Tag Archives: Indian Music

The Cowboy and the Yogi: Ideals Shared by India and America

For 25 years, Teed Rockwell wrote a monthly column for India Currents magazine on all aspects of Indian music, ancient and modern, classical and popular. His goal was to be an ambassador for Indian music, as Leonard Bernstein had been for European music, aspiring to make it comprehensible and enjoyable to everyone.
This book is a collection of Rockwell’s best columns, grouped by subject matter, with additional commentary written especially for this book.
The first chapter is devoted to the Allauddin Khan Gharana, which includes Ali Akbar Khan, his sons Alam and Aashish, as well as Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar.
There are articles on Classical Indian musical styles, such as Dhrupad, Thumri, and Qawwali, as well as introductions to Indian music theory that could be used in college or high school courses. There are chapters on Indian folk and contemporary music, from Bollywood, to Bhangra, to the world fusion music that arises when cultures collide. And there is a chapter on the complicated relationship between music and Islam.


The book’s recurring theme is that India, like America, is a country that nourishes creative individuality. Just as Americans have been inspired by the archetype of the Cowboy, who wanders the open spaces in search of a dream, so Indians are inspired by the Yogi, who wanders inner spaces in search of realization.
The essential difference between the two cultures is that Americans demand freedom from rules, and India is a country with lots of rules—that everybody breaks. Indians praise obedience to tradition, but when push comes to shove, it is always the inner voice of intuition that wins out—an intuition that, at its best, inspires each individual to preserve the essence of the tradition as he or she changes it.

“I had the pleasure to edit Teed’s music column every month. As someone who knew little about Indian Classical Music, I enjoyed learning something new every month – Kirtans East and West, Who owns Bhangra, along with profiles of Hindustani and Carnatic music leaders, and so much more. “The Cowboy and the Yogi” promises to be a delightful read.” – Vandana Kumar, Publisher of India Currents

Purchase Your Copy Today!

Teed Rockwell took hundreds of classes with Ali Akbar Khan, Shahid Parvez, and other great Indian classical musicians, He is philosophy lecturer emeritus at Sonoma State University, and his writings on the philosophy of cognitive science have been published by MIT press, and in numerous academic journals. He is the only person in the world to play Indian classical and popular music on an instrument he calls the touchstyle Veena. His music videos can be found at www.bollywoodgharana.com


An Immigrant Warrior Wielding a Dhol

The Red Baraat’s torchbearer, Sunny Jain, thrums his dhol to the cadence of commotion – afire with harmony. After serving as the Musical Director of the theatre-drama The Jungle, and lending his talent to NBC new TV show Sunnyside, Jain returns to the recording studio to release his three-act sonorous single, Immigrant Warrior, from his upcoming album Wild Wild East. The composition trips across rhythmic styles as one would trip stumbling up a river; echoing the incessant friction of a fractured identity – a commonplace for migrants and their descendants within the New World.

Immigrant Warrior is a six-minute journey full of sonic color. In the song’s first third, we fasten our boots for an unmerciful voyage. Each heavy-breathed grumble of rusted brass enraptures our spirit. Scraping metal lurches the listener through a thick fog, towards a beckoning light. You can feel the sweat cast off the surface of Sunny’s drums with each of his dizzying hits. The track flows towards symmetry.

Two-and-a-half minutes in, we enter the tamasha’s second act. We have been primed to persist through the desolate soundscape in devotion to our ancestors. We are drudging through burning sands on the the leash of the tenor saxophone’s drooping drawl. Then, at about four-and-a-half minutes in, just as you think Sunny has brought us to the point of no return, the song resolves into a surreal mariachi of a sojourner’s romance for the journey itself. The immigrant warrior has brought you to realize that there should be no hunger for a destination, only faith in procession.

Embellishing the Immigrant Warrior cover, looking equal parts Zapatísta as he does pundit, Jain is reminding us, in an era of contentious border-crossings, that the 1947 partitioning of India was the largest mass migration in the history of planet Earth. Sunny Jain has taken his dhol-infused band-compositions, such as that seen in his collectively-organized mass-performance of 100+ BPM for NPR, and translated that emotional deluge into a devotional saga.

The album, Wild Wild East, is due for release on February 21st, 2020 through the Smithsonian Institute’s non profit record label, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, as part of the Asian Pacific America series. Sunny Jain is also leading the Red Baraat Festival of Colors in March of 2020. The festival will be hitting major cities on the East and West Coast, with a final show at the SFJAZZ Center on March 22.

