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DORA award-winning, twice JUNO-nominated world/fusion vocalist Suba Sankaran has effortlessly combined musical worlds, performing across North America, Europe, the UK, Asia and Africa with Autorickshaw, master drummer Trichy Sankaran, FreePlay Duo and Retrocity (80s a cappella revue), to name a few. Performance highlights include performing for Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and performing with Jane Siberry, Lorraine Segato, Bobby McFerrin and the Swingle Singers.
Suba is in demand as a choral director, arranger, educator and composer. She has composed and produced music for theatre, film, radio and dance. Highlights include collaborations with Deepa Mehta and the CBC.
–> Check out this Musicworks article (from Winter 2006, by Tilman Lewis) on Suba Sankaran and Indo-fusion band Autorickshaw: suba-musicworks
DORA award-winning, JUNO-nominated vocalist, pianist and percussionist Suba Sankaran effortlessly combines musical worlds. While studying European classical piano and voice, she also immersed herself in south Indian classical music with her father, master drummer Trichy Sankaran.
Suba is in demand as a choral director, arranger, educator and composer. She has composed, recorded and produced music for theatre, film, radio and dance, and has co-produced four Autorickshaw CDs featuring a number of her original compositions.
Suba Sankaran’s musical career began at an early age while studying South Indian classical voice and percussion with her father, master drummer Trichy Sankaran. She further honed this craft with visiting artists from India including Karaikudi Subramaniam (veena/voice), T Viswanathan (flute/voice), N Ramani (flute), RK Srikantan (voice), Vairamangalam LakshmiNarayanan (voice), and Sankari Krishnan (voice).
Suba instantly took to many other styles of singing in her formative years while studying in Toronto. Her early training took place at Claude Watson School for the Arts at Earl Haig Secondary School as a piano major. While maintaining her piano studies, her interest shifted to the voice with teacher/conductor Mary Legge, composer/educator Philip McConnell and jazz specialist Paul Miner. She began directing, arranging and composing for various choirs – highlights include her debut conducting experience in 1992 – Murray Schaeffer’s Epitaph for Moonlight, with choir, orchestra and dancers; co-composing and arranging the school song for chamber choir and directing the vocal jazz ensemble.
Also, through the Claude Watson Arts Program in conjunction with the Spring Garden campus, she was a featured soloist with the international touring group the Canadian Dance Tapestry (specialists of Canadian folk music and dance) with performance highlights at Disneyworld in Florida, the Stomping Grounds in North Carolina, Agrigento and Erba in Italy as well as performances around Ontario.
Making such an indelible mark on her life as a musician, she returned to Earl Haig in 1997 to direct, compose and arrange for the jazz choir Pandora’s Vox (1997-2004).
Suba began her classical piano training at the age of six at the Royal Conservatory of Music, completing her Grade X piano and theory studies with pianists Dale Innes and Francine Kay, and later studied contemporary piano improvisation with Casey Sokol at York University.
Her percussion experience includes long-term studies of mrdangam, kanjira and rhythm with Trichy Sankaran as well as marimba with John Brownell and Russell Hartenberger, percussion with Sal Ferreras, and frame drum and overtone singing with Glen Velez.
Suba graduated from York University in 1997, where she studied jazz with Carol Welsman, Lisa Martinelli, Bob Mover, Bob Fenton, Don Thompson, Barry Elmes and Al Henderson; early music with Robert Sterling Beckwith, world music and improvisation with Trichy Sankaran, Casey Sokol and David Mott, and completed her Master of Arts degree in Ethnomusicology in 2002 with a major research paper, involving the transcriptions and analysis of Bobby McFerrin’s solo a cappella works, entitled Bobby McFerrin: The Abundance of Vocal Economy.
Suba is co-artistic director of award winning Indo-fusion ensemble Autorickshaw with tabla player Ed Hanley and regularly performs with master drummer Trichy Sankaran, sings a cappella 80’s hits with Retrocity (who have collaborated with Canadian legends Jane Siberry, Alan Frew and Lorraine Segato) and crosses genres with her husband Dylan Bell in the FreePlay Duo .
Suba has performed across Canada, the US, Europe, UK, Africa, South Asia and the Far East with a wide range of artists including Autorickshaw, Trichy Sankaran, Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana, chittraveena player Ravikiran, David Mott, Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, George Koller, Kevin Breit, Maza Meze, the FreePlay Duo, award-winning a cappella jazz group Hampton Avenue, and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale where she performed for Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Peter Gabriel.
