Tag Archives: Priya Das

Indian Americans: A Wedge in the Racial Pie?

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. 

“Indian Americans, Asian Americans more broadly, have been strategically used as a wedge against other communities of color.” This is Sundeep “Sonny” Singh, in a clip from Mosaic America’s series From Diversity to Belonging. The Mosaic series was created to enable people to understand the history of and potential solutions to the social issues in the US, especially those to do with identity and culture. 

Sonny spoke in an episode that aired conversations with some of the participants in Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s film, FROM HERE. Set in Berlin and New York, FROM HERE is a hopeful story of four young artists and activists from immigrant families redefining Belonging in an era of rising nationalism.

When posed with a question about his activism, Sonny spoke on the massive change in immigration law in 1965 – recruitment of skilled labor was suddenly made easy, the US had a need for a labor pool in hard sciences. Sonny noted, “[That was the time the country was in the] midst of the Black freedom movement, massive social upheaval demanding racial and economic justice.” Basically, the powers told “Black folks, Chicano folks, what are you saying, there is no racism! Look how well they [brown people, ie Asian Americans] are doing! … Too many of us in our community, unfortunately, have bought into this. Anti-Black racism is deeply embedded in our community.”

FROM HERE captures his experiences as a resident, artist, educator over a period of ten years. Also included are 3 other artists, Tania from New York, and Akim and Miman in Berlin. The film accompanies them as they move from their 20’s into their 30’s, facing major turning points: fighting for citizenship, creating a family, surviving violence, and finding creative expression. 

Sonny remembers growing up wanting his name to be John and wanting to cut off his hair-wanting to blend in; heckling about his turban was always just a matter of time. He works with the Sikh Coalition to educate Sikh children about bias-based bullying. Sonny hopes that people will start to think critically about the root causes of social problems, “I dream of a world where humanity comes before profit.”

Christina elaborates, “The design of our systems are the reason for many of our problems. The system is working exactly as it’s meant to be. Who has access to citizenship has always been racialized. Laws have been crafted around preserving the rights of certain groups of people and extracting labor and resources from others. Immigration is not a national issue- it is global. We can’t solve this by protecting our national borders. Let’s see our identity as fluid…Understanding that we are way more complex … we need to stop policing people along identity lines.”

Tania, who finally came out as undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic, says “America loves our food, our language, but they don’t want us.” She talks about the first hate mail she got, addressed to her personally, saying, “Go the f*^& back to where you came from.”

What does solidarity mean in these circumstances, where some of us stand in a Place that somehow, we are told, isn’t Home? How long will it take to reach our Place, when and how can we act to stem this tide of exclusion?

Mosaic America’s series “From Diversity to Belonging” attempts to find some answers. For Indian Americans, demonstrating solidarity is a way to give back to the generations that paved our access to the American Dream. Many of us, as Usha Srinivasan, co-founder of Mosaic America says, “buy into the “model minority”…we believe that we are exceptional, [is why] we are treated differently from other people of color.” We need to question these long-held beliefs. 

We need to work harder to come together as part of a larger community. To stand together as one, to see a world that belongs to each of us, is to be in solidarity. In as much as the word means agreement, it means resistance too. Standing for who I am, for who each of us is; standing up against norms that divide; standing with people who need a voice. In essence, it is a journey that starts with identity and continues through Belonging; fueled by each purpose; marked by each person it scars. We need to live our lives in solidarity, find pathways to build a common, inclusive future. 

As Sonny says, “It is our political duty to remain steadfast and fight another day,” reverberating Antonio Machado’s poetic lines, “se hace camino al andar” – The way is formed by walking. 

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.


Left to Right: LaToya Fernandez, Urmila Vudali, Lisa Rosenberg, and Ray Furuta.

Celebrating Good Trouble in Bay Area Arts

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. 

Coined by the late Congressman John Lewis, the concept of “Good Trouble” is rooted in the belief that certain types of expression and feather-ruffling are necessary to fight back against injustice. At Mosaic, we believe that art is a perfect vehicle for causing Good Trouble and bringing awareness to the important issues we must tackle as an ever-evolving nation.

To celebrate this idea, we recently hosted four of our dear artists and friends who are committed to creating their own kinds of Good Trouble through their art, music, dance, and poetry, in “Celebrating Good Trouble”

  • LaToya Fernandez, an educator, poet, and youth advocate from San Jose
  • Lisa Rosenberg, an author and former Poet Laureate of San Mateo County
  • Urmila Vudali, a high school student, dancer, and leader of the Mosaic Saratoga High School Club, and
  • Ray Furuta, a flutist, composer, and music professor

While each artist’s work carries a thread of Good Trouble and cross-cultural collaboration, they also each lent a unique perspective.