Oomung Varma’s fundamental understanding of music comes from his background of learning tabla and guitar at a young age. Until his recent move back to the Bay Area, he had been DJing in New York City, his music being heavily influenced by Indian percussion and sound.

The Music In My Blood: An English Play with Live Hindustani Classical Music

Hypokrit Theatre Company in association with Satvik arts will present the World Premiere of THE MUSIC IN MY BLOOD. It is an original new work by Sonalee Hardikar and Shubhra Prakash. It is a play about Indian music that spans generations and countries and is designed and directed by Sonalee Hardikar.  Original music compositions are by Laxmikant Bongale. Previews of this limited Off-Broadway engagement begins June 6 at American Theatre of Actors. Opening is slated for Sunday, June 10.

Before this the Show has been performed by invitation at the “South Asian theater festival” in Rutgers university alongside works by Mahesh Dattani and Usha Ganguly. It was the opening show at “Natya Darpan” in New Jersey, and an independent stand alone performance at Natya Bharati in the DC metro area.

THE MUSIC IN MY BLOOD crosses the boundaries of time and space to bring together Prema and Walter, two people bound by their love of Indian music. In 1934, Jewish Czech musicologist Walter Kaufmann (1907 – 1984) fled from the Nazis and temporarily resettled in India where he fell in love with the music of his new home land. He became a noted scholar and composer of Asian music and even composed a signature theme song for All India Radio that is still used today. Meanwhile, Prema is born in India to parents from a musical dynasty. When she flees to Brooklyn in the 1980’s to pursue a degree in history Prema discovers the writings of Dr. Kaufmann. Soon, the unlikely pair begin to converse across time and space about music, tradition, culture and heritage.

THE MUSIC IN MY BLOOD features original music performed live by Amod Dandawate, Rucha Muley Jambhekar and Manoj Govindraj.Starring : Monica Sharma, Ariaki Dandawate, Michael Gentile, Toby Miller, Richa Rudola, Meera Narasimhan, Ashok Chaudhary, Gautam Gurnani, Sumend Wankhade, Anand Rao, Miriam Eusebio, and Aanya Rastogi.

The production team includes), Hassan Khan (set construction), Priya Rohatgi (wardrobe and props), and Madison Hartke-Weber (projections).

THE MUSIC IN MY BLOOD runs June 6 – 17, Wednesday – Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at noon & 5pm. American Theatre of Actors is located at 312 West 54th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues. Tickets are $45, available

A Conversation with Ram Sampath

Ram Sampath enthralled the audience with his unique music compositions synchronized to a live dance troupe in San Jose, an event hosted by the Mona Khan Company, on March 10 and 11, 2018.  Held in the intimate Mexican Heritage Theater, the concert was accompanied by Mona Khan’s own dance troupe.

The multi-talented Sampath – musician, producer, vocalist, composes for Bollywood movies, MTV India, Coke Studio musical series, and popular TV shows such as “Satyamev Jayate” in India. His background in Carnatic music infuses his compositions with a meld of Indian classical music, jazz, western and pop.

After having started his career composing jingles for advertisements, Sampath moved into the realm of pop music and later started composing for Bollywood films. Sampath’s musical score for the movie “Delhi Belly”, which was acclaimed by music critics, earned him a Filmfare Award.

He now has his own music production house “OmGrown Music”, in collaboration with his wife, Sona Mohapatra, who is a singer in her own right.

The concert in San Jose was a rich experience for the audience, featuring a medley of hit songs by Ram Sampath, who was accompanied by vocalists, Pawni Pandey and Siddhanth Bhosle, as well as a live band. The dance choreography synchronized perfectly with the music, and the dancers in vibrant Bollywood outfits were eye candy. The tight synchronization between the music and dance was the obvious result of an incredible effort and practice by the team.

Sampath exhibited the range of his musical and vocal prowess, in the short span of the two-hour concert, with compositions that were mostly his own.

He also introduced new singers Rithisha Padmanabh and Nishant Bordia, winners of a singing contest that he had hosted in the Bay Area along with Radio Bollywood 92.3 FM

I had a glimpse of the man behind the musical mask in a post-event interview:

I.C.:  Who is your muse or your inspiration for your music?

Sampath:  Life is my inspiration and the experiences that have shaped my life. Even when I started out as a young lad, I had privy to life experience content to express in my musical composition. I have had an eventful life, right from my childhood (smile).

