Inside the United Church of Hyde Park, sloping arabesque pillars frame the altar where Cincinnati chamber folk outfit The Happy Maladies are preparing for soundcheck. The concert they are opening is the first Southside Hub of Production (SHoP) event of the year; it’s also the first such event inside the church, the cultural hub’s makeshift home.
With the quartet arranged in a line across the stage, the room is heavy with anticipation. Featuring guitarist and banjoist Benjamin Thomas, guitarist and mandolinist Stephen Patota, upright bassist Peter Gemus, and violinist Eddy Kwon, The Happy Maladies would not be out of place at an old time church revival meeting. Yet the band’s sound, unlike their traditional exterior, is radically diverse. Each song is at once improvisational jazz, Punch Brothers Americana, flowing modern classical, and, when Thomas whips out the banjo, three-part close harmony folk.
The main act of the evening, Zamin, is quite unlike anything else. They open their set with vocalist Zeshan Bagewadi playing a table harmonium, accompanied by cellist Genevieve Guimond to his right. Next comes percussionist David Eisenreich, adding accents on a trumpet, followed by bassist Josh Fink. Their opening song evokes the image of a slow, lumbering caravan moving through some foreign city. Then Bagewadi starts singing, and it all changes. It isn’t possible to place Zamin in a genre. They sing in Urdu and Hindi, with cascading half tones and lilting Eastern melodies, combined with decidedly Western influences. Though their songs bear some resemblance to those of contemporary indie rock groups such as Beirut, Sigur Ros, and even Radiohead, the overarching sounds of Bagewadi’s strong, resonant “light Hindustani”-style vocals make the style all their own. The audience loves them, especially the two small girls in the front pew who unfailingly give standing ovations after every song.
In talking with founder Laura Shaeffer after the concert, it’s clear that even with the loss of their old space, SHoP will be just fine, better even. Laughing, she says that SHoP has “always been nomadic in nature anyways.”