over the course of the year. Check back for updates as the collaboration continues.

Top Image: "Raga Maqam" performances at Lincoln Center. Photo: Kevin Yatarola.