I.C.:  You were trained for 8 years in South Indian Carnatic music. Does that training permeate your music style?

Sampath:  Yes, of course. I still love Carnatic music and often use it in my compositions. There are many modern day Carnatic music composers who I consider giants in the industry that I listen to regularly.

I was exposed to many genres of music growing up. Learning music at a young age is a blessing as it becomes a part of who you are – your roots, so to speak.

My dad loves Western music – the Beatles, for example. My mom is a fan of Bollywood music. I also have a rock and jazz component in my music. When I compose, I am influenced by all the above and more. The move into Bollywood was organic, the result of my eclectic music background.

I.C.:  What is your favorite musical composition or song?

Sampath:  That’s easy. Definitely “Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar” composed by Jaidev from the movie “Hum Dono” and sung by Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi. It is a masterpiece in musical composition. It has so many elements that are perfect in the song – emotions (longing), lyrics, melody, and overall composition. It’s timeless.

I.C.:  What is your biggest challenge?

Sampath:  My taste in music needs to be agreeable to Bollywood. There is a lot of junk music out there that is being consumed. My desire is to create amazing, high-quality music for the audience. Consistently.

I.C.:  What is the future of your musical journey?

Sampath:  I am getting more collaborative in nature. For example, this live show with Mona Khan Company is a new beginning for me. I want to do more live stage shows and collaborate with other artists in the years ahead of me.

Thanks for the show Ram Sampath and the heart-to-heart interview. It was good to get a feel of the man behind the excellent music.


300 Instruments in the House

When Randy Armstrong has to create a specific piece of music that must evoke an Indian feel, he just orders a sitar from India. “Every piece of music has to be original in its creation and cultural fidelity,” he explains. That is how he has over 300 instruments in his collection, including 14 types of guitars, three sets of tablas, and a bansuri flute in every key.


PBS viewers may recognize his name from the primetime mini-series, Dinner on the Diner, following the cooking by celebrity chefs on various trains across Spain, South Africa, Scotland, and Southeast Asia.

In 2014, Armstrong composed for the dance and drama presentation of The Mahabharata at The Philip Exeter Academy’s Fisher Theater in Exeter, New Hampshire. He used classical Indian instruments to create original music, which included an arrangement of Raga Kafi by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and the song “Shanti Om” from his Beyond Borders CD dedicated to Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.

For several months now, Armstrong has been composing for a dance theater adaptation of another epic poem, this time Persian, called The Conference of the Birds. The original was written by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar.

The epic poem is being presented in an epic way: San Francisco Bay Area California audiences will experience it for the first time with actors whose ages range between 8 and 85, along with thirty dancers across ten different dance-forms from around the world. These details assume enormous significance for the musician, who has to get each of them to move to his tune, and move the audience at the same time.

Armstrong expands on this, saying, “The dancers are originally from these cultures, so the music has to be authentic. I have to deliver my highest performance.” Thus, for the Chinese traditional dance, he used the gu sheng; for belly dancing, he used the Darbuka drum and the oud; for hula, he used the ukelele and slide guitar. For extra percussive authenticity, he ordered the ipu heke from Hawaii.

“When Vinita [Belani, of Enacte Arts, co-presenter, along with Sangam Arts] approached me last summer to compose music for The Conference of the Birds, she was familiar with my work; she had worked with Jean Claude Carriere, the playwright of The Mahabharata, and had come to watch the one in Fisher Theater,” says Armstrong. “I was reminded of The Seven Valleys, written by Baha’u’llah; both works have made an impression on me.”

Almost immediately, he started composing the opening piece called “The Awakening.” “It is important for the opening to transport the audience to Persia and it has a personal connection, I had studied the Persian santoor with an Iranian doctor many years ago,” says Armstrong. “It was like coming home in many ways.”

Given the myriad cultures and that he would need to use multitudinous instruments, it was important for Armstrong to find a unifying factor, musically speaking. “I decided to use the note C as the center of this whole orchestration of multicultural music. So the various musical elements relate to that—Indian, Persian, Chinese, Egyptian …,” shares Armstrong. It was a non-trivial task, since each instrument and sub-culture has a sound of its own.

