Tag Archives: classical

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Cambodian, Odissi, Jazz Artists

Ancient Contemporary: Odissi, Jazz, & Cambodian Classical

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

“Children are taught racism. Children are taught diversity. They don’t see it; they only see human. Two words: education and exposure. What are children educated about and what are they exposed to?” Coleen Lorenz, artistic director of New Ground Theater asked, and went on to affirm that she loves the Arts because they are the symbol of universal being-ness, of who we are at birth

This was part of the conversation when Coleen; Niharika Mohanty, artistic director of Guru Shradha Dance; Charya Burt, classical Cambodian dancer and teacher; and I met for the sixth episode, Ancient Contemporary, of Mosaic Connect, an online series designed to explore our common humanity through the performing arts. 

The episode aired when the country was in the grip of civil unrest. Shelter-in-Place had, on the one hand, unified us, on the other hand, protests against police brutality seemed to have uncovered a series of deep fractures among us…and within us. All of us, it seemed, were questioning our identity and purpose. More importantly, we all seemed to be looking at ourselves and each other with new eyes, asking ourselves the question – Where do I belong?

Some were looking to rediscover or reclaim their identity and some were challenging their neighbor’s very right to be included as Americans.

Programming at Mosaic Silicon Valley addresses this issue: how to move multicultural American communities from diversity and inclusion to belonging. We highlight the common roots or representations of any two artforms, such as in Ancient Contemporary, which mediated a course between Odissi and Modern Contemporary one the one side; Odissi and Classical Cambodian on the other. This was done deliberately, to create awareness about our common humanity and celebrate our beautifully rich traditions. Thus, the online episode showcased each style and artist, as well as their collaborations and was followed by discussion.

Mosaic Fellow, Charya emphasizes in Ancient Contemporary, “Arts can provide a model that is inclusive. For culture based artists like us, Arts can provide us with dignity, cultural identity, and pride to those in the community.” 

That pride is the basis of our collaborations. In contrast to the “Melting Pot” model, we welcome artists as they are, to build bridges organically, through discovery and connections.

Niharika was wondrous of the fluidity of vocabulary in the Jazz Contemporary style.

Coleen was impressed by the level of complexity incorporated in Odissi dance.

Charya was amazed at the similarities that her artform and Odissi had, to temple sculpture and mythology.

Clips from both explorations are included in Ancient ContemporaryLet us explore our identity and shared futures through the arts practiced in America today. Let diversity not be relegated to the label “ethnic” which by its very definition, excludes. Instead, let’s come together and include one another in this wonderful American mosaic. Let us be unafraid to express ourselves truly, in order that we may fully Belong. To sum up in Niharika’s words, “There is an ultimate truth. We are One. We stem from the same roots. Arts are more than ever, an expression of who we are.” 

Watch it all come together in the video below!

Follow the Mosaic movement here!


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Lockdown Diary of an Indian Dance Teacher

Like other performance artists, dancers and dance instructors depend on human interaction to convey their artistry to their audience. COVID situation presents unique challenges for dance instructors. Most dance teachers have had to replace their studio-based classes with online sessions, in line with the “stay-at-home” state guidelines. As they move their classes online, they are finding innovative ways to keep their audience and students engaged. 

I am an Indian dance instructor based in the Greater Seattle area, teaching Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance. As I have transitioned my classes to Zoom, it has been somewhat of a challenge due to various technical issues, as you can imagine.

Some funny moments arise from online classes:

Recently I have noticed a funny development…

My students were performing their mudras (hand motions) while chanting Sanskrit shlokas. As most of my younger students are US-born and lack fluency in their native tongues, I take time after each class to make them practice both the mudras and their accompanying shlokas. I teach my classes on a laptop connected to a large flat screen tv, with the sound ramped up. My daughters join me for some of the classes too and we perform together. 

My husband, who is an IT professional, sometimes sits and works in the adjacent kitchen area while I take classes. It seems that our shloka recitations have started affecting him too, as I can hear him repeating the mudras with us as we practice. During one of my online classes, I remember quizzing my students. “What is this mudra?”, I asked. “Kartarimukhaha” (a scissors shaped hand gesture), chipped my husband before the student could answer. The students and parents attending the call broke out laughing. He keeps humming these shlokas as he works around the house these days. I successfully implanted the Shloka bug in him finally after 16 years of our marriage during lockdown!

