PICTURED: Atmasandhi, from left: Sam Ortolano, Kamini Natarajan and Manohar Gurung
by Chris O’Neal
From a young age, Kamini Natarajan wanted to bring her love for classical Indian music to the world. With an idea floating in her mind, Natarajan founded Atmasandhi, a collective of like-minded musicians making a unique, diverse sound pulling from many influences and backgrounds.
Along with her vocals, Natarajan also plays the Harmonium, a small organ-like instrument. Guitarist Sam Ortolano and percussionist Manohar Gurung join her in Atmasandhi. The group will perform on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Namba Performing Arts Space in Ventura.
Natarajan says that the word “Atmasandhi” has a special meaning.
“Atma basically means ‘soul’ and sandhi means ‘connecting,’ ” said Natarajan. “The word Atmasandhi means music that connects our brains and brings the world together.”
Indian classical vocals and the bright, uplifting guitar work of Ortolano play well with each other, harmonizing as if they were a natural fit. Coupled with percussion from Gurung, the group has performed for curious audiences and has recently released its first album, Sunrise.
With over two decades of experience as a musician, Natarajan says that she cannot imagine a life without music. As a child, she says that music was “as important as food and water.” With Atmasandhi, Natarajan says that fusing her culture with the sounds of different genres of music is like second nature.
Making a unique sound from many different parts isn’t always easy, says Natarajan, but when it clicks, it becomes a moving experience.
“There are moments when you feel like you have become that song, there are moments when you feel like you are no longer creating music, you are no longer playing your instrument, are no longer singing, those are the moments when you know you really have made it because you know that now you are not consciously creating music but music is leading you into creating those things,” said Natarajan.
Sam Ortolano has been playing the guitar for close to 50 years. Formerly trained in guitars and classical music, he says he’s played in every type of band since he was 14 years old, sometimes semi-professionally. Ortolano says that his wheelhouse is what he’s currently doing with Atmasandhi.
“I’m playing something I’ve always really enjoyed, it’s what I do best,” said Ortolano. Prior to Atmasandhi, his experience with world music came in a Latin jazz outfit. With his Spanish guitar, the band is given a more exotic tone. “A lot of what I do is more complimentary to her, in support of her vocals. It’s as much out front as it was in the Latin jazz band.”
Ortolano echoes Natarajan’s feelings about why he joined the band, adding that Natarajan’s voice is “exactly what [he] loves.”
“I’ve always loved Indian music, the tabla, the melodies,” said Ortolano. “I’m always looking for that type of sound; it’s very appealing to me.”
When asked to define the sound of Atmasandhi, Ortolano states simply that it’s in the name.
“It’s the type of music a wide variety of people can like. From old to young, people who like rock music, who like jazz, even people who are more into heavy metal, I don’t have one specific description for it, it’s very worldly,” said Ortolano.
“I don’t think people know what to expect, they expect typical Indian music than what we do,” said Natarajan, pointing toward a style of Indian music known as Raga, which relies on heavy improvisation. Because of this trait of the music, Natarajan says that a live performance of Atmasandhi can slide along the scale of upbeat to somber in a moment’s notice.
“The Spanish guitar tends to get a little more funky and they aren’t expecting it, and also the selection of songs that we do go from really upbeat to something that is almost like water, like the sound of a lake,” said Natarajan. “Expect to be surprised, expect to have fun and expect to have a smile on your face and you can actually expect tears of joy. This is a music that connects with the soul.”
Atmasandhi will perform on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m at Namba Performing Arts Space, 47 S. Oak St., Ventura. Ticket are $20. For more information, call 805-628-9250 or visit www.nambaarts.com. For more information on Atmasandhi, visit www.atmasandhi.com.