Award-winning musician Oliver Rajamani marks his 25th year in Austin with the premiere performance of "Flamenco India" — a musical journey that connects the Spanish roots of gypsy flamenco with the spirituality of Indian cultures and all the way back to the local vibe of our city. The April 29 cultural event at Zach Theatre will be a multi-disciplinary performance with an international cast. In part, it’s an effort to showcase Romani influence in Austin with music and choreography by artists from India and Spain.
Having spent over two decades in Austin, Rajamani has made the city his home, including regularly interacting with an often-overlooked part of our community — people who are homeless.
"I have a fanbase on the streets," Rajamani says. "I have (even) played in slums of India to connect with people. I love sitting with people on the street." Rajamani regularly reserves some free tickets to his concerts for homeless people.
Such is the rapport that the Romani/gypsy eclectic artist has with the people of the city. Professionally, Rajamani has incorporated the local beat in his performances by collaborating with musicians who are just starting out, as well as those established in the international world, including Willie Nelson, Eric Johnson, Edie Brickell, Dale Watson and Dotschy Reinhardt. He said no matter the location, music is always influenced by the traditions carried with people who migrated across lands and eventually arrived in the U.S., similar to the historical influence on traditional gypsy flamenco.
"Flamenco India" will focus on Rajamani’s personal musical study — the flamenco — and encourage his audience to broaden their understanding of the form’s traditional definition. "Flamenco, most people assume is a Spanish dance, but its roots are from the immigrants who migrated into Europe in the 14th century," he says "… when the gypsies arrived in Europe … they called themselves Rom and spoke the Romani (language). … The Romani have roots in the first Indian diaspora. This is a cultural and historic event to bring recognition to the Romani Center (at the University of Texas)."
Rajamani aims to draw attention to the largest Romani Archives Documentation Center at UT through an on-stage conversation with Dr. Ian Hancock, the former UN ambassador of Romani culture. Audience members also will learn about a documentary film about the Romani musical movement that will be shown on May 3 at Texas Folklife. (Sunday’s concert is made possible through support from the City of Austin, the Romani Center at UT Austin and Texas Folklife.)
Rajamani wants his audience to be ready for a colorful journey. "You will listen to melodies so unique that stretch from India, Middle East, Europe, North Africa … huge geography," he says. As in life with its moments of calm followed by excitement, "Viewers will see passion and fire, color as well as the magical essence of India," Rajamani says.
"Flamenco India," Rajamani’s ninth album, will be for sale at the performance. The album celebrates Indian and Romani culture and highlights the human journey through migration. It includes works with Spain’s legendary Romani flamenco artists, Jeronimo Maya and Tomasa La Macanita, and India legends Ustad Shujaat Khan and Ustad Aashish Khan, as well as folk artist Chinna Ponne and Langa singers.
Also available at the theater on Sunday will be items from a high-end, tailored clothing line made by small business tailors in India to help support them. The cloth is a blend of Texas, Gypsy and Indian cultural designs. These pieces will be available in Austin stores later this year.
Easily accessible, Rajamani can be reached through his Facebook page. He also sometimes performs for homeless people playing an acoustic instrument, such as the Sarod, Oud or Cajon (multi-cultural and musical instruments), or a much more Texan guitar; his music aims to connect the past with the present and create a harmonious future.