Pet dog “Sugar” was Aleyssa’s “horsey” during her online Indian classical dance class

In another incident, two adorable sisters, Aleyssa(8) and Ameyssa (5), were in the middle of their online Bharatanatyam class, working on a movement called “Araimandi” (a half-sitting posture where the dancer creates a typical diamond shape with her legs).  As Alyessa was practicing, her Labradoodle, Sugar, decided to run through her legs. She took it in stride and exclaimed that Sugar was her “Horsey!” So, in the middle of our class, there was my student, Aleyssa, riding atop her dog Sugar, like a princess on her horse! This ended when her 5-year-old sister, Ameyssa, came and held sugar’s ears and finally managed to stop her. Usually, an online session is very stressful for both teacher and student, but this incident made me laugh and brought in a much-needed bit of joy in this pandemic crazy homestay.

I am also inspired on a regular basis by my adult students. Most of them have kids at home and have to squeeze out time out of their daily schedules to attend classes. 

Pallabi tries to learn Indian classical dance online with her two active daughters running around her.

My student, Pallabi, has two active girls aged 4 and 7. Normally, when Pallabi would attend Bharatanatyam class, her daughters would play at the church nursery or at the park. After I moved the classes online, Pallabi decided to continue attending the online sessions. One day she was learning a complicated travel and sidestep, where she was trying to create a V shape on the ground with her feet, and as she danced, both her little girls were using that V-shape as a zig-zag path to run around. 

How she learned that complicated step amidst all the chaos that was going on at her home, is beyond me. This is funny as well motivating too, as it shows that if we are resolute in our focus, no chaos can be considered as an excuse.

I have also started teaching Bollywood dance lessons. I am currently teaching a sequence of Warrior queens from Period Bollywood musicals. For these lessons, students need to use props as swords. We were about to order these props and distribute them to the students but the lockdown came about before I could hand them over. However, the energy and positivity of my senior students came to the rescue. They decided to meet online and finish learning that sequence. For the prop swords, they turned to whatever they could get their hands upon in their respective homes. One took a rolling pin from the kitchen, another picked up her husband’s cricket game stick. Someone else picked up her kid’s toy arrow from a bow and arrow set, and another person grabbed a Jedi’s sword from her son’s desk.

Different dance props are chosen from around the home.

I am blessed to have these passionate people in my life. When I moved my classes online, I offered a discounted fee structure. However, all my students waived off these discounts and they pay the full fee amounts as they all think that more labor and prep time is involved in teaching online classes. I decided to contribute some of these earnings to other artistic communities, as a way of giving back.

Theatres, auditoriums, and other dance studios shut down across the country in response to COVID-19. Many studios are quickly exploring the option of teaching classes online. Many non-profit studios are asking for donations to help them stay afloat. Being a freelance Indian dance instructor with a decent IT job, I decided to donate online dance earnings to a dance studio named “Da Vinci”, which always provided space to people like us to continue our passion.

As the world continues an uncertain battle against the invisible COVID-19 virus, performing art communities worldwide have been among the first to be affected due to restrictions on public gatherings and concerts. The virtual world is flooded today with free offerings of all kinds of art, movies, museum tours, music festivals, dance concerts, music festivals, to keep up the morale of the world as it copes with the lockdown and the cultural climate. As a society, we need to help the arts survive as it helps with inner healing.

Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 

Celebrating 100 Years of Ravi Shankar

“Life is much larger than birth & death, failure & success. You are the unblemished, pure, eternal self. Knowing this, you will walk like a King.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Fifty-eight years ago, renowned Indian composer Pt. Ravi Shankar founded the Kinnara School of Music, spreading this noble philosophy and a fiery passion for the sitar with the rest of the world. A music creator for All India Radio, it was Pt. Ravi Shankar who popularized classical Indian music among the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and the Beatles. His distinct performing style set him apart from the other classical performers of his time, as his intricate rhythmic patterns were considered both melodic and unconventional. He brought an incredible dedication to his work, even composing the entire soundtrack for the 1995 film, “Pather Panchali” in one day. Although he sadly passed away at 92 years in 2012, Pt. Ravi Shankar left behind an enduring, heartfelt legacy.