LaToya’s reading of her poem “Angry Black Woman, A Letter to Women,” which delves into the stereotypes that are put on Black women for being vocal, sparked a reverence for how that can penetrate one’s psyche. Her art, she says, is grounded in the pursuit of doing what’s right — even if it’s not easy, because it’s what’s necessary. “I’m always in trouble,” she laughed, reflecting Lewis’s sentiment that the quest for freedom is not a state of being, but the “continuous action we all must take.”

And as a reminder of how art is a necessary critique of the systems that reinforce societal ills on marginalized communities, Lisa shared some of her works, including poems titled “Space To” and “Perseverance.”

“All art is considered criticism or an act of political power, just because you are claiming your voice,” Lisa said. “Even creating a disturbance with a new voice, a new observation, a new point of view, we are disrupting the status quo and creating an opening to start perceiving things differently. And that includes our opportunity to take back some power.”

This is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of creating Good Trouble in the arts — using your voice and creativity to create something utterly different and challenge the status quo. And when it comes to breaking the mold, Ray Furuta’s journey from the conservatory to becoming an innovator of music here in Silicon Valley provides a perfect representation.

Ray, who also founded the Silicon Valley Music Festival 10 years ago, shared two of his works — Precious Scars, presented by Mosaic, which created a powerful, cross-medium remembrance of the Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants who were incarcerated during WWII; and Primal Reboot, which brought together artists of different backgrounds and genres to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

These two works stood as a testament to how Ray said he viewed the concept of Good Trouble in the arts: “It alludes to this idea of coexistence — that in the arts, we can all exist, and we can all amplify each other in a really positive way.”

The concept of working together to amplify the voices of all is critically important to our mission of creating a sense of belonging within our communities and in our country. And naturally, that played out in introducing dancer Urmila Vudali, who also participated in Primal Reboot. Now, as a high school senior, Urmila aims to bring together students who are culturally isolated and develop greater cultural awareness across their real and imagined silos. Two of Urmila’s collaborations, Confluencia and The Flower Seller, both focused on the commonalities between various forms of dance and music.

“Finding those commonalities allowed me to learn a little bit about a culture that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about otherwise,” said Urmila. “And pushing the boundaries of my traditional dance and causing that Good Trouble really allowed me to widen my horizons.”

Each of these works and perspectives allows us a greater look into how artists view their own role as Good Trouble-makers, and how we can learn and grow together by simply being curious.

How are you making your own version of Good Trouble? 


Good Trouble was the theme of our partner the New Museum of Los Gatos’ (NUMU) annual juried high school art exhibition ArtNow, which invited hundreds of high school students from across Santa Clara County to submit their interpretations of the global issues facing our world. In partnership with NUMU, we collaborated to bring another iteration of this Good Trouble programming to the public.

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.


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.

Musical Ballot Boxes

During an election season, anywhere in the world, candidates need an image: to be likeable, and reliable; a platform: explicating stances on issues; a base: of people who donate, vote, support, and work for the candidate; and to add to this list of musts (at least in most parts of the world)—music.


Music is as personal to the candidate as a base, with as much mass outreach potential as an image. It instantly builds a sonic brand; announces and identifies the candidate. It can be as controversial as the platform, with the power to damage an image. This was evidenced by the Trump campaign, when R.E.M. (for “The End of the World”), Adele (for “Skyfall” and “Rolling in the Deep”), and Aerosmith (for “Dream On”) were among those that cease-desisted their songs from being played at Trump rallies.

Before she stepped on stage to give her presumptive-candidate speech on Super Tuesday II (June 7), Hillary Clinton had Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” broadcasting her message. She apparently spent a few thousand dollars for a Portland music agency to come up with an official playlist. Lyrics play as much of a role in the selection as the mood. Also implicit in the selection is that the musician supports the candidate; broadening the base and/or appeal.

Neil Young and Art Garfunkel had no problems, for example, with Bernie Sanders playing the respective “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “America.” Their fan bases comprise the young at heart, idealists, and romantics, the kind of people Sanders is credited to have attracted the attention of.

Ushering in Politics
Music has made ballot boxes sing the world over. India heard music of the original kind in recent elections. Assam ushered in BJP to the tune of Zubeen Garg’s song  saying that “Assam’s joy is everybody’s joy,” the last two words being a play on the candidate’s name, Sarvananda.

Tamil Nadu had an election anthem that urged citizens to vote,  “Our freedom fighters fought for our right to vote. Let’s vote, it’s our duty.” A trendy Tamil pop song by Put Chutney and Culture Machine urged the electorate to vote NOTA (None of the Above) if they’re disillusioned by mainstream candidates/parties.  Trinamool Congress had Anupam Roy composing for Mamta Bannerjee in Bengali, “It’s been five years of great change in West Bengal; Mother, Earth, and Man have flourished.”

2015 had Bihar listening to “Phir Se Nitishe” (Nitish, Again) sung by popular Bollywood singer Neeti Mohan and “Iss baar BJP, ek baar BJP” sung by Bhojpuri well known singer Manoj Tiwari. 2013 had Prime Minister Narendra Modi featured in a song that said NaMo is the Maha Nayak (greatest protagonist), while the Congress was humming along to “Sab Ki Yahi Pukar, Congress iss baar” (Everybody’s calling for Congress).

