There are no direct flights between Mumbai, India and Seattle, Washington. But that doesn't stop the international collaboration called Manooghi Hi from bridging the gap between the two cultures. The band got its start a few years ago when Mehnaz Hoosein, who had a million-selling career as a pop singer in India, connected with Ava Chakravarti in Seattle.
by Jon Davis, Published 2011-06-01
photography by Jon Davis
Their fathers were old friends, and Mehnaz was looking for something new in her musical life, so they set up a one-off show in Seattle to see what might happen. Together with some of Ava's long-time Seattle scene collaborators, including her husband, guitarist Todd Fogelsonger, and keyboardist Mark Nichols, and a lot of blind hope, they staged an evening of music fusing Mehnaz's vocal firepower with rock energy. Things went so spectacularly well that a band was born, bringing in some other denizens of the Seattle scene going back to the 1980s, with a wide variety of experience and stylistic diversity, including jazz fusion, funk, musical theater, and world music.
Their self-titled debut CD featured singing in several languages; at times it rocks like crazy, and at other times it's tender and beautiful, with the kind of emotional drama found in the best music from stage musicals. Playing live has been important to their development; since their inception, they've played most of the venues in Seattle, as well as branching out to Portland, Oregon and a number of festivals around the Northwest; they've also made appearances at SXSW in Austin, Texas and at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. All of this has been squeezed between Mehnaz's trips back to India.
2010 began with the departure of Mark Nichols, who was replaced by Kent Halvorsen of Sky Cries Mary. "Well, of course losing a key member and writer is scary," says Ava, "but we tried to approach it as a positive change. Kent was introduced to us by our drummer Hollis and had seen the band a few times. His bright attitude made the transition as smooth as it could ever be since he got where we were coming from and had the right vibe from day one."
During more than two years since the CD came out, they've been working new material into their sets, and a new release is in the works. Ava says, "We are in the midst of mixing down several songs just now that were primarily written by Todd and Mehnaz in the Manooghi Lounge last fall." They hope to have something available publicly this spring. The band's fans will be happy to know that one of their live favorites is included: a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" with Ava and Mehnaz switching their usual roles as lead and backing singer.
They're also hoping to play more outside of their home area, with their eyes on Canada and Europe; since the band became a going concern, they've also had the dream of playing in India, where Mehnaz's celebrity status has garnered them some publicity in the mainstream press as well as industry connections, though rock music is far from a mainstream endeavor there. "Writing, recording and performing our songs is like starting life over again and again," says Mehnaz. "Coming from very diverse musical backgrounds, we are exposed to the possibility of exploring a marriage of unbelievable sounds."
Related artist(s): Manooghi Hi
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