To commemorate that legacy, music duo Sangam has teamed up with the Arohi ensemble to release an Indo-American interpretation of Pt. Ravi Shankar’s work. Featuring Paul Livingstone as the sitarist, this cross-cultural blend includes cello duets, sarod harmonies, and percussion riffs. Even more heartwarming is the effort from so many of Ravi’s direct disciples, such as Partho Sarothy, Pedro Eustache, and Barry Phillips.

Pt. Ravi Shankar is not celebrated today for simply mastering his craft. Although he was a skilled sitarist, he also symbolized the union of two worlds, two schools of musical thought. And the global harmony he created is certainly present today, as evidenced by the interpretations of Pather Panchali from the United States, India, and México. The Arohi/Sangam collaboration serves as a sincere reminder that music lives far beyond life itself.

To view Arohi’s tribute to the “Godfather of World Music”, click here! Meanwhile, click here to download the Arohi ensemble’s ‘Tilak Shyam’ recording!

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Arjun Chandra: Carnatic Music Debut Concert

My name is Arjun Chandra, and I am a 14 year old teenager entering my sophomore year of high school, at Dougherty Valley High school in  San Ramon. I will be performing my debut South Indian classical violin concert on August 4th 2019 at the Lakireddy auditorium, Shiva Vishnu Temple, Livermore. I will perform a variety of Carnatic music songs on the violin that I learned from my Guru Vidushi Smt. G. Bharathi, daughter of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. M. Chandrasekaran. I will be accompanied on Mridangam by Laya Kala Rathna Sri. Ramesh Srinivasan, leading disciple of mridangam maestro Sangita Kalanidhi Vellore G. Ramabhadran, and on ghatam by renowned Ghatam Vidwan Sri. S.V. Ramani.

I did not think that I would be playing my violin debut concert this summer. My parents were primarily planning for my twin brother’s mridangam arangetram. Around the end of April, my Guru suggested that I was ready to have my debut violin concert as well! I was a bit hesitant as I felt that I was not ready. However, I was told that, when senior artists of such caliber express confidence, then, it is important to take such advice seriously. And pretty soon the debut concert started to become a reality, thanks to my Guru and the support from my family.

This concert will also serve a cause, where I will be raising awareness for “Sai Aashraya”, an organization that aims to provide high quality health, education and nutrition services free of cost to the needy across India. More than 1000 children are fed nutritious food every day. Free state-of-the-art medicare camps are conducted on a monthly basis in a South Indian village, and once every two months in the tribal areas of  Arunachal Pradesh. 

Sai Aashraya has been carrying out Gram Seva (Village Service) where the villages adopted are given holistic care with an aim to make them self sufficient. Five of these villages are in extremely remote areas near the Indo-China border In Arunachal Pradesh and one of them is in Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. Many other projects are conducted on a regular basis, as shared here: https://www.saiaashraya.org/service-projects 

They have inspired many people, like me, to help people in need. Inspired by this organization, my friends and I have started making burritos every other week for homeless people on the streets of Oakland. Few families in the Tri-valley area take turns to serve simple breakfast everyday, to people on the streets, with the goal of connecting with them and understanding their needs. I truly believe in their cause. As their website says, “Sympathy for all mankind is a moral obligation and a duty“. 

Hope to see you at the concert to enjoy the music, and hope you get inspired by Sai Aashraya sharing. 

 

Event details: 

Date/time: August 4th, at 4 p.m.

Venue: Shiva Vishnu Temple, Lakireddy Auditorium, 1232 Arrowhead Avenue, Livermore, CA, 94551.

The concert typically goes for 2 hours, followed by dinner afterwards.

 

Ashwin Chandra Debut Mridangam Concert

I am Ashwin Chandra, a rising sophomore at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California. Welcome to my debut mridangam concert on August 10th. I will be accompanying Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. M. Chandrasekaran and Mrs. G Bharathi on South Indian classical violin duet music. Dr. M. Chandrasekaran is a famous octogenarian violinist from India and has received many awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award from the President of India. The violin duet will be accompanied by Vidwan S.V. Ramani on Ghatam. 

