In his latest musical project, Komagata Maru, Neelamjit Dhillon explores BC's history of xenophobia and social injustice through the lenses of Jazz, Indian classical music, and his Sikh faith. The band includes Chris Gestrin (piano), Cap faculty member, Andre Lachance (bass), and fellow Cap alumnus, Dan Gaucher (drums). Dhillon has created a multi-media project that tells the tragic story of the Komagata Maru and commemorates 100 years since this dark chapter in our past. On his website, Neel describes the purposes of the project this way: "The performance of this 60-minute work speaks to where we have come from as Canadians, where we are and where we hope to go. Canadians have come a long way and strive towards societal ideals of equality and justice. We pride ourselves on an inclusive society but the reality is that many people in our social fabric are still marginalized. The project uses this unique musical landscape to expose the racism in this story and unveil some of the more sinister aspects of human nature. Exploring this part of our history gives us a sense of where we are today and helps us to shape our future."
Neel's first instrument was tabla, but he graduated from Cap in 2003 as a saxophone major. He also plays various flutes and sitar. Following his studies at Cap, Neel completed a B.Ed in Secondary Music Education at UBC and an MFA at Cal Arts in Los Angeles. He is now attending Cal Arts as a doctoral student and the Komagata Maru project is part of his research for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree. He is a tabla student of two of the greatest living tabla players, Swapan Chaudhuri and Zakir Hussain.
With all of those academic accomplishments, you might think Neel wouldn't have time to play music, but you'd be wrong. He is extremely active as a musician in Los Angeles and Vancouver and his music has recently taken him as far as Brazil and Somalia. Neel plays saxophone and tabla in many different groups in jazz,world music, and Indian classical music including: Sangha, Birds of Paradox, Aditya Prakash Ensemble, and The Microscopic.
Komagata Maru will premiere at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 21 Performance Works on Granville Island. Don't miss it!
Here is Neel performing with Aditya Prakash on KCET television.