New York-based musicians Zeb Bangash and Michael Winograd met at a gig five years ago. They discovered a shared passion for exploring music from their respective cultures and genres.
That’s where Sandaraa, their world fusion band that primarily blends Eastern European Jewish and South Asian music, was born.
“Sandaraa is a meeting place of cultures,” says Winograd, a virtuoso clarinetist who specializes in klezmer and Yiddish music. “It’s a way we can leave our home cultures and come to an invented place in the middle.”
On Sept. 27, Sandaraa will perform in the sukkah at the historic B’nai Israel Congregation in East Baltimore as part of the “Lombard & Lloyd: Creative Alliance at B’nai” sacred music concert series.
“Music In the Sukkah: Sandaraa,” which is free and starts at 8 p.m., will feature a conversation between band members, Sufi scholar Homayra Ziad and B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Etan Mintz. It will conclude with a performance by Sandaraa.
Rabbi Mintz said the concert is quite apropos for the harvest holiday of Sukkot, which will be observed this year from Sept. 23-30.
“Sukkot symbolizes the notion of hospitality and the welcoming of different people into the sukkah,” he says. “Sandaraa is a band that fuses music from different cultures from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and this concert will give us an opportunity to hear different music, broaden our horizons and learn about the traditions of Sukkot.”
Sandaraa, which means song in the Pashto language, consists of seven members and is led by Bangash, a superstar vocalist in her native Pakistan, and Winograd.
“After being part of the mainstream music scene in Pakistan and India, I knew I wanted to move forward musically with sounds from all these cultures I had grown up with,” says Bangash. “I wanted to get to know regional music that didn’t have a voice in the mainstream music scene. I’d always felt like klezmer music had similarities to the old Iranian music I grew up with.”
Winograd says the combination of the two musical genres works well. “It all makes sense sonically,” he says. “When one listens to it, they are surprised it’s mixed heritage. Only when you dissect it does it become clear there is a lot going into it.”
In addition to the B’nai Israel concert, Sandaraa will spend a few days visiting different communities in the Baltimore area and will perform at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown on Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. The event is part of the alliance’s Nisa’a series, which strives to build bridges between Islamic and non-Muslim communities.
“We are bringing to Baltimore female artists and comedians that come from a Muslim cultural background,” says Josh Kohn, the alliance’s performance director. “One of the main reasons this program focuses on women is because we want to challenge preconceived notions of what a female in a traditional Muslim society should be like.”
Bangash, who lives part-time in New York and Pakistan, says she loves the concept of the Nisa’a program.
“It’s important to have a program that celebrates and understands Muslim women and all their work within the framework of their identity,” she says. “I feel like we celebrate women from other cultures, while simultaneously bringing down those cultures. Programs like Nisa’a focus on celebrating and acknowledging our identity, which has a huge impact on our work.”
Because Sandaraa is fronted by a Pakistani singer and a Jewish clarinetist, Kohn says it made sense to have the band be a part of the Nisa’a program, as well as the “Lombard & Lloyd” series.
“We are looking forward to connecting with Jewish audiences and talk about issues, and hope to find the commonalities of music and culture,” he says. “The conversation has already started in the music, and we are just continuing it in front of the public.”
Says Rabbi Mintz: “Music is different because it’s the only type of sound where two voices at the same time aren’t disturbing one another or getting in the way of understanding but rather creating a harmony.”
It’s that harmony that Sandaraa hopes to share with music lovers, Winograd says.
“Music does lead to the harder questions that come up about culture and tradition, and all that comes along with that,” he says. “That’s why music has an easier path toward cultural collaboration, and it’s something that’s always excited me as a musician.”
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.