But the most revolutionary election song in South Asia has got to be the 1988 PPP’s (Pakistan People’s Party) “Dila Teer Bija … Jiye, Jiye Bhutto Benazir.” It was iconic because it unleashed melody publicly on the Pakistani masses after Islamization had virtually wiped out social music from making a public appearance; it was the promise of democracy after a long time; it heralded the return of hope to a region with the face of a popular icon; it got the masses in and around Pakistan to its feet. The music was catchy; still is.

“Let’s ask Ram about it!” is the start of a flirty Q&A sponsored by Nepal’s Election Commission and Democracy and Election Watch, which regularly employs Lok Dohori (Street/People Musical Performance) to coax the uninitiated population into the voting process. This video has four men and four women dressed in folkwear and featuring voter registration how-to. As is characteristic of most folk tunes, the rhythm has your head nodding in no time.

Rocking Indonesia
The most “rocking” note was in Indonesia. Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) 2014 election can be partially attributed to his musical campaign, a precursor of which was the success of his 2012 Governorship campaign music video. Jokowi’s volunteers had created a parody of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” that lamented Jakarta’s state of bureaucracy, the reason to elect him, of course. The Youtube video shows a twenty-something getting out of bed in a panic because he has to update his ID card. The panic grows as he is held up by traffic and then long queues at a government office; at long last, an official comes out to announce it’ll take years. Conclusion: Jokowi is the need of the hour!

Inside, Indonesia has reported that even musicians Sting and Jason Mraz and rock group Arkarna encouraged Indonesian voters to support democracy and get behind Jokowi in 2014.

Jokowi’s rival Prabowo Subianto tried to make music campaigning history by featuring a popular rock icon called Ahmad Dhani. However, it spectacularly back-fired, as it had Nazi-looking imagery and tones, completely annihilating the spirit of the song it was based on—Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” It was no competition for Jokowi’s captivating music-video and a sold-out open-air concert attended by tens of thousands, featuring a rapper called Kill the DJ and a crowd shouting and holding up two-fingered salutes—Salam Dua Jari.
#2 was Jokowi’s number on the ballot and it made music for him.

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

What America Sounds Like

Talent “that wouldn’t otherwise be heard” is what Jim Pugh, founder of Little Village Foundation, looks for and then goes about promoting. “It’s like pebbles on the beach. You pick up one and it’s beautiful, but when you hold four together the commonality emerges. It’s breathtaking, and the bigger picture of what America really sounds like leaps out at you,” he says on his blog.


Every year, Village promotes a few hitherto unknown artists—this year features two South Asians, Aki Kumar and Aireene Espiritu.

Kumar gave up a career in software to create a music genre which Pugh called “Muddy meets Mumbai,” singing 1960s Bollywood songs in blues or jazz tones. The album has popular Hindi numbers such as “Jaanu Meri Jaan,” “Badan Pe Sitaare,” “Baar Baar Dekho,” and “Chala Jaata Hoon.” They sound different, rendered in Kumar’s voice that has an American country twang. While non-Indian audiences have been appreciating these, what’s more interesting is Aki’s take on the blues. In “Home is Prison” and “Going to Bombay,” Kumar certainly sounds more in his own groove and one hopes that he commits to this sub-genre in the future, perhaps singing them in Hindi.
I asked Kumar a few questions about his music.

IC: Why the blues?

AK: I didn’t find the blues, the blues found me. If you talk to any real blues lover, they will tell you that there is something so compelling and undeniable about this music that you have no choice but to fall in love with it. The same happened to me. My journey into the blues was through American Rock ’n‘ Roll—mostly music from the 50s and 60s—which I took a strong liking to in my late teens.

IC: Do you consider Bollywood from 1950-60 to be “Blueswood?”

AK: Haha, not “Blueswood” in the pure sense but, yes. If you listen to Bollywood music from the era, you will find that blues, swing, jazz, Rock ’n‘ Roll had a huge influence on it. I suppose those Bollywood music directors and artists were just trying to stay hip and keep up with musical trends in the West.

IC: Who has been your favorite audience—city and profile/ethnicity?

AK: That is very tough to say, because I have had a great time performing all over the world to some incredibly loving and receptive audiences. I recently wrapped up a short tour of Finland with Chicago blues guitarist Rockin’ Johnny and I must say I had such a good time performing to the blues lovin’ crowds there that I’m eager to go back again, soon!

IC: How did you make the jump from 9 to 5 to full time musician?

AK: When I started dabbling in the blues harmonica, it was nothing more than a hobby. I would occasionally play with my colleagues or friends who were just looking to get together and have fun. As time went on, I improved as a musician and a performer. I found myself collaborating with many local blues musicians, attending jams and even performing my own shows. I was leading a very fulfilling but sometimes strenuous double life—software engineer during the day, blues musician at night. In the last few years, especially, it became very obvious that I had a true passion for the blues and that if I didn’t pursue it wholeheartedly, I would be denying myself the opportunity of a lifetime.

