Tag Archives: Grammys

The Rasa of Belonging

music1few days ago, the editor got me thinking about the concept of Rasa. “Entertainment is a desired effect of performance arts but not the primary goal. The primary goal is to transport the individual in the audience into another parallel reality, full of wonder, where he experiences the essence of his own consciousness, and reflects on spiritual and moral questions.” Per Wikipedia, that is how Natya Shastra—the ancient Indian text, explains the concept of Rasa.

2016 has been an interesting year, from a rasa and rasika (appreciator of rasa) point of view. The Grammy awards, with which I begin my research into music columns for the year, are a recognition of musical creativity and artistry. However, I like to believe that the most popular award, Record and Producer of the Year is in recognition of the hold a specific record has on the masses, it’s ability to transport listeners. This year there was a desi connection to the Record and Producer of the Year, for Uptown Funk, the Bruno Mars song that everybody was tapping their feet to! It was so popular that my ten year old and his friends danced to it at their school’s talent show.

It being this-kind-of-election year, I could not help give Jeff Bhasker, who did win the Grammys for both Record and Producer of the Year, more thought than perhaps I might have otherwise. He was born to an Indian-born father. Did he learn Indian music? Had his parents argued about which after-school classes he would go to when he was a boy? Did his ex-mayor father want him to be politically active? Does he now acknowledge that his son has more power over more people than his Mayoral office ever did? Growing up and now, did/ does Bhasker accept his Indianness as a “so-what” or did it bother him and people around him?

The next month I discovered Ryan (aka Narayan) Sijan, who came from the outside to immerse in Indianness. “When I was in India I learned quite a few traditional songs from gypsies in Rajasthan,” Sijan recalls. “I spent two weeks with them at a festival in the Thar desert. A few years later when I was in Turkey I heard someone singing a piece with almost the same melody, it had just been changed a little by the culture. That was a real inspiration to me, I realized how music can bridge time and distance.” Sijan had been wonder struck by the common weave in music around the world and created an album harnessing those sounds.

May was even more impactful, the story of a Pakistani group from Sachal Studios making music underground, in the face of Taliban oppression. What gives these musicians the courage to do this? What is it in the human spirit that makes us communicate to and seek Oneness in the many worlds we inhabit? The Sachal Studios music had, in effect, elevated moral consciousness and eliminated boundaries.

I interviewed Mahesh Vinayakram, a Carnatic trained artist touring currently with Cirque du Soleil; not just rendering his music, but also learning techniques such as “head voice” used mainly by Western vocalists.

It struck me that artists in general, are never satisfied with the status quo, theirs is not the world that needs mere upkeep and maintenance, for they constantly break built-up associations and create afresh to seek a different kind of communion, appeal to a different audience each time.

However, a thought-provoking perspective on Oneness was brought to light during my research on the column When a Song Becomes an Anthem,” Nation-building. Music and musicians have been harnessed to elect Governments, rally support, or just keep the political machine going, true. But when and how is a Nation built, what keeps its people together?

My research led me to conclude that at various times, national symbols, candidates, and leaders become representative of a collective spirit; but that the “collective spirit” gets re-configured periodically. Oneness is mistakenly defined by skin color and/ or beliefs, but that these buckets appear necessary when incumbents feel an ethnic/ economic loss, new-comers or some communities don’t feel included: Nobody knows how to belong, because there is apparently no common weave that can hold the community fabric together.

Serendipitously, I heard Bruce Springsteen interviewed on radio late one night. He said that while he was out one day during a politically/ economically uncertain time in our country, somebody while driving by, shouted out “We need you, Bruce!”

As to why somebody called out to him, that’s not important. What is poignant is that somebody called out to Springsteen as a musician. This year of writing has driven home the fact to me that the only pursuit and profession whose established goal is to create Oneness, is the Arts. Music is a powerful tool not just to elevate the individual but also to raise collective consciousness all over the world. I am hoping to explore further and produce examples of how the Arts shape(d) a community’s consciousness through my 2017 columns.

This much is a surety: The Arts imparts its creators with power, literally and by association. If more people appreciate your art, the more influential you are. The more your art is in tune with your audience, the more they feel they belong.

The end of 2016 has brought us face to face with a rather grim reflection of our fractured nation. Today, I find myself believing—utterly—that artists are singularly equipped with the power to tear down negative associations and infuse their communities with the rasa of Belonging, one audience at a time.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music, and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

What’s Indian at the Grammys?