I have been learning mridangam for the past 5 years from Laya Kala Ratna Sri. Ramesh Srinivasan, a leading disciple of mridangam maestro Sangita Kalanidhi Sri. Vellore G. Ramabhadran, During one of the classes, my guru shared information about mridangam maestro Yella Venkateswara Rao, a researcher in Music Therapy. As a researcher, he has set up ‘Mridangam Therapy’ programs tailored to suit the development of mentally handicapped children at Thakur Hariprasad Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, a non governmental organization for mentally handicapped children. That experience kindled my interest to use music as a means to help the differently-abled become more abled. 

That’s when I found out about Pragnya (https://www.pragnya.org), a non-profit organization that creates real world experiences for the neurodiverse (differently-abled) community to acclimatize to the neurotypical (abled) community. Along with other students from my mridangam school, Sarvalaghu Percussion Art Center, I have started to volunteer at Pragna on a weekly basis, and  we introduce “Num” therapy for the children there. 

It is my honor and privilege to dedicate my debut concert to create awareness and to raise funds for Pragnya, an organization that promotes acceptance by the mainstream community of individuals who are on the autism spectrum. I am also proud of the efforts taken by our mridangam school in making a difference in this arena.

Concert details:

Date/time: August 10th 2019, 2:30 p.m. onwards, followed by dinner

Venue: Lakireddy auditorium, Shiva Vishnu Temple, 1232 Arrowhead Ave., Livermore, CA 94551

Indian Jazz Journey Comes to Stanford

Indian Jazz Journey featuring Mahesh Kale, Stanley Jordan, George Brooks, and Subhankar Banerjee
Dinkelspiel Auditorium, June 23, 4:00 p.m.
Co-resented by the Indian Classical Music and Art Foundation, and the Stanford Jazz Festival.
More information and tickets:

Be in on the creation of incredible new music as jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Indian classical music superstar Mahesh Kale collaborate in this special event with saxophonist George Brooks and tabla master Subhankar Banerjee.

George Brooks has long served as a bridge between the American jazz scene and India’s greatest classical musicians, a role the Berkeley saxophonist has embraced in organizing a series of unprecedented East/West encounters for the Stanford Jazz Festival. Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s career accelerated exponentially in 2015 when he won the best playback singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards for his work in the epic musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The film scored an unlikely honor for a regional art form far outside Bollywood’s mainstream Hindi-language fare, helping spark a revival. “Youngsters have taken a liking,” Kale says. “They have these songs on their play list next to Adele, and when youngsters connect to an art it gives a lifeline for 50 to 60 years.”

Kale and Brooks have been collaborating for several years, but making his first trip with this cross-cultural collaboration is storied jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, whose two-handed tapping technique radically expanded the instrument’s possibilities. He burst on the scene in 1985 with his debut for the Blue Note label, Magic Touch, spent a year on top of the jazz charts.

Tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee rounds out the ensemble, adding another virtuosic voice to the proceedings. Banerjee has toured with many of India’s greatest musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Shiv Kumar Sharma. He’s also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, a founding father of the Indo-jazz movement as a co-founder of the 1970’s ensemble Shakti.

For tickets, call 650-725-2787, or visit https://stanfordjazz.org/more-info/indian-jazz-journey-2019/

 

SF International Arts Festival: Indian Classical Dance

The San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF) is pleased to announce a day-long, two concert dance program featuring four different Indian classical dance companies embodying a variety of styles and regional influences.

Indicative of India’s east coast is Guru Shradha led by founding director Niharika Mohanty specializing in the Odissi dance form. Representing the north is Shambhavi’s International School of Kathak (artistic director Shambhavi Dandekar). These exemplary companies are joined by two practitioners of the southern form of Bharatanatyam, featuring the much respected Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose (artistic director Mythili Kumar) and an upcoming ensemble Samudra Dance Creations founded by well known dancer Jyotsna Vaidee that premiered a full length production on women’s empowerment at the 2018 Festival to critical acclaim.

Festival director, Andrew Wood said of the program, “We are very excited to have such great artists representing some of the rich and varied traditions of India performing in the Festival. Our primary goal in putting the program together was to celebrate the vibrant and innovative next generation of Indian and Indian-American choreographers making classical Indian dance in the United States in the 21st Century. We are especially interested in posing the question about the future direction of the art form as it exists in this country.”

