Tag Archives: #indianraga

2021 Is the Year For Indie Indian Artists

The global pandemic changed the way we live. And, it has definitely impacted the lives of independent artists in more than one way. While 2020 taught independent artists to innovate and channel their creativity, it also increased online content competition.

India Currents speaks to two independent artists, Atlanta based singer-composer-coach Vinod Krishnan and Mumbai based singer-songwriter Mallika Mehta – to learn the challenges they faced in the indie-music scene in 2020 and what’s in store for the new year.

Vinod Krishnan, who previously released viral productions with IndianRaga and his independent hits like Kaalai Pozhudhil, Saajan, etc., has been in the independent scene for more than two years now. He is popularly known for his IndianRaga Shape of You Mix, which garnered a viewership of 8M+.

Mallika Mehta, titled the “Adele of Mumbai,” released her first EP Evolve when she was 19 and has come a long way while dabbling between genres, styles, and songwriting processes. She recently released a single “Kaafi” that has been performing incredibly well on all audio platforms. 

Indie Artist, Vinod Krishnan.

“Challenges make our journey interesting.”

Independent artists have been facing challenges like remote collaborations, remote productions, remote content, shifting trends in 2020. “But every challenge presented a learning opportunity.,” says Krishnan. When thrown with the lockdown, musicians collaborated over Zoom and released videos through online collaborations. Event management companies took concerts online and supported other artists and music communities.  

“This year is going to be a learning curve,” says Krishnan. “There is more online content now because of the pandemic (concerts, movies, short series) are all coming online, so an indie musician has to now make video content to make their songs get some attention. That’s expensive.” Meanwhile, Mehta says the pandemic has definitely nurtured her creativity and gave her more time for music that she will continue to do this year. “If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I don’t think I would have written so much music in one year,” she adds. “One thing 2020 taught us is that planning forward is not always the best idea. So for now, I’m taking each day at a time.” 

Mehta adds that she enjoys the challenges for the love of her work. “I love telling stories through my songs, and when I get messages from people saying how they love the melody or lyrics or how they feel the exact same way or how it made their day better, that right there makes me want to write another song,” she says. “It’s the love for music, the support from loved ones and strangers, and the fact that you know you’re making a difference doesn’t matter big or small.” It’s intriguing to see how independent artists are highlighting the challenges they faced and growing from them simultaneously while giving us beautiful music to listen to.

Indie Artist, Mallika Mehta.

We are all playing the social-media-game!” 

While there are opportunities, there’s also competition on the online spectrum. Mehta says, “a lot of labels have been supporting indie artists, but the competition is incredible, the number of artists releasing music is in numbers you certainly can’t count on your fingers. So until then, independently releasing music is our only way forward.” 

Yes, there’s going to be more competition for viewer attention this year,” adds Krishnan. “That means more OTT content since people are indoors because of the pandemic. Independent artist channels without labels or sponsors are tackling hurdles like viewer reach, social media visibility, shares, and the Instagram algorithm to reach their new fans,” he adds. 

“2021 is a year of possibilities.”

“Despite the curveballs, the joy of creating new music keeps me going,” says Krishnan.  “Why do filmmakers make more movies, even if they had a flop one time? Creative artists have risktaking as quality.” Independent artists are inspiring the music community with their philosophy and never-give-up attitude, and that’s exactly what we need for this new year.

Mehta says that being an independent artist comes with its set of challenges, and if you add the pandemic to it, it only becomes more unprecedented. “But as I said, I create music because I love it.” 

This is the year of possibilities, and indie artists are hopeful for a positivity-filled 2021. “Independent musicians are coming up by the dozen, which I think is absolutely great. A singer-songwriter is a storyteller, and it’s funny how a lot of people across the globe do share a similar story with you.“2020 itself had a lot more independent music released, and 2021 would just add onto that,” says Mehta. 

Krishnan agrees that 2021 is the year where more indie musicians will join, build, and create content. Because being an independent musician, this year, means, as Mehta says, “all the power and decisions are in your own hands.”

According to Mehta and Krishnan, this year will show more growth and opportunities. We are looking for an indie-filled 2021, where more artists emerge and put out their music and share their talent with the world. 


Sruthi Dhulipala is a San Francisco-based communications professional and writer. She is also an independent singer-songwriter and you can find her music on all audio platforms. Sruthi enjoys the art of writing and has been priorly published in an International Anthology, “Lakdikapul II,” through an Indian Poet’s Association. She is passionate about music, writing, expression, and her goal to promote music to the benefit of the people through her own art and others’ art.

