Garaj Mahal embraces musical diversity

By Gus Bode

What happens when a group of men of different races, ages and backgrounds come together and collaborate musically? A group like Garaj Mahal is created.

In 2000, four men decided they wanted to try something totally new and musically exciting that had never been done before. This four-member band consists of Eric Levy, Kai Eckhardt, Fareed Haque and Alan Hertz. Each brings something unique and exciting to the group. The Pulse recently spoke to two of the group’s members, Levy and Hertz, about their lives and experiences with Garaj Mahal, who will perform at 10 p.m. Wednesday at Hangar 9.

Levy began his career as a musician at the young age of 5. His father, who was a full-time musician, served as his first piano teacher. Early on, Levy was exposed to different music styles such as jazz, classical and gospel blues from his parents who were “hippies from the ’60s.”


Coming from such a musically inclined family can sometimes have its downside, as Levy rebelled and decided early on to become a computer technician. It was not until the summer between his junior and senior years of high school that he began to finally realize music was something he was meant to do.

“While I was playing at different clubs at night and on weekends, I saw that I could make money and do something I enjoyed,” Levy said.

While in college at Northern Illinois University he met Fareed Haque, a professor, who would later serve as his band mate. Later, Levy left school when professors told him “he had nothing to learn there,” and started to become a regular in the Chicago club scene.

Levy describes his style as a mixture of everything. He uses the unique blend of gospel blues he learned when he was younger with the new and modern music he has learned since then. After he grew weary of the constant nightclub scene, he went on a two-year stint onboard Premier Cruise Lines Signature Vessels. When he returned to Chicago, he started to play with the Fareed Haque Group, which led to his part in Garaj Mahal.

Hertz began his career as a musician at the age of 2. He said he grew up feeling as though he was meant to become a musician. During his teenage years, he was a part of a group called Hertz Rent-A-Van. It was during that time he said he began to realize he enjoyed playing with different people.

He also learned there is a vast amount of music listeners who want something more in music besides the everyday stereotypical roles of what music is supposed to be. In 1998, Hertz became a member of KVHW, which was a blend of rock energy and a fiercely spirited, uplifting approach to group improvisation combined with jazz, world and R&B.

“This is the experience that really taught me to be myself and play the type of music that I was capable of playing,” Hertz said.


In 2000, the group disbanded and left Hertz to find himself a new beginning, which led to a new start with Garaj Mahal.

Though the members of Garaj Mahal find it hard to identify themselves as one thing or another, there are some specific qualities that separate them from the rest, such as the age difference.

There are two younger members who bring a certain modern vibe to the group. The ethnicity of the group also adds spice; Eckhardt is part German and African and brings that vibe. Haque is a seasoned veteran who has performed all over and gives leadership and guidance to the group.

The group contends the intent of its music is to give people an alternative to “normal” music and provide an escape from the long workday or the stress they may feel at home. The group pushes the musical envelope and loves it.

They all feel fortunate to be playing music, which is what they love to do, while gaining experience and money in the meantime.

They pride themselves on being different from any band currently on the music scene, and they refuse to compromise the point of their music, all the while gaining the respect of the music industry.

For more information on Garaj Mahal, go to