Guru Shradha and Abhinaya Dance Company will perform at 2:00pm and SISK and Samudra Dance Creations will perform at 5:30pm.

Single tickets can be purchased for as little as $15 during the Early Bird period in the month of March. After that tickets are $25 in advance or $28 at the door. After March the best deal to see both performances is a $40 two-show pass. Children’s tickets are $15.

There will also be a panel discussion moderated by India Currents journalist Priya Das featuring the artistic directors of all four companies at 4:00pm. Food will be available for purchase.

The details of each company’s performances are as follows:

 

Guru Shradha (USA)

An Enchanting Odissi Odyssey (45 minutes)

Shared bill with Abhinaya Dance Company

Odissi dance, one of the oldest surviving Indian dance forms, is captivating through its unique grace and poses evoking temple dance sculptures. An Enchanting Odissi Odyssey takes the audience through a spiritual journey showcasing contemporary and traditional choreography revealing a tapestry of its devotional, emotive, intricate dance and haunting music.

 

Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose (USA)

Stories of Justice (2018, San Francisco Premiere) (45 minutes)

Shared bill with Guru Shradha

Stories of Justice will examine the non-violent resistance strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr. to demonstrate that the fight for social justice is ongoing and that past struggles provide lessons that enable us to confront our current problems.

 

Samudra Dance Creations (USA)

Earth Speaks (World Premiere) (45 minutes)

Shared bill with SISK Dance

Earth Speaks is a dance-music production that explores humankind’s intricate physical, emotional and spiritual relationship to the EARTH (PRITHVI in sanskrit).  When that connection, that umbilical cord is disturbed or even severed what happens to our being, our existence? The production incorporates Indian mythology, Greek mythology and contemporary stories to tell the story of Mother Earth in HER voice.

 

Shambhavi’s International School of Kathak (SISK) (USA)

Horizons… Kathak and beyond! (45 minutes)

Shared bill with Samudra Dance Creations

Horizons…Kathak and Beyond is a beautiful array of choreographic work in Indian Classical Kathak dance style. Horizons features traditional as well as contemporary themes in Classical Kathak. The performers include SISK’s founder, principal dancer and choreographer Shambhavi Dandekar along with her highly trained and accomplished disciples from India and USA.

 

SFIAF 2019 Calendar Listing

Who: Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose, Guru Shradha, Shambhavi’s International School of Kathak and Samudra Dance Creations / Joytsna Vaidee

What: A Day of Indian Classical Dance

Where: Cowell Theater, Herbst Pavillion, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture

When: Saturday May 25, 2:00pm (Guru Shradha followed by Abhinaya)

           Saturday May 25, 4:00pm Panel Discussion moderated by Priya Das

           Saturday May 25, 5:30pm (Samudra followed by Shambhavi)

Tickets: $15 – $28general admission (Two show passes are $40)

Box Office & Information: www.sfiaf.org 415-399-9554

~XXX~

Drive East Mesmerizes Audiences

Drive East is a vibrant, explorative and immersive festival which stages classical forms of Indian music and dance. The festival is presented by Navatman, founded and curated by Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Sridhar Shanmugam. This year it brings artists together as a ‘Guldasta’ (bouquet) of creative expression in New York City and San Francisco with 40+ artists, 13 concerts over 5 days.

The festival has seen its sixth season in New York City and this week Navatman premieres Drive East  in San Francisco with a Carnatic music choir (NMC), a Bharatanatyam ensemble, (Abhinaya Dance Company, Navatman Dance), Odissi (Arushi Mudgal), Hindustani vocal (Pt. Rattan Mohan Sharma), Santoor (Vinay Desai), Ghazal gayaki (Vishal Vaid), and the soul stirring Sarode of Maihar Gharana, (Alam Khan). 

The India Currents Heritage Arts Initiative team had an opportunity to speak to Navatman West Coast Manager Nadhi Thekkek. Here are some excerpts:

’’ Drive East creates an intimate studio experience for an up close and personal connection with a range of artistic disciplines; Carnatic music, Hindustani music, ghazals, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Kuchipudi and even rarely seen art forms, like Sattriya (Assam) and Kathakali (Kerala).