Armstrong travels with Volker Nahrmann—a German bassist he has worked with for several years—to absorb new world sounds. Their 2015 CD, Beyond Borders, was nominated for two awards and “is a global voyage with 35 musicians from around the world,” featuring music from Havana, Rio de Janeiro, India, Middle East, France, Italy, Native America, West Africa, and the Caribbean. A 1988 CD called World Dance reached the top 10 of several national charts including #7 in Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It also featured a track composed by Armstrong for the 1986 United Nations International Year of Peace.

It is fascinating to hear him speak about music composition for the different mediums. “When you compose for dance, rhythm, duration, speed, beats-per-minute is critical. A beat and here or there can make all the difference. For theater, timing is most important, music becomes a servant to the emotional fabric of the piece, as it is for film too. When it’s live, the musician and listener are feeling it in real-time, it’s completely different, you capture the energy from the audience.”

Armstrong summarizes his musical career: “I am so fortunate that I have been able to play my own music, since my early 20s, and been able to go deep within that pursuit. As a musician, you don’t know if you can sustain yourself in these changing times. Just looking at the technological changes in the music industry, I feel like I have lived three lifetimes!”

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

Mahadeva Gets the Nomination!

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.

The Call of Qawwali–Fannah-fi-Allah

At the age of 15, Geoffrey Lyons left his Nova Scotia home with a one-way ticket in hand to find his spiritual home in the mountains of North India. He had heard Indian raga music and it called out to him. What he did not know at that time was that music would be his calling; that the world would know him as Tahir Qawwal.

“I was looking for a guru. I studied the Upanishads, practiced yoga, visited temples, got schooled in classical and spiritual music—bhajans, kirtans, even Baul music from Bengal.

But I could not connect with any of the gurus I met; somehow, something was missing,” reminisces Qawwal. “About when I was 18, I happened to walk into a Qawwali mehfil in Benaras. It was a thoroughly disappointing experience! I could not believe that the music of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whom I idolized, could be so misrepresented. That was when I decided to perform this music. I finished transliterating “Allah Hu” that very night.”

With him that evening, more than a decade ago, were Oregon based tabla player Jessica Ripper and Florida based singer Devanand (“he’s from a spiritual family”), both non Indians, non Asians; non desis, as Qawwal puts it.

The three of them decided to stage an experiment, to perform Qawwali as it should be and this is how Fanna-fi-Allah, their “band” was formed.

Ripper was transformed into Aminah Chishti and Anand, Laali Qalandar. By then, Qawwal had already put in months into studying the various Sufi poems, learning pronunciations and meanings.

This devotion shows in their rendition of “Allah Hu.” They are deliberate in their exploration of the lyrics, specific tones, and the experience. It is a journey in all senses.

Their first “experimental” concert was in Hawaii. “We continue to present Qawwali to unconventional audiences!” says Qawwal. They perform over 100 times a year, in all continents, including Australia and Africa. When asked which audience has been most appreciative, he says, “We play often in San Francisco, which is always great; the audience is part desi and part gora (white) like me. Half our shows are for the Pakistani community—we’re like a local American qawwali group. The other half is comprised of Indian and Sufi/bhakti/ yoga/spiritual events.”

In 2003, Fanna-fi-Allah created history in the Sufi world by being the first all-white group to be invited to perform at the Urs, the annual Qawwali festival in Pakistan. The festival, which was aired worldwide, attracts Sufi practitioners and performers and gained them immense popularity and more importantly, acceptance.

Chishti created a revolutionary milestone and is “indirectly the spearhead of a freedom movement for women in Pakistan” when she became the first woman to be admitted into a Sufi shrine to perform. Chishti’s playing is certainly bold and at the forefront of all their performances, especially so in a rendition of “Ya Mustafa.” This song is evocative of the spirit behind the name—Fanna-fi-Allah means annihilation into the infinite, into Allah.

Also part of the group, which is now based in Grass Valley, California, is son of tabla maestro Ustad Dildar Hussain, Abrar Hussain.

The group has released ten CDs thus far. The record label they created, called Tabaruq Records, recently published an album by the popular Qawwali group Rizwan Muazzam, called Amad. There is also a film expected to be out later this year, called Qawwali–Music of the Mystics. The project can be found on kickstarter.com.nevada_theatre_2014

In the last two years, Fanna-fi-Allah has been funded by the United States government to tour Pakistan in order to foster a peaceful relationship between the two peoples, leading to many high-profile and in-the-public-eye philanthropic events.

As Qawwal says, “We are really famous in Pakistan, people love us there.”

Fanna-fi-Allah will be performing in California in October, more details and music at fanna-fi-allah.com

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