Two worlds collide for PremaSoul’s universal appeal
What do you get when you combine Southern soul music, jazz rhythms and Hindu devotional chanting? It could be called universal love. In fact that’s what Sheela Bringi and Clinton Patterson call their band: PremaSoul. “Prema is a sanskrit word that means universal love,” says Bringi, whose parents moved to the United States from India in the ’70s. She explains further, “My first love of music came from devotional singing, or bajans. It’s infused into everything I do musically. I love to take these old melodies and play them in new ways, in new settings, for new audiences.”
PremaSoul combines Bringi on vocals, flute and harp, with Clinton Patterson singing, playing keyboards and trumpet. The band also includes a divine rhythm section of bass, tabla and drumkit. PremaSoul will be performing that unique blend in a concert to benefit Haiti relief efforts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, at Kuumbwa Jazz. Tickets are $20 in advance and available at Gateways Books. All proceeds will help fund a new orphanage for Haitian children whose parents were killed in the recent earthquake. For more information about humanitarian efforts in Haiti and worldwide by Amma and the MA Center, see embracingtheworld.org.
How did Bringi, an Indian flute player from Colorado, meet Patterson, a jazz keyboardist from Georgia? Both were students at California Institute for the Arts in Southern California. “I was playing music at a Thai restaurant,” Clinton reminisces. “I played music there for two years and one evening Sheela came in and we started talking. Eventually we got together and started playing music.” Their first album was titled Sound Travels and their new EP is A Shrine to All Things.
“I’ve always been interested in pulling music together from different places.” says Clinton. “A vast majority of significant things in American music have come from Black American culture, or people’s perspectives on that culture. I’m bringing my own personal connection to blues, rock ’n’ roll and R&B.”
“PremaSoul is about breaking down boundaries,” adds Bringi, who studied piano and classical Indian vocals as a child. “Early on my mom and dad encouraged me in any kind of artistic pursuit that I wanted. I began piano lessons when I was 4 or 5. Later I took flute lessons and fell in love with Indian flute. In high school I played piano in the jazz band.” She also honed her musical skills at Mills College in Oakland. “It just blew my musical world right open,” she remembers. “I came into contact with so many great musicians, like Fred Frith and Cecil Taylor. It was all based in improvisation. It got me in touch with a musical sense that can only happen when you get together with a group of people and don’t know what you’re going to create, but do it in the moment.”
Playing a concert to benefit children in Haiti seems perfectly in sync with the deeper meaning of PremaSoul. “I was excited when this opportunity came up for us,” reflects Bringi. Patterson agrees; “When things are happening anywhere in the world and people need support, there is no difference between helping someone in Haiti or helping someone that lives next door. That’s also the way that I think about making music. I try to ignore artificial barriers between different musical cultures and traditions.”
Bringi concisely explains her motivation for creativity: “I express my love for the world through music. It’s a way of opening the heart, expressing devotion and calming the mind.” Patterson, her musical partner, adds, “PremaSoul is a way of taking things I really love, putting them together and hopefully making something new, making some progress. It’s music for the future.”
PremaSoul performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 427-2227. John Malkin is a local writer, musician and host of The Great Leap Forward each Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM and freakradio.org. Read about the poverty and political instability contributing to the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti and Noam Chomsky’s forthcoming Hopes and Prospects (Haymarket).