The University of Illinois Sesquicentennial Kick-off Event and Celebration will take place at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, on February 28th, the 150th anniversary of the University’s founding on that day in 1867. This event, which is free and open to the Champaign community, will feature a formal program at the Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center. This program will aim to celebrate the university’s accomplishments over the past 150 years and to share its goals for the future with the community. It will also serve to kick-off the several major projects and events that the university has planned in celebration of the sesquicentennial over the next year, including a new Siebel Center for design, a special exhibit in the Spurlock Museum, and a video project about the history of African American students at the U of I. The formal program will be immediately followed by a post-kickoff reception in the Krannert lobby, with a musical performance from the Chicago based group, Funkadesi.

According to their official website, Funkadesi "fuses Indian music — bhangra, Bollywood, Indian folk — with reggae, funk, and Afro-Caribbean grooves." The group has received acclaim both from within the United States and across the globe for their one-world sound and dynamic live performances. This acclaim had included recognition from Time Magazine, as well as Former President Barack Obama, who praised them for their ability to fire-up a crowd.

Funkadesi is a diverse group both musically and in the backgrounds of the members of the group. According to the their website, the six-time Chicago Music Award winning musical act represents the diverse multiethnic communities of Chicago from which the band originates. Each of the ten members of Funkadesi provides a unique cultural and musical contribution to the group that merge to create one a united group, musically and visually.

I spoke with Funkadesi founder and guitarist, bassist, and sitarist, Rahul Sharma, about the band’s relationship with the U of I community and the opportunity to play at its sesquicentennial event.

Smile Politely: What is Funkadesi's relationship to the U of I community and how did you become involved with this event?

Rahul Sharma: We've had the privilege of collaborating with Krannert a couple of times -- both at indoor and outdoor events. I believe it started when [KCPA Director] Mike Ross first heard us a number of years back when we performed at an Illinois Arts Council event in Chicago.

SP: Has your group ever played on the U of I campus before? If so, what was that experience like?

Sharma: [We've played] both indoor and outdoor events in collaboration with Krannert Center. We love the reception we get!

SP: What does the opportunity to play at this event mean to you and the other members of your group?

Sharma: It's a great opportunity for us, and given that we're a diverse music group, it's a testimony to Krannert/U of I's values to choose a band like ours for the opening reception.

SP: What aspect of Funkadesi’s performance at Krannert are you most looking forward to?

Sharma: The intimacy of the reception -- last time we performed in that space, folks were so engaged.  Plus, Mike Ross is a great person to have as a fan!

SP: What can audiences expect from Funkadesi's performance at this event? What do you hope your audience at the Krannert Center gains from seeing your group perform?

Sharma: Especially in this day and age, we need to affirm each other's humanity. And since Funkadesi has just celebrated 20 years together, the audience can feel the "one family" vibe in the way we play and interact with each other and the crowd. Expect a polycultural party!

 
Those who are interested in attending the formal Sesquicentennial kick-off event, which occurs at 3 p.m. in the Foellinger Great Hall, should RSVP through the official sesquicentennial website. The post kick-off celebration reception featuring Funkadesi will take place in the Krannert lobby at 5 p.m. and does not require advance notice to attend.