Performance highlights include the Stockholm Jazz Festival, International Percussion Festival (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany), Jaipur Heritage Festival (Diggi Palace, India), Congo Square Jazz (Kolkata, India), Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Sound Symposium (St. John’s Newfoundland), the World Percussion Festival (Berklee College, Boston, MA) and Harboufront Centre in Toronto.
Suba’s teaching experience is extensive, having taught at York University (jazz voice, jazz choir, south Indian singing and rhythm courses, TA for Music and Cultures) as well as at the University of Toronto’s with the vocal jazz ensemble.
She has conducted short and long-term workshops at Humber College, the Soulpepper Theatre Academy where she is an artist-in-residence, Queen of Puddings Musical Theatre Company, Worlds of Music Toronto, Downtown Choral Summer Institute and Downtown Community Choral Summit, CAMMAC, and Theatre Gargantua, to name a few.
Suba is in demand as a private teacher, choral director, arranger, adjudicator and composer and has given numerous workshops to professional and community choirs in Canada and abroad (New Jersey, Manitoba, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, Spain, India).
Choral music directing
Suba has extensive choral directing experience. She was a director, composer, arranger and singer with Wibijazz’n’ (now known as Wibi), an independent, student-run a cappella ensemble out of York University that has performed for the likes of Oscar Peterson. She directed Earl Haig’s Pandora’s Vox, the York University jazz choir, the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Adult jazz choir, and continues to work with community choirs like ECHO Women’s Choir, Common Thread Community Chorus, Penthelia Singers and City Choir.
She offers a wide variety of workshops to choirs, from technique to specific styles (jazz, world, Indian), vocal percussion to vocal group improvisation. She and Dylan Bell also create rehearsal/vocal highlight CDs for community and professional choirs.
Composing and Arranging for Choirs
Suba has been composing and arranging music for many years to critical acclaim. Her music has been performed by choirs around the world including those in Canada, the US, Europe and India. Some of those choirs are: Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, Penthelia Singers, Oriana Singers, Jubilate Singers, Xavier College Chorus (Mumbai), Cellar Singers, and Open Voices Community Chorus.
Suba has adjudicated at the Toronto International Music Festival, Brandon Jazz Festival, the Alberta Choral Federation, Ontario Vocal Festival, University of Toronto, the American Guild of Music and for the Penthelia Singers’ Composition Competition.
Suba has composed, recorded and produced music for theatre, film, radio, and for south Indian and modern dance. Her most recent highlights include receiving the prestigious DORA Maver Moore Award for sound design/composition for Bombay Black, collaborating with Oscar-nominee Deepa Mehta for the CBC radio drama Funny Boy, and winning the John Lennon Songwriting award for the composition Heavy Traffic (co-composed with Ed Hanley, Autorickshaw).
Suba has also received several commissions, including from Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, and several choirs around the world.
Recordings – audio and television
Suba’s voice can be heard on numerous film soundtracks as well as recordings with artists such as Alan Jackson, Andrea Florian, Autorickshaw, Mark Duggan, David Mott, Voyces Past, Retrocity, Trichy’s Trio, and Wibijazz’n’, and she has been recorded in many contexts by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). She has also hosted on television for Opening Night on CBC and hosted/performed on Vision Television’s 4-part series Soul Music.
Suba has received numerous awards and honours for scholarly work, performance and compositions. These awards include:
- DORA Maver Moore award for sound design/composition for Bombay Black in the independent theatre division
- Jazz Report’s “Best Vocal Jazz Group” for Hampton Avenue
- CARA (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award) for Best Mixed Collegiate Arrangement
- Best Arrangement (runner up) at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella
- Honourable mention for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Theme Contest
- Finalist for composition “Dedication”, 11th Annual CBC Radio National Competition for Amateur Choirs
- Alan Lessem Memorial Prize, York University
- Karabekos Award, York University
- Oscar Peterson Scholarship, York University
- Dean’s Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Work, York University
- Faculty of Fine Arts In-Course Scholarship, York Univeristy
- JUNO award nomination for Autorickshaw
- Finalist at IMA (Independent Music Awards) for Autorickshaw
- Canadian Independent Music Award for Autorickshaw
- Ontario Independent Music Award for Autorickshaw
- 2 Canadian Folk Music Award nominations for Autorickshaw
- Several grants through the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, FACTOR, Radio StarMaker and SOCAN/SOCAN Foundation as individual artist and with Autorickshaw
- Several Ontario Vocal Festival and MusicFest awards
Giving a voice to the music community is very important to Suba. She has volunteered on juries for the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, has served on programming committees and advisory boards for the Harbourfront Centre, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, and as a volunteer board member for the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and volunteer member (and co-chair) of the World Music Committee for the JUNO Awards.