Ian Maksin

WPNA.FM April 15, 2022

Cellist Ian Maksin has been spending the last couple of weeks raising money & awareness about the conflict in Ukraine.
On May 7th, the world-acclaimed cellist, composer and multilingual vocalist returns to Chicago’s Epiphany Center for the Arts, for a concert to support peace. Along with the special guest, Ukrainian pianist and vocalist Sofi Fraser and other musical guests, Ian will play his cello and sing in Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Polish, French, Spanish, Italian, Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew, Belarusian, Arabic, Armenian and several other languages.
Adela sits down with Ian to talk about this incredible concert, Ian’s philosophy towards music, collaborating with people around the world and more. 

Adela  0:00
Welcome, everybody to the 103.1 FM podcast. Here in the studio today is a musician with a fantastic upcoming concert that you won’t want to miss. It’s Ian Maksin – and he is going to be performing at Epiphany Center for the Arts in just about a month. Welcome Ian to the program! In case people don’t know who you are, it’s safe to say that you’re not only a multilingual, but also multi instrumental performer. Is that – Is that safe to say?

Ian Maksin  0:01
Yeah, you could say so.

Adela  0:31
What’s your favorite instrument to perform on live?

Ian Maksin  0:35
Well, it’s very different. Obviously, my main instrument is cello: it’s what I’ve been trained on since I was six years old… and it’s literally part of – it’s like an extension of my body, in a way or I am extension of the cello. I love the cello. But lately, I’ve also been playing guitar quite a bit for a number of reasons. One being it’s very easily transportable: like here in the studio, we can, I can sing and accompany myself on the guitar. With the cello, it’s a little more complicated. Cello a lot of times is not really as sufficient as, say, guitar or piano as an accompaniment instrument. Normally, when I accompany myself with the cello, I use electronics and turn it into more of a kind of deal… yes more like an orchestra. The cello companies cello or cello accompanies voice. It’s better for a concert setting, or at least when I have some additional sound equipment. But yeah, so … But to me, the more I play, the more I play different kinds of music on different instruments. I just realized to me, it doesn’t even make much difference what I use – whether I use my voice, whether I use guitar or the cello – it’s really the energy all about the energy that projects behind the music. And I know it’s the same thing, or almost the same thing, for the audience as well.

Adela  2:10
Absolutely right. I think I was a little bit surprised when I saw you a couple of years ago, for the very first time, pull out a guitar in the middle of your concert because I was used to seeing you around town as a cellist and somebody who does a lot of really crazy interesting things with a cello. But I’ve never seen with a guitar before. So it’s kind of curious how that started to play into your performance aspect. And when you play, you also tend to invite lots of interesting guests. Sometimes it’s you alone, which can be an incredible experience, like you mentioned with the loop pedal and you sound like more much more than just a single performer, right. But you also have a lot of really interesting artistic connections that you sometimes draw into your concert. Is that what’s going to be happening on the concert coming up as well?

Ian Maksin  2:52
Absolutely. When I tour it’s not as easy to have different, like mobile collaborations because of time constraints and you know, traveling. So I’m more confined to, to my own act. But I’m here in Chicago for the first time in a very long time…. I’m here for an extended period of time because my tour got cancelled, so a good part of it is that I had some downtime. I had some time for creativity, finally, and I had time to actually look around and see what’s going on in the city’s music life, and you know, some cool collaborations that could happen. And at one of the fundraiser events for Ukraine, I met this wonderful Ukrainian artist, Sophie Fraser, who was performing also at the fundraiser, and we met and we decided to just get together and jam and it was definitely some chemistry musically. I decided to invite her for a concert with in the suburbs at the art gallery, Art Gallery Kafe. And that was a huge hit. We had a lot of fun. And I decided to invite her to perform with me for the big show on May 7 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts. We’ve been working on some stuff together:  on my original music, on her original live music,  and a couple of really, really awesome covers that we’re going to do together. Tt’s just, it blends really well our voices, I feel, and people say that our voices blend together really well. And our musical heritage is in a way similar and somewhat different as well, which  sort of one adds to the other and it’s a lot of fun.

Adela  4:48
When you mentioned musical heritage being a little bit different and similar… can you expand on that a little bit? I’m curious what you mean by that statement. So some musical heritage –  did she also have a classically trained Background, or…?

Ian Maksin  5:00
She  – she has background both classical and pop. And, you know, obviously her first language is Ukrainian. And she writes her own music, her own songs in Ukraine, her own instrumental music, and also performs other people’s music from classical to pop covers. So very versatile and also kind of very similar to what I do. And so we definitely have a lot of common denominators, but definitely, definitely at the same time, she has a very unique style of of her own. And I think an important thing is like when, when you do collaborations, it’s about preserving and contributing your own unique style, but also blending to a certain degree – you have to blend with the other artists. And if you have that flexibility, that inherent ability to find and grasp onto these, like common factors,  that’s what creates in this instant bond and instant chemistry that is manifested in something really cool.

