Kamala Sankaram’s voice (and accordion!) is one you won’t forget. And, surely, you’ve heard her before. As a performer, Kamala has collaborated with and premiered pieces by the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Wooster Group, eighth blackbird, Phil Kline, Fred Ho and many others. Her compositions have been featured as part of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, the Santa Fe New Music Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Music With a View Festival at the Flea Theater, American Opera Projects’ series “Opera Grows in Brooklyn” and in the article “More Song, Less Art(ifice): The New Breed of Art Song” in New Music Box magazine. And, for the animation fans out there, she’s voiced many a character on the Cartoon Network and Comedy Central. Kamala sings the part of Helena in Trillium E and has always brought a truly joyful spirit to her work in the Tri-Centric Orchestra. Read on about her latest project, “Miranda,” opening on January 12th in New York.
When did you start playing?
I started playing piano when I was six. I was very serious at that time, playing in competitions and so on, but I stopped playing piano when I was 12 because I saw the high school show choir! Mind you, this was in the early ‘90s and I lived in a very small town, so the show choir seemed very glamorous. They got to wear spangly, sequined outfits and tons of makeup. I joined, started singing and that was it. I didn’t really start studying classical voice until I got to college. I was introduced to Anthony Braxton’s music in college, as well.
What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’ve been working on an opera (well, opera-ish-type-thing) for the past three years, and it’s finally opening on January 12th at HERE Arts Center. The opera is titled “Miranda,” and it’s a steampunk murder mystery. Other than that, I sing, compose and play accordion for Bombay Rickey, a Bollywood/spaghetti western/ Yma Sumac band. I sing and play accordion with Taylor Ho Bynum in Positive Catastrophe. I’m working on another opera with Susan Yankowitz called “The Thumbprint of Mukhtar Mai.” That opera will consist of a mix of Hindustani and Western instruments with many different vocal styles ranging from Bel Canto to Bulgarian.
What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I’m really excited for Miranda! As I mentioned, it’s a steampunk murder mystery opera where the audience must vote and convict the killer at the end. Six instrumentalists (including myself!) walk the audience through the final day of Miranda’s life. The show is scored for violin (Rima Fand), cello (Pat Muchmore), electric guitar (Drew Fleming), high reeds (Ed RosenBerg) and low reeds (Jeff Hudgins). These people are awesome – they act, sing and dance all while playing their instruments! The show runs January 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, and 21st at 9 pm. On the 17th, we’ll have a talkback with the audience entitled “When Pink Floyd meets Puccini: Indie Classical Music and Opera” which will be a really great discussion about a new generation of opera composers who aren’t afraid to throw in a little rock.
What are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to a lot of Bollywood music from the ‘60s. I just picked up a really great complication called “The Bollywood Funk Experience.” I think RD Burman is my hero!
How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Working with Anthony has been a joy. He is genuinely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, in addition to just being amazing! One of the biggest things I’ve gained from working with Anthony is a new appreciation for rhythm and an awareness of the constraint of meter. When we speak, our sentences naturally change in tempo and contour along with what we’re saying, so it makes sense that vocal music should do the same thing – but I don’t know of anyone else who is approaching vocal music this way.
What’s your favorite food?
Mexican! Anything Mexican! Especially guacamole… I could eat a whole bowl of it by myself!