Over the last few decades, slokas, bhajans, and ghazals, even tabla and mridangam bols and kannakols (enunciated beats), instead of being practiced by the learned few Indians, have become a global interpretive art, finding a spot in trance, jazz, new age, world music, and Hollywood, of course.
This inclusion has led to growing recognition of the music and musicians. And so it is, that David Vito Gregoli and Mala Ganguly’s Mahadeva has been nominated for The Hollywood Music In Media Awards® (HMMA) in the World music genre. The HMMA recognizes and honors the music of visual mediums (film, TV, movie trailers, video games, commercials, etc.); the talented individuals responsible for creating, producing and placing it; and the music of artists, both mainstream and independent, from around the globe.
The winners will be announced in November 2015.
You will have heard Ganguly’s voice in movies such as Eat Pray Love, Mission Impossible 4, An American Affair, and The Man from Elysian Field. And also perhaps, from recordings such as Prana and Bhajan (Re)Beats, of which Mahadeva is a part.
“It was yog (preordained) that I live in the United States,” Ganguly reminisces. “I came to learn from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in the 80s. I was in the middle of a talented pool of people-my bar was high, since Kolkata in those days was the hub of all music activity. I performed a few times here and was inspired by the appreciation and respect I received. The Sengupta family of Covina was generous enough to host me. So I just stayed!”
Ganguly’s mom was a gifted singer herself, so her childhood was spent receiving classical training in music and the performing arts. By 12, Ganguly was already singing on the radio and performing at concerts; as well as dabbling in dancing and acting.
Around that time, she was offered a role in the Bengali movie Parineeta, but it was time to make a choice about where to focus her energies; music was it. The famous film director Hemant Kumar chose her as the playback singer for many of his Bengali movies, such as Bandhan, which was later made in Hindi as well.
Ganguly is well-versed in many genres-ghazals, classical, Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geeti, etc. This talent and her voice wins over skeptics, “The L.A. Punjabi audiences at first rejected a Bengali singer, ‘Bengalis cannot possibly correctly pronounce Urdu words!’-but then, the first event lasted for hours, ending at 4 a.m. the next day.” For Ganguly, that was an omen of the trajectory her career would take. “I never had a business card, [still] the invitations were endless, just through word of mouth. I am grateful to supporters such as the late Ranjan Guha, a family friend.”
Ganguly expanded her repertoire by singing for Anjani Ambegaonkar’s Kathak ensembles, which took her, over the next three decades, to prestigious stages such as at the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, and New York’s Lincoln Center.
In 1995, she was approached by Ustad Zakir Hussain for lending her voice to a film called Saaz. Many will remember that the movie was about music and musicians.
However, Ganguly had green card issues and had to decline. That same year, she found herself doing a Nike commercial during the basketball season. The commercial won an award and her relationship with mainstream U.S. media was cemented.
There were other commercials such as with Ameritrade and eBay, her voice was cast in Hollywood movies, the first being Hallmark’s Christmas Box, which was aired repeatedly. She was also approached by other musicians to collaborate on recordings, such as Gregoli. Gregoli is a multi-instrumentalist with a deep connection to Asian spirituality, as is evidenced in the name of his recording label “Dharmapala” (keeper of dharma or true way of life).
Ganguly is also a spiritual person, elaborating that “Music is my strength, my inspiration. I worship Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Pratima Bannerji, Ustad Amir Khan … When Ustad Ali Akbar Khan used to perform, he would be one with God. That is what I seek, too, that caliber is what I hold as my goal.” Her current projects include forming and creating music for a fusion band called Butterflies, which she has “dreamed of for many years.”
Incidentally, Ganguly is also a visual artist, the album cover art for Bhajan Rebeats/ Mahadeva was designed by her.
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.