Philippines originated Espiritu, on the other hand, has always been on the move—she literally lives out of her car. Pugh was reminded of the reigning blues queen Sugar Pie DeSanto (who is part Filipino) and doing a tribute was the original idea behind the album “Back Where I Belong.” However, it became much more than that, encompassing Espiritu’s whole style, which in her own words, is an “umbrella of Americana—a mix of country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and folk,” and some Filipino folk songs. I asked Espiritu about her musical journey.

IC: How would you describe your own discovery of a musical identity?

AE: I remember the first time I became obsessed with a song. I was 10. Shortly after we moved to the United States, we lived with my aunt and her family for a couple of years. I found a cassette tape in their basement and put it on out of curiosity. The first song played and I found myself playing it over and over. I would think about the song during the day, the different layers, simultaneous notes and looked forward to coming home to repeat play again. The song was Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” I knew then that I wanted to play music.

IC: The album has some Filipino tracks: How did that come about?music_enaritumusic_aki_kumar

AE: At family gatherings, my uncles, aunts, mom, would sing and dance. I never sang along, just enjoyed watching everyone and listening. I thought someday I’d like to record them playing these Filipino songs. “Bayan Ko” (My Country) is a patriotic song about yearning to be free. “Oras Na” (It’s Time) is about conquering fear and following your heart. “Dukha” (Poor) is about being poor.

IC: Do you visit the Philippines often, what do you seek in those visits?

AE: I try to go almost every year ever since my grandmother moved back in 2009. She’s in her 90s so time is precious. I love going to the province where she lives, disconnected to technology and just “be.” Up until last year there was no internet, no cell phone service. So my family hang out in the living room and share stories of growing up in the province. We would wake up at 4 a.m. and wait for the man on a bicycle to pass through town with freshly baked hot pan de sal (Filipino bread), have meriendas (snacks, appetizers, desserts). Family, food, and stories. That’s what I look forward to.

IC: Would you rather continue living the life of a traveler—does that provide the canvas or the colors for your music?

AE: For now, yes, I prefer to be traveling. Last year I told myself that maybe 2015 would be the year I’d settle down, but the year came and went and I never felt the longing to have my own place again. I like spending time with friends in different places and meeting new ones, collecting their stories, visiting new places, landscapes, and cultures. On the flip side, it’s also exhausting constantly planning schedules, loading and unloading my things which includes my kitchen, instruments, office, clothes. Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I imagine eventually I’ll want a place again, but I don’t see it anytime soon.

Kumar and Espiritu will play at The Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, on June 9. The albums are set for release on July 15. More info at thefreight.org andlittlevillagefoundation.com/

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

Nourishing a Musical Legacy: Pt. Girish Chatterjee

This year is the fifth since the passing of the legendary Hindustani vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. India Currents caught up with Pandit (Pt.) Girish Chatterjee, a long-time disciple of Joshi and a 2011 Filmfare Award nominee for the song “Mora Saiyan” featured in the movie Mirch. He pays homage to this guru by continuing his legacy in music and teaching. These days, he splits his time between India and the United States.
What was it like, being The Bhimsen Joshi’s student?
My father was the disciple of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi; Ustad Amir Khan introduced my father to Pt. Bhimsen Joshi before I was even born. I met Pt. Bhimsen Joshi when I was four years old at Maharastra Nivas in Kolkata after my parents took me to meet him. It was a great experience and a beautiful memory that I cherish. He shared many things with me. I remember he had asked me to sing something and as I did, he was watching me very carefully.

Then he told my parents that their son was highly talented and proceeded to bless me in front of them. That was a very happy moment for me, even more for my parents. He suggested to my parents to bring me back to him when I get a little older to teach me music. Later, I have even shared the stage many times with Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.

Who have been the other major influences in your life?
Seventy percent of the knowledge I acquired in Indian classical music came from my parents, so my first gurus were Sangeet Acharya Pandit Tarakeshwar Chatterjee, my father, and Vidhushi Dipali Chatterjee, my mother. I am the fourth generation in this music tradition … I received a special award for exceptional talent in Indian classical music on the same stage and day where Pt. Ravi Shankar performed Raga Basant Pancham with Ustad Zakir Hussain! I became a research scholar by age eleven at the Sangeet Research Academy. At that time it was a big opportunity for us, for all scholars to get in touch with all the legends of Indian classical music. We received important advice from them. After becoming a research scholar, I started learning from Pt. A. Kanan who was another legend of Indian classical music. He loved me like his son and was very proud of me. I was very much close to both, Pt. Joshi and my other guru, Pt. Kanan, until they passed away.

