Chicago’s Indian groove Funkadesi turns 19


Rob Walton

Funkadesi will celebrate its 19th anniversary with an 18‑and‑over show Dec. 12 at the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park with other performers, including DJ WARP.


Chicago’s lively music scene is home to the band Funkadesi, known for its Indian-funk vibes, upbeat dance tunes, diverse instruments and title as six-time winner of The Chicago Music Awards. 

The 10-member group, created by Rahul Sharma, who plays the bass guitar and sitar in the group, blends Indian-funk with cultural Indian dance music and reggae funk. Funkadesi also hosts workshops to teach its music, dance and cultural expression  to the public. Usually performing at local and national music festivals, Funkadesi has recorded three studio albums and an EP that launched the group’s start in Chicago. The band performs regularly throughout the city, including during Chicago’s SummerDance festival from June through September every year. The band most recently performed at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St., on Nov. 2.

The local band just turned 19 and is set to perform its anniversary show on Dec. 12 at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave. The Chronicle spoke with Sharma about the band’s beginning, its influence on Chicago’s music scene and what is next for the group.

THE CHRONICLE: How did the group come together?

RAHUL SHARMA: Before it was a professional Chicago-based band, it was a project idea I had after I graduated from the University of Michigan. The idea was to mix Indian forms of music with funk music. What it turned into [has been] magic. Even though I had big dreams for the band, what it ended up becoming was a lot bigger than what I had dreamed.

What is Funkadesi’s music style?

One way of putting it is doing different strains of Indian music, whether it’s bhangra, Bollywood, classical [or] folk music, and blending it with reggae, funk and African-Caribbean groups.

What is your favorite local venue?

We currently love City Winery in the South Loop. We used to love Hot House—when they had the space. It was a lot of fun and in the South Loop. But I would say my favorite festivals are at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion [in Millennium Park].

What do you like most about performing in Chicago?

SummerDance is so much fun because it is a free show—people come out for dance instruction first, and you see everybody from Chicago there. I will be honest—there is so much segregation in the city. You’ll go to the North Side and see only a certain batch of the audience. SummerDance was great because you would see everybody at the same show. The band rarely gets an opportunity to see the crowd as diverse as the band, and it’s nice when that happens.

Do you have any new material coming out soon?

Yeah, we are in the middle of recording a new album. We are in the studio working with the producer and we have laid down some tracks. We are taking our time with it because we want to get it right.

Where else have you performed?

We have played in lots of places [and] festivals around North America. We even did a wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which was crazy.

What makes Funkadesi special?

I feel lucky to be with a bunch of musicians where we love what we play so much that we reinvent old songs because there is spontaneous energy onstage. We are constantly reinterpreting our own material, and when we do new stuff, it is a lot of fun. My day job is [as] a clinical psychologist, and I specialize in diversity and cultural competence. I feel really lucky that the band’s use of music has become an integral part of us trying to spread this message that we need to have a higher sense of belonging to each other in this day and age. Between the racism and Islamophobia and sexism and all this stuff, as human beings we need to really fundamentally have a higher sense of belonging. I think that’s what people feel when they feel our energy onstage.ha