Very cool. Awesome. Will there be anyone else? Or is it just you two on this performance

Definitely going to have other artists! We’re going to have a support band – which I know for sure we’re going to have a wonderful Palestinian drummer and percussionist Yuri. I have actually collaborated with him in the past. He’s very versatile. He he’s actually of Palestinian origin, but he grew up in Latin America. So it’s an interesting mix, because flamenco and the majority of Spanish, especially Andalusian music, is related directly to Arabic music back, and all of that. The Hhritage is very, incredibly connected back thousands of years ago. Yeah, back a long time ago, a long time ago, and I don’t want to get too complicated, but it’s all right down my alley. This is what I’m all about. I’m about these common roots in different music, that thing, the roots that bring together Middle Eastern music, Balkan music, Spanish music, South American music, Eastern European music…. And also, as you know, my latest release was titled The Alchemist. If you’ve read the book, The Alchemist, it has a lot of that mixture: also of Spanish, North African, Arabic, and the philosophy, Eastern philosophy and Western philosophy coming together…. so to make a long answer for a short, short question, that’s going to be Yuri on my guest list among the guest artists, and there’s going to be other surprises too.

Adela  8:19
That’s very cool to hear… because it does seem like you know, not only are you somebody who embodies this idea, right, of music really being the ultimate language bonding people across the world, you’re also getting around you other artists who believe in that same statement too and of embody that same statement. It’s really surprising to hear about your drummer, who was Palestinian, but grew up in Latin America. And then it turns out, wow, that musical heritage, especially in the drums actually both come from the same roots. Very cool stuff. Why is that so important to you, as an artist to pursue? Because you could be you know, many artists choose to just go off and focus solely, for example, on their original compositions ….or stick in solely one genre…. what do you think is so important to you about this quest that you have?

Ian Maksin  9:09
I do feel – and I speak from experience – that these sort of musical collaborations are extremely important in bringing us together. First of all, it brings us together as artists; it helps us create this universal field of compassion, in a way, of empathy that’s created through music. That we’re experiencing other people’s music, music from other cultures. And it unites us in such a way that- that we can share with the audience. And I know for a fact that music we create helps unite people that listen to us, wherever they may be, especially in the light of recent events in Ukraine. I’ve been doing a daily, sort of like a blog meditation, just sharing music because I felt – what can I do? I constantly, everyday question myself –  what else can I do to help to support the people of Ukraine, other than just fundraising and some tangible help? So I do these daily, sending these daily prayers of music, and doing collaborations with different artists as well. And just the response that I get from both the Ukrainian people and from people around the world, that show their support through listening to this music, it just creates this collective experience that I believe is is very powerful… that can help us bring peace, and can help us bring this collective empathy to the people who need that support the most.

Adela  11:07
It’s interesting, too, because I feel like… speaking on uniting people, another thing that I’ve noticed is that you have a variety of people who go to your concerts, a variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Whenever I show your music to people, no matter who they are, they’re always intrigued and they love listening to it. I think that music can be a way to unite people who maybe are from completely different cultural backgrounds that would disagree – yes, let’s say that –  and let them kind of experience a culture that maybe they thought was 100% bad or awful because of some history. They have disagreements, they’re politically cut off… when they listen to music from a different culture, though, it really does soften those expectations and kind of let in conversations. So I don’t know there’s another….

Ian Maksin  11:55
That’s absolutely – that’s a great point, Adela.

Adela  11:58
Let’s pivot then to talk a little bit more again, about this, this concert. It’s happening on Saturday, May 7, and we’ve already kind of alluded to it but let’s be clear, this is going to also be a fundraiser for Ukraine, right?

