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Friday, December 9, 2011

Free Music: Church of Betty at BAMcafé Live

Photo: Church of Betty, by Sibylle Jud
Any westerner who’s heard North Indian music knows that there’s often something uncanny about its rhythm. It’s all in the tabla—an indispensable Indian drum played using just the palms and fingers. Alternating between crisp-timbered highs and delicious liquid lows (think bowling balls being dropped into a vat of thick tar), the tabla’s sounds are alive and complex in a way that brings to mind hip-hop and R&B beats while evoking a cultural milieu distinctly apart from them. But however mediated, the groove is definitely there, and seductive in a way that its western equivalents aren’t. Which begs the question: in this age of anything-goes creative plundering, why haven’t more musicians embraced it?

Deep Sing (tabla) and Church of Betty's Chris Rael (sitar)

The answer could be intimidation; Indo-pop sextet Church of Betty is scary good at it. The band has spent the last two decades finding inventive ways for sitars and guitars to get along famously, and not just in slapdash fashion. Front man Chris Rael (on sitar, above) spent years in Varanasi, India learning the ins and outs of Hindustani music before returning to the US to form his band. The result was instant success: gigs on the National Mall and at Celebrate Brooklyn, stints at Town Hall and the Public Theater. They were also a staple at the original Knitting Factory on Houston Street, a one-time Shangri-La for bands like Church of Betty whose sound defies categories.

Today, Church of Betty—named a BAMcafé Live All-Star—sounds better than ever. The naan has soaked up the gravy, leaving the listener less conscious that they’re hearing two musics combined into one rather than just, well, Church of Betty. Lucky for us all, they’re playing a free show this Friday, December 9 at BAMcafé Live. Don’t miss out. (And try some Brooklyn BAMboozle Ale while you’re here.)


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