Describe your experience with Bollywood for us, what was it like, receiving the Filmfare nomination?
I have a long standing relationship with Bollywood. My late gurus Pt. A. Kanan and Pt. V.G. Jog introduced me to Bollywood. I first worked with Rabindra Jain, and then R.D. Burman, Kalyanji Anandji, Naushadji, Indeevar, Kaifi Azmi, Javed Aktar, and many more including the late Yash Chopra. As the song “Mora Saiyan,” which was in the film Mirch, it was written, composed and sung by me. The film director Vinay Shukla requested me to perform many ragas and he chose that raga to be present throughout the film in different sequences.

What is your personal take on Indian vs. Western music?
The whole world of music stands on twelve notes, seven are major notes and the other five are minor notes. According to our Hindustani classical music, there are micro-tones within notes called “shruti.” When we sing ragas along with a manual tanpura only then can we identify those micro-tones, raga’s character and its total improvisation delivery.

Western music has its own intricate rules and follow a particular set of order with a various and beautiful combination of major and minor notes. Western music follows notation with very limited space to play in improvised style … both styles are unique and melodious and if brought together, it can surprise the artists and the listeners.

Where do you teach, what is your teaching philosophy?
Technology has definitely made things easier to conduct your business from anywhere—I do classes via Skype as well.

One must be honest with his profession, humble with his students and passionate with his art. Teaching for the sake of just teaching, to me is incomplete. I remember my father used to say “Remember the way I’m teaching you now, because there will come a day when you will have to teach children.”

I’m very much blessed to have had the best teachers in my life … A teacher’s motivation must come from the fact that otherwise, that knowledge will be lost.

Pandit Girish Chatterjee can be reached at panditgirishc@yahoo.co.in

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

Shanti—A Journey of Peace

kanniks_shanti_largeImagine this: 150 singers; on stage; clad in coordinated sarees or kurta-pyjamas. Singing Sanskrit verses and songs. An Indian choir? Brown, white, black faces. A mixed-race choir? And then 40 dancers: ballet, Indian classical, martial arts. An international music and dance event? The answer to all three questions is…yes! The show is presented by Dharma Civilization Foundation and dance curated by Sangam Arts.

Its creator is Kanniks Kannikeswaran, a classical-music trained engineer who discovered the Western discipline of the Choir and set upon a mission to put the two together. Shanti was born in 2004 and since then has seen many incarnations, but with a difference: Rather than have a dedicated set of artists that travel to perform, Kanniks draws from the local community (desi and non-desi) where Shanti is being presented. Thus, among others, Cincinnati had its own; Houston its own, and now the Bay Area.

Aspiring participants are encouraged to send in mp3 recordings, from which the pool of singers is short-listed. Classical training was desirable but not mandatory. What is interesting is that a significant number of the Shanti choir in the Bay Area will be comprised of the Santa Clara Chorale, which is a 90 voice auditioned choir bringing “…together knowledgeable, amateur singers from a range of ages and backgrounds to study, rehearse, and perform major choral works.”

Of the Bay Area community, Kanniks says, “I am blown away by the fact that there is so much interest in the community. People drive long distances to make it to the four-hour rehearsals. There is the Bay Area professionalism. There is the willingness and interest to learn and go the extra mile to attain perfection. There is tremendous warmth and camaraderie. And there is no dearth of talent. The Bay Area is big; it is very different from creating the Shanti experience in a place like Cincinnati or Lehigh Valley (PA).”
The inspiration for his creations comes from an 18th century poet called Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Kanniks explains, “I am particularly fascinated by the 39 western tune inspired compositions of Dikshitar. In this set is a composition para devate inspired by a Welsh tune—that used to be played by my grandmother on the veena…This tune always touches something in me.”

The segments of Shanti form an inspired, cumulative flow, a single message, while being distinct: Shivashakti is powerful with an energetic dance showcasing pairs of opposites. The flagship song sarve bhavantu sukhinah is haunting, and one finds oneself humming along and long after. The movement ashAnti depicting the ravages of greed and anger is evocative as the final form of delivery.

When asked why he chose to include dance; after all, a choir is about singing, Kanniks said, “When I envisioned Shanti, the picture I had in my mind was that of a large choir of Indian and Western singers in the center, an Indian orchestra on one side, a western orchestra on the other and dancers in the center, in front, and multimedia on the side. The music expresses the story, the message, the dance brings an additional dimension to the expression.”