The Grammys award ceremony this year is scheduled for February 15 and has quite a few India(n) related nominees. Take a read below:

Record of the Year and Producer of the Year (Non Classical)
Uptown Funk
Jeff Bhasker (Producer)musicuptown_funkReleased in November 2014, Uptown Funk has cruised the top positions in music charts in the United States, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Australia and Brazil. It was co-produced by Jeff Bhasker, who was born to an American mother and an Indian-origin father.music_jeff_bhasker

Music producers are typically the unsung heroes of any song: they rarely appear on camera, but are responsible for literally everything to be camera-ready.

Bhasker prefers to maintain a low profile, he has been reported to say, “…A lot of people think you can make a beat and be a producer. But there’s so much more that goes into it: having a vision, knowing how to get a really great performance out of the artist, stuff like that… to get an Adele-like vocal performance out of someone or to write a great song or capture multi-layers and levels of music, it’s an entire tradition of producing…”

Bhasker is a Grammy veteran, before this year, he has been nominated 11 times and won three; namely Best Rap Song for “Run this town”(2009) and “All of the Lights”(2012) and Song of the Year for “We are young”(2013).

He attributes his music-sense in part, to years of playing in a wedding band. In an interview, he said “I would play classical music for the ceremony, jazz for the cocktail reception, and we’d play all the hit music from the 40s until current at dinner. I was spanning 600 years of music in six hours.”

Before forging his own path, Bhasker worked with Kanye West, who he describes as the modern Miles Davis.

Best Music FilmAmy
Asif Kapadia (Video Director)
Amy is a documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, a British songwriter and singer who died in her twenties of alcohol poisoning.
London-born Indian Asif Kapadia directed the film. He bmusic_amyelieves that the art of documentary making begins with questions that one wants answers to. Winehouse was visibly not in control of herself at public appearances leading up to her death. In an interview Kapadia says, “How did it transpire that she was in that state on stage. Every one saw it and yet nobody stopped it. People were making decisions to have her on TV shows … keeping her in the limelight when she was trying to escape.”music_asif

Kapadia is no stranger to awards, having won BAFTA’s (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) 2012 Best Documentary and Best Editing for “Senna,” a movie based on three-time Formula One racing champion, Ayrton Senna.

Best World Music Album
Anoushka Shankarmusic_home
Anoushka Shankar pays tribute to her father and guru Pandit Ravi Shankar in Home. It features Raga Jogeshwari, which is a creation of Ravi Shankars.
Shankar has been nominated for a Grammy four times before this year, and was the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in the World Music category in 2003. Her father won five Grammys between the years of 1967 and 2013, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Incidentally, the Grammy Museum is hosting an exhibit called Ravi Shankar: A Life In Music, which will be on display through April 2016.

Best Instrumental Composition
Confetti Man
David Balakrishnan, composermusic_afrolatin
(Turtle Island Quartet)
Their website best describes them: “Winner of the 2006 and … the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island fuses the classical quartet esthetic with contemporary American musical styles.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said of them, “It must have been like this when Beethoven was taking Vienna by storm—the exhilaration of seeing the future of classical music unfold before your eyes and ears.”

The Quartet was formed by violinist David Balakrishnan, who was himself a fan of rock persona Jimi Hendrix growing up. In an interview online, he says, “I remember my mouth falling open, and experiencing a feeling of astounding joy … It’s like falling in love for the first time. That’s what created the first intense love of music for me, not playing classical music … listening to Hendrix, I realized that I could do that on violin.”

Yo-Yo Ma (world renowned cellist) has proclaimed the Quartet to be “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground —authentic and passionate—a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.”

Best Instrumental Composition and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
The Afro Latin Jazz Suitemusic_confettiman
Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
(featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa)
Apparently, the night after the Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra played in U.S. Interest Section in Havana, President Obama announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after 50+ years.

The Grammy nominated track features saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s from the album Cuba: The Conversation Continues, which features compositions by six American and four Cuban composers, played by 24 musicians. Throughout, Mahanthappa moves through several genres, including salsa, cha cha, and jazz.

Two other India(n) related nominations are Seeing; Kabir Padavali by Christopher Rouse/ Labl-Maxos for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album and Bhakti Without Borders by Madi Das for Best New Age Album.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.