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INTERVIEWS – Audio and Print


1) CBC Radio International chooses Autorickshaw as their pick of the week, and Suba is interviewed:

2) PRI’s Global Hit Podcast: Suba gives the under-the-hood aspects of how Autorickshaw’s arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire was born:

3) CBC Tribute to Oscar Peterson and Suba’s take on it:


Shameless Women Suba Sankaran: Worldly Multi-Musician

Every other Thursday I profile a new incredible woman, each from a different walk of life. Different professions, causes, backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, and anything/everything else! So without further delay, let me introduce the amazing Suba Sankaran…

Suba Sankaran is a DORA award-winning, JUNO-nominated multi-musician (voice, piano, percussion). Regularly performing across North America, Europe and Asia with world music ensembles Autorickshaw and Trichy’s Trio, she also seamlessly crosses genres with artists such as the FreePlay Duo (with Dylan Bell) and Retrocity (80s a cappella revue). She has also performed for Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Peter Gabriel.

In demand as a choral director, arranger, educator and composer, she has composed, recorded and produced music for theatre, film, radio and dance, including collaborations with Oscar-nominee Deepa Mehta. And she’s this week’s amazingly Shameless Woman.

What drives you to do what you do?

I was born into a musical family and so I’ve had music in my blood since I was born. I learned south Indian singing and drumming from my father as well as western classical singing and piano. After studying both western and eastern music and singing in multiple genres, I became interested in many other aspects of the art – improvisation, composition, arranging, directing, producing, choral conducting, scoring music for other genres (film, radio, tv, theatre, dance). I think the drive, or the inspiration, comes from my hunger to be true to myself – to seek the identity within, to just simply be who I am, to create, to be happy – and the vehicle I’ve chosen to use is music.

How does being a woman empower / challenge you?

It’s funny, I was always a tomboy growing up, surrounded by male friends, and of course, now my career is in a field that is still dominated by men! This doesn’t bother me in any way, though I sometimes find it difficult to relate to women because I don’t live in the same sphere. It just makes my time with my women friends that much more special.

My parents had two daughters, and they always joked that I was probably meant to be a boy! It’s interesting to me that I’m following in my father’s footsteps, I’ve kept my family name though I’m married, and such things.
I am thrilled to be a woman who is independent, strong-willed, overachieving, striving for perfection and married to my art. I am a person who finds happiness and beauty in very simple things. Being a woman is also a beautiful though sometimes much more complicated thing!

What advice would you give to young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Follow your heart. Believe in yourself. Remember to question but not to doubt. Music is my life and my passion. Make sure that you make your career decisions with your heart – your mind will follow suit! It is easy to steer away from what we want to do because it doesn’t seem practical, it’s too much of a challenge, or there is seemingly not enough money to sustain life. I believe that, if you’re doing what you love and you’re satisfying your soul, this is the ultimate reward.

What is one person, place, or thing every young woman should know about?

One person we should all know is an elder from our family – it could be your parents, grandparents or someone who has a key to your past. Family is very important because you learn where you came from, your predispositions, your habits, and your inclinations. I’ve learned so much about myself from looking at my parents. I’ve also spent a great deal of time deciding the best traits of my parents as individuals and I’ve tried (and continue to try) to incorporate this into my being.

One place every young woman should see is the ocean or some other large body of water. The overwhelming experience – walking along the water, the wind brushing through your hair, the waves lapping at your feet, the endless moving shapes and patterns in the sand, the timelessness of being in the great wide open – is a beautiful place to simply be with your thoughts, and to be reminded that we are merely a speck on this earth. You gain great perspective.

One thing every young woman should know about is gardening or cooking. Both are wonderful skills to have, and they make for great activities, but what I think is most important is that it is a feast for the senses and it allows you to improvise. Improvising as a musician and in life allows me to spontaneously create and there is nothing more rewarding than creation or invention. There are other activities/hobbies that serve the same purpose, but these are my two faves!