‘’Besides being a platform for the South Asian classical arts, Drive East is becoming a way to promote local artists, giving them paid opportunities to develop professionally. In this year’s festival we have 12 acts, and even more individual artists, who are from North America. Many of those who are based on the west coast. The other 20 or so acts, span the globe. Aside from the US, artists this year hail from India, Singapore, and France. Both Sridhar and Sahi have a remarkable ability to choose artists with a diverse range of styles, identities, themes, and ages. They have been emerging, mid-career, and experienced professionals. All have the power to inspire. All must be given professional opportunities like these to continue to develop and grow their artistry’’.

Nadhi elaborated with her passionate love for the performative arts of India and went on to tell us how she has spent the last year traveling and attending performances in London, Vancouver, Chennai, San Jose, San Francisco, DC, Austin and New York.  ‘’I have found myself utterly taken by performances in all of these cities. And Drive East brings many of these artists all in one city and to one venue!’’

Undoubtedly, the festival is a catalyst for excellence. The New York Times, the New Yorker, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and regional media channels have reviewed Drive East as a “must attend” festival. Check it out for yourself!

August 22 – 26, 2018, Joe Goode Annexe, 401 Alabama St, San Francisco, CA. https://www.driveeastnyc.org. 
Tickets: http://www.driveeastnyc.org/tickets.html

Full Line Up: http://www.driveeastnyc.org/sf-schedule.html

Artist Videos: http://www.driveeastnyc.org/artist-videos.html

Navatman youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/navatman1

Festival at a glance:

Wed. August 22:        

 7-8:15 pm Alam Khan (Sarode) 

8:30-10 pm Arushi Mudgal (Odissi)

Thurs, August 23:      

7-8:15 pm Navatman Music Collective (Carnatic vocal choir)

 8:30-10 pm Shijith and Parvathy Nambiar (Bharatanatyam duo)

Fri. August 24:          

7:15-8:15 pm Locally Sourced: Manasa Suresh/NCS Ravali (Carnatic Vocal) 

8:30-10 pm Bhavana Reddy (Kuchipudi)

Sat. August 25:            

3:15-4:45 Dualities in Dance: Gender Roles in Bharatanatyam Performances by Sujit Vaidya, Kiran Rajagopalan, followed by discussion 6-7 pm Navatman Dance (Bharatanatyam)

7:15-8:15 pm Prabal Gupta (Kathakali)

8:30-10 pm Nirmala Rajashekar (Carnatic Saraswati Veena)

Sun. August 26:          

2-3 pm Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose (Bharatanatyam)

4-5 pm Raga Revelry, A Film Screening

5-6 pm Flute Raman Trio (Carnatic flute)

The Heritage Arts Initiative, India Currents, is delighted to be a Drive East champion. Over the few days, we shall bring you updates, creative bites and profiles. https://indiacurrents.com/category/heritage-arts/

Who’s Afraid of Dhrupad?

Dhrupad Vocal. Gundecha Brothers. Sundaram records. Available at www.dhrupad.org

Hindustani musicians often speak of dhrupad the same way that jazz musicians speak of the blues: It is the root, the source from which their music springs, and to which each musician must return to continually recharge and revitalize. But while blues is an unabashedly popular form of music, dhrupad came from sources that were not even music at all, if we think of music as being something performed for audiences at a concert.

Indian Classical music vs. Jazz blues
Indian Classical music vs. Jazz blues

Dhrupad is probably closer to the chanting of Hindu priests than any other form of Hindustani music, and such chanting is primarily a tool for reaching enlightenment, rather than an art form. Unfortunately, this closeness to spiritual practice has prompted many people to think of dhrupad as a kind of musical “spinach” i.e. something that you should listen to because it’s good for you, not because it’s aesthetically pleasing. Consequently, many Indian music stores with substantial selections of khayal and other Hindustani classical music will carry little or no dhrupad recordings. Even devotees of classical music often seem to think that listening to dhrupad will be about as exciting as watching the grass grow.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), the three Gundecha Brothers (vocalists Umakant and Ramakant, accompanied by Akhilesh on pakhawaj) are helping to dispel this myth. They performed two benefit concerts this year for IAHV’s 5H program, which provides education, medicine and nutrition for poor people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. And although those who came may have thought their primary motivation was to help a good cause, they experienced an evening of music that was not only spiritual, but beautiful and artistically sophisticated as well. Dhrupad, after all, has been concert music since Mia Tansen sang it for the emperor Akbar. And the similarities to more modern forms of Hindustani music are more noticeable than the similarities.