Sattriya, and Its Fight for Recognition as a Classical Dance

Why I Dance – A monthly column, in collaboration with IndianRaga, in which we uncover the variety of Indian Classical Dance forms and their lineage. 

This first edition of the Why I Dance Column features Sattriya, an Indian Classical dance form originating in the state of Assam.

Originally developed by the great seer-polymath Shrimanta Shankardev, the art form is based on the Bhagvat and takes its roots in neo-Vaishnavism. As a means of social reform, Shankardev aimed to use Sattriya to meet the goal of cleansing the society of caste and creed hierarchy.  Shankardev also used this artistic medium for the propagation of the philosophy called Eka-Sharan-Naam-Dharma (the religion of taking refuge in the name of the only One). Sattriya dances and dramas that are based on the works of Shankardev and his disciple Madhavdev are performed by groups of dancers and actors in a Prayer Hall called “Naamghar”.  

To Prateesha Suresh, Sattriya dance has meant everything. Trained in both Sattriya and Bharatanatyam, she has been instrumental in the recognition of Sattriya as a classical dance of India, which it was declared as by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2000.  She notes that: “I learnt Bharatanatyam and took up Sattriya (which I learnt as a child) as it belonged to my state and at that point, we were trying to establish its classical status. I performed a lot with lecture-demonstrations for that cause. Today, although Sattriya has gained its classical status, there is a lot of work yet to be done.”

She continues to inspire Sattriya practitioners around the world through her choreographies and lecture-demonstrations, where she breaks down the artform for those unfamiliar. About Sattriya, Prateesha says, “It has many layers to it like a “Shastra” and I am trying to unfold those layers every day of my life!”   

Sattriya is a lived tradition, having been practised continuously since its inception by men in institutes called Sattras. In the 1970s, Sattriya emerged from the Sattras, against the wishes of many. Dances in the Sattriya repertoire are based on the Sutradhari Dance, among others created by Shankardev, as a part of the drama called Ankiya Nat

Dances in the Sattriya repertoire are divided into three sections; Ramdani, Geetor Naach, and Mela Naach, which refer to the  ‘the beginning’, ‘the middle’, which is the dance accompanied to a song, and ‘the conclusion’. 

Khol
Khol (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The percussion used in Sattriya is called a Khol, and does not follow the same jati system used by many other classical dance forms.  Because of this, the changes in tempo are done gradually and are not calculated (which is how the jati system works).

The basic posture of the art form is the half-sitting “mandala” posture called Ora. In Sattriya, the body moves in undulation and the arms are always bent at the elbows and follow a circular path. The torso is held in samabhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga positions mostly bending forward or side to side. Acrobatic movements like bending back and touching the ground, and either standing or sitting on the knees are also seen in the art form. The fingers of the palm use all the “hasta karana-s” as mentioned in the Natyashastra.

The costuming in the Purush (male) style is Krishna’s attire. It consists of a yellow coloured dhoti, dark blue coloured upper-garment in the angarakha style called “chapkon”, richly embroidered waist girdle with hanging pearls called “kanchi” either in dark blue or black colour and a black or dark blue embroidered crown over the head. 

The costume of the Prakriti (female) style is a plain white skirt, two panels over each shoulder with patterns which join in a “V” at the back, like the Sutradhari. Dark blue or black coloured blouse with rich embroidery. A long piece of cloth tied at the waist, ends hanging in the front called “tongali”. A richly embroidered waistband with two panels hanging from either side called “aachol”.  

Sutradhari costume has both the elements of ‘Purush’ and ‘Prakriti’, where the dancer wears a white skirt, two panels over the shoulders joined at the back in a ‘v’, a long piece of cloth tied at the waist, the ends hanging in the front called ‘tongali’ and a white head adornment which is in the shape of a “kosha”.  Traditional Assamese jewellery like “unti” (earings), “muthi kharu”, “gaam kharu” (bracelets), “mota moni”, “dugdugi”, “gejera/junbiri” for the neck are worn. Light dancing bells called “junuka” are worn on the feet. 

The Why I Dance Campaign is a collaboration between Maryland based Kuchipudi company Kalanidhi Dance, and IndianRaga. IndianRaga provides a platform for aspiring artists to explore their talent, with opportunities to focus on presentation and performance, high-quality audio and video production for digital channels, and learn how to collaborate with fellow artists.  

Tune in next month to learn more about the Indian Classical Artform of Odissi!