What is the most important thing we can do in order to change the world?

I think the most important thing we can do in order to change the world is to understand its fragility: embrace nature in order to understand it, and treat it with respect so that there is sustainability. The world will continue long after we’re gone from this earth, so how do we use and not abuse it? In terms of implementation, start from the inside out. I believe that everything in the universe is connected. Therefore, change still starts with you, whether it’s social change, environmental change, a personal change, or improving your quality of life. My job is music and that is what satisfies my soul. Because I love what I do, I’m a very happy person. I spend my time with friends and family and therefore lead a fulfilling life, and I have a great deal of compassion and tolerance for the things and people around me. These traits are not just useful but essential when aiming to change the world.

You can find Suba as part of the Young Centre’s Waves Festival in Toronto, June 18-20.

– Desirée O

BWW Interviews: Suba Sankaran Talks FREE Waves Festival Interview by Kelly Cameron

As part of Luminato, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts is going to be transformed into an artistic treasure hunt for The Waves Festival. The award-winning venue will be taken over by twelve Resident Artists who will present an array of new, original fifteen minute works ranging from theatre, dance, and music to innovative mixed media work and installations.

Described last year by the National Post as a “funhouse of play-along theatre” The Waves Festival promises to be fun and entertaining and is a great way to see some of the amazing talent Canada has to offer. In addition to the 12 Resident Artists, 100 Toronto artists from all different disciplines will be joining in to participate in the events.

BWW sat down to talk with Resident Artist Suba Sankaran about what to expect and why young people especially should come and check this unique event out:

You are one of the 12 Resident Artists participating in the Young Centre’s Waves Festival this year – is this your first time taking part?

This is my second year as a resident artist at the Young Centre and we started the Waves festival last year (called New Waves, but now, it’s no longer new!). This entailed a lot of initial brainstorming, programming and design of the festival, selection of artists…and then the more creative and improvised fun began at the festival itself!

Are you able to share with us a bit about what you will be showcasing? 

I will be doing a few things – I am performing as a festival ensemble member and that means I’ll be dropped in on many live, improvised situations. I am one of the Singing Structures (we sing songs that address or somehow represent the amazing structures on our heads!). I will be leading a collaboration style jam in which I oversee and facilitate (like a host and a music conductor combined) the live, unfolding of multidisciplinary spontaneous invention featuring many of the artists from the Waves festival. Lastly, and possibly most exciting, I am a member of Retrocity ( ), an all-a cappella group specializing in the top 40s of the 1980s. We are performing as part of Live Juke n Jive: In a room representing a larger-than-life jukebox, audience members will be able to select a song from a play-list which will trigger live music by Retrocity and a newly-choreographed dance.

The Waves Festival was described as a “fun-house of play-along theatre” by the National Post – what does that mean to you? Do you encourage and support involvement from people who come out to experience the event?

This festival would not be possible without the involvement and open minds of the public. The Young Centre becomes a funhouse in which patrons have a number of unusual and amusing experiences. There are no rules, no maps, no signs. You simply go to the Young Centre and the “vibe” will take you to different areas of the building where you’ll see amazing new art unfolding in front of your eyes and ears. A feast for the senses, a free, all-access pass to an all-ages playground – who can resist that?!?

These days it seems harder and harder to get young people out and experiencing live theatre, and one great thing about Waves is that it is free. What else would appeal to the younger crowd?

I think the festival and its artists are totally relatable. Youngsters can get turned off by things that don’t generally appeal to their diverse tastes and needs, but I honestly feel that there’s something for everyone here. If you appreciate the arts to any degree, if you enjoy exploring and experimenting, this is the festival for you. And again, it’s free, so the experiment of coming and trying it on for size won’t break the bank!

Waves is being presented as part of Luminato – is there anything else on the Luminato programme that you are especially looking forward to?