Usha Srinivasan of Sangam Arts is responsible for this additional dimension, which she achieved by pulling together numerous groups comprising 40 dancers in all. These include dancers with Yokayam led by Surabhi Bharadwaj; Guru Shraddha (odissi) led by Niharika Mohanty; Xpressions (folk) artistically directed by Srividya Eashwar; Tarangini (kathak) led by Anuradha Nag; NewGround Theater, led by Coleen Lorenz. There are also independent dancers, including Ganesh Vasudeva, Vinay Srinivasan, Navia Natrajan, and Samidha Satyam. “Sangam Arts is about creating social connections, Shanti presented an opportunity to do this on an unprecedented scale,” says Srinivasan.
While most of the dancers and groups are established brands already, two are relatively unknown to desis: Yokayam and NewGround. What is Yokayam? It’s an exercise routine that combines yoga, kalaripayattu (South Indian martial art), and bharatanatyam. Having newly moved to San Francisco, Bharadwaj realized early that neighborhood folk were looking for a good workout after a strenuous day at work—that’s how the idea originated. What helped it along was her belief that, “This way, many who have no clue about these Indian art forms and martial arts will actually end up knowing about it and begin to appreciate them!”

Bharadwaj will be presenting the pieces Surya and Buddha, along with leading Bay Area dancers. She discovered this talent pool by holding virtual auditions. Speaking about her choreography for the Buddha piece, Bharadwaj says, “Everyone is constantly in search of something which ultimately gives happiness and peace. A voice captures our attention, it energizes the body mind and spirit. We follow the voice and move as if in a magnetic field. It guides us throughout, until we find happiness and peace within us. That is eternal bliss that I’ve tried to portray in this dance.”

NewGround Theater will be presenting Gange. Artistc Director Lorenz’s first reaction to Shanti,”…was a shared feeling of sacredness for life, its rituals, and joyful connection with others. I have always loved using an eclectic assortment of ethnic music in my own work, and I find the musical sounds and artistry of Shanti exquisitely beautiful and profound.”
About the piece, she says, “Gange is a profoundly moving composition for me! I sense both the strength and grace of Gange’s current flowing through me when I hear the music. The arms of the dancers have become very important for me in the development of the choreography, for they represent the constant flow of the Ganges River . . . a symbol of the unshakeable life force in all of us…moving through the people of India and representing the natural process of life, death, and the afterlife. For me, Gange expresses the dimensions of our own soul.”

Shanti’s emphasis of community building resonated with Lorenz as well, she explains, “Because NewGround Theatre Dance Company is founded on discovering and sharing empathic connection with others through dance, Shanti felt like a kindred spirit in the faith and hope that art can help bring people and nations together in peace.”
Lorenz has also founded AUM (Arts Unity Movement), a name she especially liked because of of its namesake aum—the primordial sound and vibration in Indian culture. Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF), the sponsor of the event, states on its website, “Shanti embodies the possibilities for concord amongst the world’s civilizations rather than their clash.” This aligns singularly well to DCF’s mission, which is “to promote philanthropic giving for creating academic and intellectual infrastructure for the systematic study of dharma, its interpretation and application in modern contexts, in formal academic settings.”

April 30, 5 and 9 p.m. Flint Center 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. May 21, time TBA, Oakland’s Interstake Auditorium, 4780 Lincoln Ave., Oakland. $30-$180, ticketmaster.com.

No Ryan in Bollywood Arabia

karavansaraiThe travelers and tradespeople make it across make-shift gates just as dusk settles in. The dust stirred up by their carts and animals makes the warmth of the sun linger just a moment more. The eye catches the glint of embers being coaxed into cooking fires; aromatic wafts cradle the senses as a quiet spreads through this transient community. A calm that is soon tempered by reedy sounds of a rustic flute, the tinkering of strings, a melody here finds its echo there, a refrain ignites another in this caravan serai (caravan palace), along the Silk Road, circa centuries ago. Sounds like Bollywood Arabia, like a set from movies such as Abdullah and Khuda Gawah?

Woven Landscapes by the Karavan Sarai group, an album of the then, now, and forever or here, there, and everywhere, will take you into that time and space. It’s creators are two-time Grammy nominee artist/producer Carmen Rizzo and composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Narayan Sijan.

In the popular music world, Rizzo is known for his contributions to TV series CSI Miami and True Blood; he has worked with A.R. Rahman and Dido for the song “If I Rise” from the movie 127 Hours.carmen_rizzo

There is a story behind Narayan Sijan. In his words, “I was born with the name Ryan. When I first went to Calcutta in 1994, we were on an old beat up bus. One hour into the journey, the bus broke down. Everyone exited the bus. As my foot stepped on the earth I felt a big wet sensation on my head. I had a bird dropping in my hair. Suddenly a group of young men circled me with serious but friendly looks on their faces. The brave one that spoke English asked ‘You first time India?’  [sic] I hesitated, trying to wipe the poo out. ‘Ummm …Yes!’ Their faces lit up with joy, and they grabbed my hand—[so] as not to wipe any more. They then hugged me, telling me what good luck I have for having the Gods bless me on my first time in India; this must mean that I lived in India in my past life and now India is my home.