The first most obvious difference is the formal structure. Almost all of the improvisation takes place during what dhrupad performers call the alap. Dhrupad alap however, actually corresponds to what Hindustani instrumentalists call the alap, jhor and jhala, for it consists of slow medium and fast sections (called, vilambit, madhya, and drut, just as they are in instrumental music). The percussionist plays an older two-sided drum called the pakhawaj, which has its pitched sound ringing on a note much deeper than the “ta” of the modern tabla. When the vocalists sing with the pakhawaj, they begin with a fixed composition that usually uses a text by a traditional poet such as Tulsidas or Kabir. They then improvise entirely in Bol-baant i.e. singing variations in which the words of the poem are repeated and varied. There is no use of the taans or sargam which are so important to khayal.

A Dhrupad singer and instrumentalist
A Dhrupad singer and instrumentalist

But aside from these relatively minor differences, most of what you will hear in a given dhrupad performance will be greatly similar to what you would hear in a khayal performance. Many of the ragas are the same, as are the srutis and the rhythms, and the overall experience of the concert makes one think it would be more appropriate to see dhrupad as a cousin of khayal rather than its grandfather. One could say that dhrupad is “simpler” than khyal. But this is true only in the sense that it has fewer ornaments and flourishes. In this sense, a B.B. King guitar solo is “simpler” than a Jeff Beck solo, Haydn is “simpler” than Beethoven, and the Parthenon is “simpler” than a Gothic cathedral. But simplicity in none of these cases implies lack of sophistication or artistry. It merely means that the artistry is focused on broad lines rather than on filigrees and curlicues.

When the Gundecha brothers sing an alap, there are fewer shakes and quivers than you will hear in khayal. But they do use slow subtle shifts in sruti which require tremendous vocal power. The great khayal vocalist Ustad Nisar Hussain Khan said of dhrupad that “the long gliding phrases require very deep and sustained breath. I readily admit that I would not be able to become professional in that style.” Dhrupad also requires a very large pitch range (two and a half octaves, going all the way down to a low sa), extensive use of volume dynamics and tone quality shifts, and as sophisticated a knowledge of layakiri (rhythmic variations) as any other form of Indian music.

It is widely asserted that Dhrupad has not changed for centuries, but strictly speaking this not true. Dhrupad jugalbandi (two vocalists singing together) did not begin until the second half of this century, and now thanks to the Gundecha brothers and their teachers the Dagar brothers, this practice is extremely common. This was a very effective innovation, for it enabled the broader lines of the dhrupad ornaments to be used in new ways without having to borrow ornaments from khayal. When the Gundecha brothers sang the pentatonic raga bhupali at their San Francisco IAHV concert, the wide intervals in the raga made it possible for their vocals to freely swell and slide against each other, creating a languid counterpoint that almost sounded like widely spaced harmonies. And during the drut alap, their staccato recitations of quick syllables created bubbling cross rhythms that could exist in no other form of music.

On their new album “Dhrupad Vocal”, they also add another innovation: a rich reverberation that creates a sound more like a concert hall than the traditional small room sound used in most Indian classical recordings. Because Indian classical music today is almost always played amplified in large concert halls, this is a more accurate way of reproducing a live performance, and the resulting sense of grandeur fits the music quite well. I would have preferred to have less reverb on the pakhawaj, for this setting obscured many of the higher tones of the drums, and forced brother Akhilesh Gundecha to play with less drive and virtuosity than he used in the live concert. But there is no denying that the explosive snare-like quality produced by the reverb was extremely effective. Perhaps this pakhawaj sound will become the standard for twenty-first century dhrupad, just as jugalbandi became standard in the twentieth century. Only time will answer that question, but there is no doubt that, thanks to the Gundecha brothers, dhrupad will continue to grow and flourish.

Teed Rockwell has studied classical Indian music for fifteen years at the Ali Akbar College of Music and privately with Habib Khan and the Salamat Ali Khan family.