I am performing with my ensemble Autorickshaw ( as part of Luminato’s east-meets-west initiative, and we are putting on an extravaganza called Bollywood and Beyond, featuring a string quartet, a brass septet from the Hannaford Street Silver Band, multi-instrumentalist Dylan Bell, and the Autorickshaw quartet. I will be singing south Indian classical, jazz, contemporary and Bollywood hits. The show is at Queen’s Park, also a free event, on Sunday, June 20th, from 2:15pm-3:15pm.


When and Where?
The Waves Festival
Young Centre for the Arts – Historic Distillery District
Produced in Association with Luminato

Performance Schedule:
Friday June 18th from 7-10PM
Saturday June 19th from 2PM – 10PM
Sunday June 20th from 2PM – 6PM

Admission is FREE

National Post Interview Oct 28/09

“It will be beautiful, artistic mayhem…”
Mark Medley, National Post
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Canwest Cabaret Festival is a collection of 60 different concerts that takes place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto tomorrow to Sunday. Throughout the week, we’ll feature different Canadian artists appearing at the second annual edition of the fest. Today, Mark Medley speaks with Suba Sankaran, a Juno-nominated and Dora Award-winning multi-instrumentalist who directs Joni Mitchell Songbook, a tribute to the Canadian singer-songwriter, and joins a cappella troupe Retrocity for an evening of the late Michael Jackson’s most-loved hits.

Q Mitchell’s career has spanned decades — why has her music endured?

A I think she stays relevant to the times. As a social and political activist, she stays relevant with what we see in current events, what we see around the world in various world cultures. She doesn’t seem to have any boundaries in terms of who she collaborates with. So you see her early sort of folkish stuff, but then you hear her collaborating with Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, and doing her Mingus album, and delving into jazz and of course pop. And I think essentially — and this is something that really rings true to me — she stays true to herself. … Whatever incarnation of Joni she gives us is her, and unabashedly so. She doesn’t apologize for who she is, and that’s part of the strength of her music. And also her poetry: I’ve never seen lyrics unite with a melody so beautifully and so perfectly. … If I was supposed to name my No. 1 songwriter, it’s Joni Mitchell.

Q You mentioned that she has no boundaries when it comes to collaboration. That reminds me of you.

A I grew up in a traditional South Indian household, with a master drummer [her father, Trichy Sankaran] in Toronto. So right there you have this interesting east meets west, right in my home. I went through the western classical stream, singing and playing piano through the conservatory, and alongside that, the parallel stream was studying South Indian singing and drumming with my father. And so I’ve always had that inside me. As I got older, I became really inspired by jazz and contemporary improvisation and music from different world cultures, and so it’s been my goal to really connect the dots between east and west and everything in between.

Q And of course you’re also in the closing night jam session with Andrew Craig, Patricia O’Callaghan and others. What do you expect that night to be like?

A It’s going to be beautiful, artistic mayhem, I think. It always is. I think of myself more as a facilitator on that gig, rather than a musical director. I will be directing everything to make sure things are running smoothly, and to make sure there’s a nice ebb and flow happening. But that’s going to be amazing because not only will you have the people who are scheduled to be there, but also guests who will just show up, form different art forms: There may be poets, there may tap dancers, there may be modern dancers, there may be freestyle rappers — it can all happen there, and I love that feeling of anything can happen.

•Suba Sankaran directs Joni Mitchell Songbook tomorrow at 9:45 p.m. and on Saturday at 5 p.m. She also appears in Retrocity’s Jackson Spotlight on Sunday at 8:45 p.m. As well, Robert Cushman, the Post’s theatre critic, will be presenting the Rodgers and Hart Songbook on Friday at 10 p.m. Visit for more information

South Asian Generation Next

Music is storytelling in a song

15 Dec 2010

Being born and brought up in the Western culture hasn’t hampered Suba Sankaran’s performances in various languages especially in Hindi and Punjabi where the sounds of alphabet vary quite a bit. In an interview with Suba Sankaran, a vocalist for a band called Autorickshaw, Suba tells us “My ears are very much tuned to the phonetic sounds, so it’s a matter of very deep listening and imitation. I don’t find it difficult…it’s a good kind of challenge though and those muscles need to be exercised regularly!”