Tarini Kumar is an IndianRaga Bharatanatyam Fellow and Why I Dance team member. She is a disciple of Smt. Divyaa Unni, and currently studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Why I Dance: Over 300 Classical Dancers Speak

Why I Dance – A monthly column, in collaboration with IndianRaga, in which we uncover the variety of Indian Classical Dance forms and their lineage. 

“Why do you dance?” asked Anuradha Nehru, Founder and Artistic Director of Maryland based Kuchipudi company Kalanidhi Dance, “It was such a profound question that it made me introspect and look deeper into my source of inspiration for dance. Upon further reflection and discussion with my fellow dancers in Kalanidhi, we realized there were four motivations that drove us – connecting to our heritage; the sense of liberation that dance affords; the ability to tell stories; and the strong bonds of friendship and community that dance builds.”  This simple yet complex question prompted the creation of her 2016 production Why I Dance.

Six months ago, the world underwent an unforeseen change.  Everything came to a halt, and the world of dance had to overcome an obstacle. Dance classes, workshops, performances, and productions were all canceled. No one knew when they would be able to return to the stage. Hoping to re-energize her dance community, Kalanidhi dancer Sahiti Rachakonda suggested that they start an online campaign called Why I Dance. Kalanidhi Dance partnered with IndianRaga to take the campaign global. The campaign launched August 22nd, on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, and the #whyidance gained traction.

Artists from all eight of the Sangeet Natak Akademi recognized Indian Classical Art forms participated in the campaign, along with artists from many of India’s folk and contemporary styles. The campaign featured 36 world-renowned maestros and teachers including Prateesha Suresh, Birju Maharaj, Leela Samson, Alarmel Valli, Sujatha Mohapatra, Bijayini Satpathy, Sonal Mansingh, and Kumudini Lakhia. Anuradha Nehru says, “We were pleasantly surprised by the amazing response from India’s most famous and legendary dancers. They responded enthusiastically to our request and obliged readily with their thoughts and words of wisdom and generously shared video excerpts of their dance.

Their participation inspired many dancers from over 65 countries to join this movement, turning the initial wave of dancers into a tsunami,” IndianRaga Founder and CEO Sriram Emani adds “I was amazed by the willingness of some of Indian dance’s senior-most maestros to learn how to shoot a video from home, in the midst of a pandemic, to help inspire dancers globally.” 

 

Pragnya Thamire, a Kalanidhi Dancer said, “It was absolutely phenomenal to have edited the ‘Why I Dance’ videos of some of the legends in Indian classical dance… I learned so much through their words!”  

The response to the campaign was indeed unprecedented.  Dancers from around the world were eager to post their own videos; from the youngest dancers having only been learning for a few years, to the seasoned professionals, everyone wanted a chance to share their story, why they dance.

 IndianRaga team member Isha Kulkarni felt, “The campaign was one of the most exciting and challenging things I have ever worked on and nothing less than a privilege. We got to talk to these legendary artists, hear their thoughts, their experiences and that was definitely one of the things that inspired me to keep pushing harder in spite of the limitations in the current scenario.

Although the campaign was started as a way for dancers around the world to reflect inwards in light of the global lockdown, it is far from the end. Sriram says, “We definitely intend to continue – There is no planned conclusion to this campaign. Dancers can continue to post as per the guidelines and tag us, and we will share as we go along. Many people who used to dance before and left it for multiple reasons are now picking up dance again and participating in the campaign, and we welcome everyone to join in!”

Tune in next month to learn more about the Indian Classical Artform, Sattriya, featuring Why I Dance participant and exponent Prateesha Suresh!


Tarini Kumar is an IndianRaga Bharatanatyam Fellow and Why I Dance team member. She is a disciple of Smt. Divyaa Unni, and currently studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Will My Culture Survive the Pandemic?

Trying to create a space in the United States, Indian Americans rely heavily on the Arts to remain connected to their roots. Instead of soccer practice and baseball lessons, the minivan drives kids to Kathak (Indian Classical Dance) class or Tabla (Indian percussion/drums) lessons. What our parents understood, that took me till my adult years to grasp, was that culture was identity. And we would only be comfortable in our skin, in alien territory, if we could see the beauty of who we inherently were. 

As a young brown girl, I found a sense of camaraderie and belonging with my peers through the Classical Arts. Some learned Bharatanatyam dance and some took Kathak. Some learned to play the Tabla and some, the Sitar. Some took Carnatic Classical Music and some took Hindustani Classical Music. But all of these Arts drove one point home – no matter the geographic location or style of the Art, we were deeply connected to our culture. At times when I was ostracized for that same thing – being too Indian – I took solace in what I knew to be true. I am who I am and there was no reason to resent something so pure- so unifying. I continue to cherish it. 