They then asked ‘Brother what is your good name?’ I said Ryan, they tried to repeat it Riiian, Rayon, Rayaan. ‘No Ryan’ I tried to tell them. No Ryan … Na-rayan, with great joy they thought they had my name correct. Six months after that first day I was still in India and still trying to get across my correct name. When an old Indian ex-professor at a University asked my name, I said with my new habit of a head wobble “Narayan” and a smile. He asked [me] ‘how you have Indian name? you have Guru, teacher? Born in India?’ I answered that the people of India gave me that name. He smiled and said ‘Very good Narayan’ and walked off. So it has been Narayan since then.”

Sijan spent more than a decade in India and Nepal, studying in China and Central Asia. He also lived in Cairo, visiting the Middle East, Turkey, and Israel.

“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, just changed a little by the culture. That was a real inspiration to me, I realized how music can bridge time and distance.”


So, fans of Bollywood Arabia listen up! In the track “Road to Hijaz” you can become a grain of sand in those movie-sets, the score conjures up drama with every turn of the musical cycle. “Schirin” evokes moonlit sands, silhouettes of camels, and musicians lilting in a resplendent shamiana. “River Bend” is more modern and contemplative with some string sophistry. “Caspian Sea” is a folksy lament, and could just as well have been a titling score for a South Asian movie. It’s universal in its sense of sadness, followed by drama. In “The Journey,” we hear Persian tones in the instrumental backdrop supporting Indian folksy chorus.

Woven Landscapes has eight tracks in all. The album is great for when you are feeling a bit nostalgic, maybe feeling straitjacketed by the everyday and yearning for a bit of gypsy. The Arabic-Persian influences ensure drama, the Indianness creates a familiarity. Cleanse your humdrum with these mystical, haunting sounds.

Available on iTunes and amazon.com. Audio CD $15.28; MP3 $7.92

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.

2015 Bollywood Music Countdown

Jan-Nov 2015 has seen a mixed bag of Bollywood music genres, but with clear winners in terms of music directors, singers, and lyricists. There are two categories in the countdown below-Catchy and Romantic. The common bar for these two genres is that they are harbingers of change-either the lyrics talk about change or the music itself is a change from the usual.

Catchy Numbers That Make Your Feet Tap

5. Prem Leela


Predicable but catchy, amusing lyrics with a story
Film: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo
Music: Himesh Reshammiya
Singers: Aman Trikha, Vineet Singh
Lyricist: Irshad Kamil
Lyrics snippet: “Jaise Radha Shyam se
Sita mili Ram se sab ko apna pyaar mile araam se”


4: Afghan Jalebi

saware_phantomArabic overtones, folksy
Film: Phantom
Music: Pritam
Singer: Syed Asrar Shah
Lyricist: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Lyrics snippet: “Bandook dikha dikha ke kya pyar karegi; Chehra bhi kabhi

3. Superman

supermanRustic lyrics, full of “Tevar” attitude
Film: Tevar
Music Director: Sajid-Wajid
Singer: Wajid
Lyricist: Kausar Munir, Danish Sabri, Sajid
Lyrics Snippet: “Ek bata doon aap se, Nahi darta kisi ke baap se; Ja mere
naam ke bill faad le, Jo ukhaad na ukhaad le, Main toh Superman”

2. Sooraj Dooba Hai

sooraj_doobaSuperb lyrics, modern feel, smooth
Film: Roy
Music: Amaal Mallik
Singers: Arijit Singh, Aditi Sharma
Lyricist: Kumaar
Lyrics snippet: “Matlabi ho ja zara matlabi duniya ki sunta hai kyon Khud ke bhi sun le kabi, sooraj dooba hai yaaro”

1. Gulaabo

Peppy, whimsical, unusual lyrics, over all fantastic
Film: Shandaar
Music: Amit Trivedi
Singers: Vishal Dadlani, Anusha Mani
Lyricist: Anvita Dutt
Lyrics snippet: “Hey surma lagaa ke,
Latein uljha ke, Haath jiya pe mal-mal Tere chhajje ke niche khade hain, Phans
gaye jaise dal-dal”

Romantic Songs or Lyrics that Tug at Heartstrings

5. Jeena Jeenajeena_jeenaSweet, longing, modern
Film: Badlapur
Singer: Atif Aslam
Music: Sachin-Jigar
Lyricists: Dinesh Vijan & Priya Saraiya
Lyrics snippet: “Dehleez pe mere dil ki
Jo rakhe hain tune kadam; Tere naam
pe meri zindagi; Likh di mere
hum dum”

4. Tu Hai ki Nahitu_hai_ki_nahiUnexpected music arrangement with
some whistling thrown in
Film: Roy
Singer/ Composer: Ankit Tiwari
Lyrics: Abhendra Kumar Upadhyay
Lyrics snippet: “Tu wo lamha jo na
thehre Aane waala kal mera
Main aas paas tere aur mere paas Tu hai ke nahi”

3. Sawaresaware_phantom (1)Beautiful opening, wistful
Film: Phantom
Singer: Arijit Singh
Music: Pritam
Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Lyrics snippet: “Ishq ka yeh Sitam na
gawara hua pal; pal gin ke guzara, maano karza utaara”


2. Tum Saath Hotum_saath_hoClassic heart-wrenching
Film: Tamasha
Singer: Alka Yagnik, Arijit Singh
Lyrics Irshad Kamil
Lyrics snippet: “Bethi bethi bhaagi
phirun; Meri taraf aata har gham phisal
jaaye Agar tum saath ho”


1. Mar Jaayenmar_jaayenDramatic, lovesick
Film: LoveShuda
Singer: Atif Aslam
Music: Mithoon
Lyrics: Sayeed Quadri
Lyrics snippet: “Kaash woh pal paida
hi na ho, jis pal me tu nazar na aaye”

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.