Autorickshaw is a unique name. Very few people in South Asian community call rickshaw an autorickshaw these days. Whose brain was behind the name?

“Ed Hanley and I, the co-artistic directors of the band came up with the name Autorickshaw because it has both modern (“auto”) and traditional (“rickshaw”) elements to it. Therefore, Autorickshaw is our musical vehicle (pardon the pun!) for our artistic expression, steeped in the traditions of north and south Indian classical music, fused with modern pop, funk, folk and jazz.”

The tow other members of the band are Rich Brown and Patrick Graham.

Unlike many modern day performers, Suba has a background in music. Born in the family of musicians, Suba has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a specialized honours in music and an MA.

Even fewer think of music as a serious profession.

“The challenge is to write music that means something to you, or has a message, or tells a personal story, or makes you want to dance, or clap or cry! I think of music as being storytelling through song. If everyone thinks of it this way, maybe there will be more memorable music out there,” Suba says.

As a young woman, she feels the issues of today’s young generation are “body image, violence, drugs and alcohol, bullying, coming to terms with ethnicity, activism and playing your part, etc.”

As a performer looks are even more crucial. “I think looks are important when you are in the public eye. It’s not everything, but it’s a part of the package.” Yoga and being vegetarian have become her lifestyle choices.

The way Suba dresses reminds us of Aabida Parveen, a sufi singer from Pakistan. The Sufi music, Suba feels has “an exoticism and a deep inner beauty.” Nonetheless influences on her music are South Indian classical, western European classical (medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic), folk, jazz, pop, rock, vintage 60s and 70s Bollywood, world influences like Peter Gabriel, lyrical and melodic influences like Joni Mitchell, vocal inspiration like Bobby McFerrin.” We wonder if she has left anyone to be inspired from, an indication that she is a strong believer in learning from everyone.

Being a performer does not mean that she is not engaged civically. In this day and age when very few youth take interest in politics, Suba follows politics to make an informed choice as to who her elected official should be.

“I do follow Canadian politics to the extent that I keep up-to date on current events and I vote. In terms of political leanings, I’m definitely left-wing and believe in an egalitarian society. I subscribe to ethical funds, bullfrog power and believe in making the smallest eco-footprint (i.e., I don’t own a car but I subscribe to Autoshare, I get Front Door Organics delivered to my door once every two weeks, and much of the produce is Ontario-grown).”

Supporting local community in one of the many things she does rountinely.

“I support farmer’s markets and try to buy locally and organically.”

Married to Dylan Bell an outsider to South Asian culture, “I’m a very proud Canadian but I also like to show my roots and embrace my heritage in a way that is true to who I am,” Suba says.

Suba’s responses to our questions indicate that she is a strong believer in higher power and karma. In ten years, she sees herself “I’m a person who tends to live in the here and now. Maybe I’ll have children by that time, maybe I’ll continue to tour, travel, compose, arrange music, teach, etc. Whatever it is, I know I will follow the path that the Universe has set out for me, and I will always seek whatever satisfies my soul. So much of our progress of human beings has to do with being aware. This is what I hope to do all my life.”

For more information about Autorickshaw and their upcoming album, please visit

To view this article online, CLICK HERE.

ICCC Holiday Dinner and Dance: Bollywood Rewind

South Asian Generation Next

Dec 1 2010

Amid the décor of 70s and 80s Bollywood movies, Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC)  held its annual Holiday Dinner and Dance on Sunday. The audience was amused with Autorickshaw and Shiamak dancers’ outstanding performances. (We observed many people singing with Suba Sankaran).