A lifelong Kathak dancer and student, I saw the strain the Arts went through when my classes at the Chitresh Das Institute went online due to the shelter in place orders. Many students dropped off, our teachers struggled to teach online, and our performances were canceled. I felt myself become uninspired. 

But Art cannot be stopped. Art keeps pushing along like the little engine that could, to give meaning to that which is inexplicable. One Bharatanatyam teacher found purpose in embracing the messiness of online teaching and musicians like Sunny Jain began putting their music on Youtube. IndianRaga and Kalanidhi Dance collaborated during the pandemic to rejuvenate classical arts through their Why I Dance campaign. However, an artist’s career comes to a halt when spaces to perform are limited and they are faced with the reality of a declining income.

The artistic community, many working as freelancers and independent contractors, requires life support. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 11, 2020, LA Based Actor, Kristina Wong told us of the moment that her livelihood came into question. Her one-woman satire, Kristina Wong for Public Office, that she had spent three years researching and running a real election in preparation for, was running on the college/university circuit when the pandemic hit. Colleges and university campuses made the decision to go fully online, as to mitigate the pandemic, and Wong was stuck scrambling to find alternatives to cancelation. 

I’m witnessing a lot of artists just leave Los Angeles. Some are working for the census. Some are just scrambling,
” she noted, emphasizing that her ability to adapt to the online format was a unique luxury and that she still wouldn’t be able to recoup the losses of canceled performances. 

Kristin Sakoda, Actor and Executive Director of the LA Arts Commission witnessed the impact of COVID on the Arts. It was one of the first sectors to close and will be one of the last to reopen. 2.7 million jobs have been lost resulting in a $150 billion impact on the creative industry. As a grant distributor, Sakoda mentioned $20 million in losses for the nonprofits sustaining local arts.

Appreciation of the arts is crucial in inconsistent, unclear times. Art gives context, an escape, a safe space to feel uncertain, and to empathize with others.

Minority arts are quickly disappearing. Jose Luis Valenzuela, a UCLA and community college theater professor, met with artistic directors who cater to communities of color and were worried about the survival of their companies. They are the few sources for access to the arts for minority populations. Representation matters and when that diminishes, so do the voices. Graphic designer and Muralist, Roberto Pozos of Imperial Valley resonates with this message. Living in a space that has been a hotspot for COVID related death, Pozos wants to commemorate the suffering and lift the spirits of those around him. None of this can happen without funding. 

We must push for federal grant funding! Email, call, snail mail your Congresspeople. The last time federal tax dollars were put towards the arts was during the Great Depression and the time has come again to make our mark on democracy and preserve culture. 

I think about what I would do without Kathak. Kathak is not just a form of Indian Classical Dance. Kathak is the best parts of me. Kathak accepts me and grounds me to the reality I am in. Kathak reminds me to forgive myself and others. Kathak is a guiding force, teaching morality and mythology. Kathak is music. Kathak is discipline and learned knowledge. Kathak is Indian history. Kathak is me. 


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

This post has been updated.

IndianRaga Explores a Raga Without a Midpoint

Vinod Krishnan is a singer, composer, music producer, and educator. He is the Creative Director of music at IndianRaga and has performed with India’s top musicians like Shankar Mahadevan and Vijay Prakash. Trained in Indian classical music and piano, his work explores taking Indian classical music to newer audiences and bringing world music together. 

He talks to India Currents about the beauty of the raga Abhogi and all things that make the scale a bright myriad of emotion. 

“Abhogi is symmetric and is also one of the few ragas that does not have the note Pa, which is sort of the midpoint of the musical scale,” says Vinod, who recently released a piece exploring the spectrum of this bright raga.

According to you, what stands out about Abhogi? 

The more compositions you learn in a raga, the more you uncover these hidden gems and mysteries in it. Abhogi is an eclectic ragam, some might also call it symmetric or striking. But, finding a way to blend the same raga in both Hindustani and Carnatic, and finding that sweet spot between genres is the challenge when you begin to explore meeting points of two genres.

How did Abhogi capture your recent attention? 

Do you know those contemporary designers who create unique looking furniture? If you ask a designer, they will have so many ways to build it. I’ve felt the process is the same for musicians. When we explore a raga, you can build it in so many different ways. There is no one right way to do it (as long as you conform to the basic structure of the raga). Some ways evoke deeper responses within you and from those listening to it, while some let you hover amidst the subtle etches of the rendition the notes remind you of. But the first step is it should overwhelm you. Only then does the listener stand a chance.

