Ramah Malebranche MFA ’10

Frontman. Guitarist. Outdoorsman.

This music instructor and ensemble frontman brings a decidedly two-world perspective to his artistic work.

Haitian born and Chicago schooled, Ramah Malebranche brings a decidedly two-world perspective to his musical creations. And he’s got people listening.

The classical guitarist and singer has performed at the Old Town School of Folk Music and landed airtime on National Public Radio. Writing from what can be the depths of despair from a divorce or a blanketing winter, Malebranche takes something ugly and makes it beautiful.

Caribbean and Construction Roots

Born into a family of landowners in Haiti, Malebranche and an uncle listened to music to pass the time. French singer Édith Piaf and romantic composers Fernando Sor and Heitor Villa-Lobos influenced his musical path. “I was self taught through high school and studied some classical guitar at Southern Illinois University,” he says.

The music never left his head. While working a construction job after earning his Columbia College Chicago degree, Malebranche would race home to write the songs he’d been composing while hanging dry wall. “I knew the guitar well enough to get down the ideas that I’d been hearing all day,” he says. “I was covered in soot and exhausted, but that’s how I wrote my first album.”

Wooden Rings and Musical Things

Malebranche has hung up his hard hat for some white-collar work as an adjunct professor. He teaches music on two campuses for the Illinois Institute of Art — downtown and in Schaumburg. Still, he sees himself as a working-class artist. “My goal is to find a sustainable equilibrium where I can continue to make music, grow a family and have a home,” he says.

Wooden Rings, the ensemble he directs, found him by way of some various open-mic nights around the city. The quartet, who garnered positive play with their self-titled 2012 release, features nylon string guitar, clarinet, bells, cello, glockenspiel and electric bass.

Winter Reflections, Columbia Connections

Breezy Haitian melodies may forever battle Chicago’s bluesy cold in Malebranche’s mind. His solo release “Heliocentric” stems from the brutality of Chicago’s winter. “With folk music in general, I think there’s a tie to nature,” he says. “Even though I live in a bigger metropolis, I’m constantly brought back to nature.”

He’s also still connected to his alma mater. “I had a great roster of teachers at Columbia,” Malebranche says. “Paul Catanese [associate professor, Interdisciplinary Arts], in particular, really helped me a lot and continues to offer good advice.”