Autorickshaw amused the audience with old Bollywood songs

While the mood was jubilant, speeches delivered from the stage had a serious note in them. Mr. Vinay Nagpal, President of ICCC noted that Minister Van Loan had an interactive session with Indo-Canadian businessmen before the initiation of free trade talks between Canada and India to get the input from the community. Conservative MP Patrick Brown highlighted what the Canadian government has done in this regard. Ms. D. Charandasi, Consul (Inf & OCI) & Head of Chancery of Indian Consulate General in Toronto noted that ICCC is the government of India’s partner in hosting a 2 – 3 day trade based event, known as the mini – Pravasi Bharitya Divas next year. 2011 is also the Year of India in Canada whereby IEFA awards will be held in Toronto.

Also present at the event were Dr. Shafiq Qaadri (MPP from Etobicoke North), Amrit Mangat (MPP from Mississauga-Brampton South) and Liberal MP Navdeep Bains (Mississauga South).

To read this article online, CLICK HERE.

The Next Generation in Music: Autorickshaw

South Asian Next Generation

5 November 2009

Jacquelin Chatterpaul,Toronto 

Just when you think music in the art world has no more credibility than porn does in the film world, you have a band that comes together, stays together breaking cultural and artistic boundaries shamelessly. I came across this band in a concert listing. The words Autorickshaw biting me on the nose. Reading further, I learned of this Indo-jazz-funk band, a mix you don’t see everyday and I think the combination has the potency to start their own revolution in the South Asian music world.


This Montreal-based band is comprised of four members with masterfully talented. On Vocals is York Alumni Suba Sankaran, the daughter of the famous percussionist, Trichy Subakaran. Trained from a young age in South Indian classical music Suba has won a 2006 Dora Maver Moore Award for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition (Bombay Black) in the Independent Theatre Division. On tabla is Ed Hanley, former student of Trichy Sankaran is classically trained in Karnatic (south Indian) vocal percussion and drumming traditions. He has studied nattuvangam (Bharatanatyam conducting) with Hari Krishnan, mrdangam repertoire and Karnatic rhythm theory with Karaikudi Mani in Chennai, India, and solkattu (vocal percussion), kanjira (a south Indian frame drum), mrdangam repertoire and improvisation. On base is Toronto-born Rich Brown who is well known for his lyricism and strong melodic sensibility on the electric bass. Rich Brown has also appeared on over 40 recordings ranging from Jazz to RnB to traditional South Asian, far East Asian, and Arabic music. And finally, you have Patrick Graham the precussionist of this dynamic group whose musical versatility and cross-cultural percussion can be heard in styles ranging from traditional to avant-garde.

autoakropolis2Autorickshaw has toured extensively across Canada, including appearances at Montreal, Vancouver, Guelph, Calgary and Toronto Jazz festivals, Vancouver and Winnipeg Folk festivals, Glenn Gould Studio, Stratford Festival and the Sound Symposium in Newfoundland. They have recently toured Europe including performances in London, Ireland, Prague and Grabstejn in the Czech Republic, Germany, Paris, Amsterdam and the Netherlands. This 2004 and 2007 JUNO nominees for World Music Album of the Year, won the Canadian Independent Music Award in 2005 and the Grand Prize in World Music for the John Lennon Songwriting Competition in 2008. On Halloween they will be playing at the Canwest Cabaret Music Festival

autoakropolis10But Autorickshaw is about more than just fame and fortune. It’s about more the fusion of contrasting genres. It’s not even about world music. Autorickshaw is a group that advocates for the world. Their music is the medium. Their next concert on December 3,  Autorickshaw will be playing their show called “Bhopal Remembered” in Commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster.Proceeds from the sale of the their new song “City of Lakes” will go to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, a charitable trust run by a group of eminent doctors, scientists, writers and social workers who have been involved with various aspects of the Union Carbide disaster ever since its occurrence in December 1984.

There is much that we can learn from groups like Autorickshaw. In the invention of a new genre of music, the creations of Autorickshaw prove that boundaries are meant to be broken in order for the world to heal.

For more information about “Autorickshaw” check their website:
To read this article online, CLICK HERE.