What are your favorite Abhogi film and Classical compositions? 

The first time I heard Abhogi in the film is the song “Indraikkku yen indha anandamide” by Ilayaraja sir. Not much after that. This is why I enjoy this ragam – we know that Abhogi isn’t that common of a raga picked up by contemporary musicians or by film composers, but that also makes it novel and gives a lot of scope for exploration. 

Can you talk about your recent Abhogi collaboration with IndianRaga? 

The recent Abhogi 2.0 music video I released with IndianRaga was in collaboration with Hindustani singer and senior IndianRaga fellow, Apoorva Deshpande. This production was a sequel to the “Swara Sadhana” series that we previously released with IndianRaga, a creative arts start-up that nurtures Indian art forms in the new age. Swara Sadhana is the concept of ardently exploring the “swaras” or notes rooted in different Indian classical ragas, but with contemporary arrangements. The entire production was an idea that developed over dinner when we brainstormed in Abhogi itself, and I then spent the entire night producing and arranging this composition. It came out well, much to our satisfaction. Hope you enjoy it! 


Sruthi Dhulipala is a San Francisco-based communications professional and writer.  She has been priorly published in an International Anthology “Lakdikapul II,” through an Indian Poet’s Association. She is passionate about music and her goal in life to promote music to the benefit of the people, through music therapy.

Vinod Krishnan Mixes R&B with Carnatic Music

Minnesota-based artist, Vinod Krishnan, is well known for his creative work and collaborations with IndianRaga, an arts education startup founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This Chennai rooted artist’s dream has always been to take Carnatic music to the world and to bring world music together. Krishnan describes his work to be inspiring, refreshing, disruptive, and culturally relevant.

Krishnan collaborated with a wide range of artists from IndianRaga fellow, Mahesh Raghavan to India’s leading musicians Vijay Prakash and Shankar Mahadevan in recent years. He enjoys experimentation in music – from connecting Carnatic elements to a famous pop cover like Shape of You, to composing breezy Tamil melodies such as his original Kaalai Pozhudil

Krishnan’s Recent Release: Kandapadi Kaadhali 

Inspired by Krishnan’s love for A.R Rahman’s melodies like Rehna Tu and Nenje Ezhu, his new release Kandapadi Kaadhali talks to those in love and encourages to cherish love in its raw, non-judgemental form. “I adore the seamless chord progressions and a refreshing choice of sounds in most ARR hits, which inspired the approach to this song,” says Krishnan, who has a strong passion for connecting with the sound, arrangement, and emotion in all his productions.

“This song lets me step out of my comfort zone and play with R&B,” adds Krishnan. “It’s liberating how you can be rooted in timeless cultural values, and yet be globally relevant, and to be all of this needn’t be conflicting. Growing up with ARR’s music, genres no longer seemed mutually exclusive. I believe one needn’t have to pick just one particular genre all the time.”  

 

Krishnan’s Background in Carnatic Music 

Trained in Carnatic music, he spent most of his life as an ardent learner. In 2011, Krishnan started singing for local concerts and Bharatanatyam productions in the US. He also showed a keen eye towards composing, arranging, and producing music – the skills he put to use when he first joined the IndianRaga fellowship in 2016. From then, he made 35 videos both with IndianRaga and independently and garnered a collective viewership of more than 10 million views for his digital music content.

Influence of Chennai Roots on his Music 

“Chennai is like an electron – held back strongly by a nucleus that is culture,” says Krishnan, when asked how he describes his traditional roots. The culture and the traditional embrace of external influences that he was brought up with, help him understand the identity of his origin, that’s a mix of sincerity, modernization, pride, and vibrant culture. 

His culture and background made him realize that one can be rooted in timeless cultural values, and yet be globally relevant and enterprising, and to be all of this needn’t be conflicting. “Another aspect is I’ve always felt Chennai would only be personified to be a culturally-rooted and elegant human being. At some level, that has been the kind of person I’ve sought to be,” says Krishnan. 

Sruthi Dhulipala is a San Francisco-based Communications professional and writer,  She has been priorly published in an International Anthology “Lakdikapul II,” through an Indian poet’s association. She is passionate about music and her goal in life to promote music to the benefit of the people, through music therapy. A passionate dreamer and a self-professed book dragon, she is also a philosophical person who believes that everything happens for a reason in life.