Ian Maksin  12:13
There’s two element to it. First, a part of the proceeds is going to go to the charity called For Wellbeing. And these are friends of mine. That’s a Chicago based charity that I know, personally, people who work there, and their goal is to get the money directly to volunteers as quickly as possible, as opposed to going through a big charity where, you know, there’s a lot of delay and takes time. They’re literally – they receive the donation the next day, the volunteers receive either cash or they purchase things that that they need  – that they need to have directly from them. So I’ve been working with them, I’ve been raising money for them already. And also the second element that just came about is a colleague of mine-  Taras Chubay. A legendary Ukrainian musician. The founder of the famous Ukrainian band, Jeremiah’s cry, which is also very popular among many millions of Eastern Europeans (also here in the States.) He was driven out of his home which is just north of Kyiv and that’s where he had his studio recording studio, where he recorded most of his music, and all of his musical instruments, all the equipment, it all got bombed and looted. And now he’s in Austria with his family, literally living in a shelter. Looking still… they don’t even have a host family or a place to place to live. And so I took the initiative to organize a fundraiser for Taras and to raise some money for him, to help his family now, and also to help him rebuild –  I know it’s too early for him to rebuild the stuio,  but just to even have that – to know that he’s going to be able to rebuild that studio is very important because we all would love for him to be able to start creating again and creating again soon. It’s just a sign of gratitude for all of the music that he’s put out for millions of people. I’ve posted that fundraiser and a couple of people commented: Why should you be raising for somebody if he’s celebrity status because he probably –  maybe he doesn’t need it… or you know, there’s other people… and I responded, I said that, you know, we raising in North America, people are extremely supportive. We’ve raised already millions of dollars for charity and for Ukraine, but this is just a sign of something, of appreciation to our people that a lot of times they,  you know, they’re taken for granted. Musicians in many ways. And, you know, this is some somebody who has made a difference, made change in the lives of millions of people with his music, and I believe that these people should really be treated with a certain way  – to sort of give back the gratitude and, and to really help them out. So that’s going to be part of the fundraiser is going to be to help Taras get back as well.

Adela  15:36
Both of those sounds like incredible initiatives….and really quick to people who complained…, sometimes, especially nowadays, millions of people’s hearts touched, millions of streams, whatever, that doesn’t necessarily equate to millions of dollars. And most of the time it does not at all equate to anywhere close to that… especially  if you’re part of a record label where the record label owns the rights to most of your compositions, etc, etc, you end up owing money…. So it’s really a very, very misguided conception or position to have on musicians. It’s just, yeah, it’s interesting and sad to hear that people were annoyed that you were trying to just raise money for somebody who was very important to you. And also someone who was very important, like you mentioned to a lot of other people. He’s been creating art that’s incredible and the value of his art, you know, there’s no real value on it. But you’re helping however, you can, right?

Ian Maksin  16:30

Adela  16:30
Let’s remind people too that for every story that we hear.. like Taras, so many others are constantly getting bombed or getting driven out of their homes. So if people out there still wondering – well, why are we raising money for Ukraine when it seems like people are talking about it all the time? First of all, you never know where all these charities are sending their money. Are they directly sending the money to people who need it? Or are they going to go about it in a roundabout way? And the second part is, you know, this is not just going to be a couple of week-long conflict, and then it’ll be over… There’s going to be rebuilding after this that will take a long, long time. So why not come together and help people in their time of need? Absolutely, no, very important. So if you want to help people in Ukraine… if you want to contribute to these fundraisers that Ian was talking about… if you wanna see some incredible music by two incredible musicians, along with a whole band of musicians, you’re gonna want to be at the Epiphany Center for the Arts on Saturday, May 7! Tickets are available: general admission at $22, premium seats are available for greater amounts of money. And Ian –  Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about as far as the concert goes?

Ian Maksin  17:35
Doors open at 5pm. And also, we’re hoping (it’s still in process) there’s going to be some other fundraiser opportunities that we’re going to have. I’m not sure yet what it’s going to be: we’re definitely going to be selling some merchandise, possibly some artwork and other things that could help us raise, raise more money. And it’s definitely going to be a very special concert. As again, I said, I finally have time and opportunity to put something… create not something for the road, not something that could function as a touring act, but something really special that I could share with Chicago, which has been my home  – my homebase for the last 12 or 13 years.

Adela  18:18
Let’s move forward though: you have an instrument in your hands, and whenever people show up with an instrument, we want to hear that instrument being played. What are you going to play with for us today?

Ian Maksin  18:27
So I wanted to share a song… We did this concert at the Art Gallery Kafe which has a lot of Polish patrons. For that concert, I wanted to prepare some extra Polish and Ukrainian music, and obviously the song that’s –  that hits both two birds with one shot is “Hej Sokoly”. And it’s a really beautiful song and Sophie  – Actually, she’s very innovative, so she came up with this really cool arrangement that we do together. But even as just myself with a guitar, I’d like to sing this sort of – our modernized version of an old classic “Hej Sokoly”.  So here we go…

*Sings Hej Sokoly*

Adela  22:24
Thank you. Yeah, thank you…. If you’re interested in hearing that version performed in full with Sophie Fraser, as well as many, many other songs sung in many different languages – original compositions, covers  – all being done as a fundraiser for Ukraine… well then, again, check out Ian Maksin and friends in Chicago Cello For Peace on Saturday, May 7 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts. You can check out the full event details on Facebook or by visiting epiphanychi.com. Thank you again Ian.

Ian Maksin  22:59
Thank you Adela.

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