Music That Bridges Boundaries

In February 2015, the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) was at the center of a musical discord—within a week, it was nominated and then disqualified for the Global Indian Music Awards. The Pakistani publication Dawn, reported Hasan commenting, “We didn’t ask for a nomination in the first place and given that they deemed us worthy enough to be nominated, disqualifying now doesn’t really make sense to me. The album was not recorded solely in Pakistan, rather half of the work was done in India.”


The band is currently on tour in the United States and has an interesting profile—it is Indian and Pakistani, comprising Hasan (guitar) and Muhammad Ahsan Papu (flute) from Pakistan; Sharmishtha Chatterjee (vocals), Gino Banks (drums; yes, son of Louis Banks), and Sheldon D’Silva (bass) from India.

Hasan is driven by the Indian and Pakistani relationship: not by the conflict, but by its potential; saying, “The fact that we have hundreds of years of shared musical and artistic history is in and of itself a treasure trove to be delved in deeply as partners in art and culture. While much is made of the often acrimonious relationship between the two countries politically, not enough is done to explore the many wonderful things we can build upon together.”

Hasan himself seems to epitomize the prefix “inter:” He is an inter-faith product- of a Muslim father and Christian mother; plays inter-genre music (Sufi and rock); works with inter-tradition musicians (classical and jazz); is inspired by inter-ethos poetry (spiritual and modern) and of-course founded an inter-geo band. The latest album, Andholan—meaning “organized protest” in Hindi—is aptly named for what the band represents.

A listen to the album drives home this aspect: “Kinarey” is semi-classical but philosophical, with Chatterjee starting off in wonderfully clear-toned vocals, Papu’s flute providing soulful accompaniment. “Ghungat” on the other hand, stays true to rebellious rock, strong on the guitar, bass, drums and the vocals highlighting the conflict in the lyrics—“Your slave is being auctioned free, Come my love and rescue me, No longer can I perch elsewhere?”

Champkalli” fuses classical vocal with a rock score. “Sayon” has playful guitaring and lighter-toned vocals, that belie some deep lyrics “I drank the cup of poison, without a thought of benefit or loss. I desired this grief, this pain.”

But the highlight is the track “Malkauns,” where its namesake raga has never before, to my knowledge, been rendered as in Andholan, in a heavy metal avatar. The interplay between drums, bass, guitar is particularly interesting juxtaposed as it is between soft fluting and strident vocals.

Chatterjee’s singing holds every number together, but the interesting fact is that until 2014, for over a decade, the band was all-male. She remembers, “Mekaal Hasan called me one day and asked if I would like to sing for his band. I loved MHB’s music ever since I heard it. The Indian classical element in the music paired with the languages and poetries was something I found fascinating and I knew in the process I’ll grow as an artist.”

Growing up in Kolkata, Chatterjee has had some rigorous training, “I learnt Indian classical from my guru Pandit K.C. Lahiri. He was basically a violinist and also taught instruments like sarod and sitar. So my vocal training was rather experimental and very different from the rest. He taught me raag Yaman for 10 years and said if you manage to learn one raag properly, you can sing or pick up anything in the world.” Her musicality took on new dimensions when she came to Mumbai in 2005 and started singing in Bollywood and advertising projects.

Chatterjee’s earliest recollection of the Indian and Pakistani conflict was while watching a cricket match as a child. Today, she aspires to be a better musician and human by banding with Indian and Pakistani musicians. “This is a myth-breaking band with a female singer in a rock band, an Indian singer in a Pakistani Band … all sorts of man-made differences that engulf human minds. Music truly has no boundaries and barriers.”

Andholan comes after a five year hiatus for the Mekaal Hasan Band, which has seen some artist turn-over. Proof of its persuasive music and compelling message is in the fact that it was selected as part of South By South West’s (SXSW) first ever lineup representing Pakistan, earlier this year. (SXSW is a well-established, premier conference for music, independent films, and emerging technologies held every year in Austin, TX.) Interestingly, the Pakistani showcase was sponsored by the Islamabad-based Foundation for Arts Culture and Education (FACE), a U.S. State Department-funded organization countering violent fundamentalism with cultural exchange.

Please visit their facebook page for news and dates and venues for their September tour (https://www.facebook.com/mekaalhasanband). The music is available on iTunes.
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

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