Tag Archives: Singing

What’s In A Voice

Music has been an essential part of my life since I was five years old. I don’t think there’s been a day in my life without singing.  When I’m sick or my voice croaks and squeaks, when it hurts, and even when I’m too busy to eat, music has always been there for me when I’ve needed it. When I’m listening to music or singing, everything feels right with the world.

That music has changed over the years. Much of my music comes from my parents, but my older brother affected my music taste the most. As a child, my parents would constantly stream Maroon 5 or Contemporary Bollywood on Pandora radio. As I got older, my brother got me to listen to Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, John Mayer, and Sam Smith. By ten or eleven I was making my own musical choices and when I was fourteen, my taste was completely separate from my family.

But, more than anything, the eleven years I’ve spent in choir has shaped my music forever. I obsessively seek melodic music. I find it hard to enjoy a song without a strong melody, unlike some of my friends who prefer guitar lines or layers.

Inevitably, my musical taste is tied to my choral experience, because the only way I actually learn music is by finding the melodies and harmonies that inhabit it

I’ve discovered that the music I enjoy now is rather different from the rest of my family. My parents cannot stand slow, sad songs – my favorite type of music!  It’s not as though I made a conscious decision to like sad songs, but I’ve come to realize that the strong, melodic tunes I love, are often sad ones.

Here why.  I believe a powerful melody can carry a sad theme without the pressure to have a catchy, poppy background. A simple setting can make a strong tune stand out.

But that doesn’t mean sad songs are the only thing I like. Once in awhile, I’ll listen to quick-moving, happy tunes like Harry Styles’s “Canyon Moon” or Panic! At the Disco’s “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” – they have strong melodies as well. 

At other times, there are songs I can listen to over and over again – mxmtoon’s “almost home” or Conan Gray’s “Heather” they just hit me hard.

But, in that musical search, I neglected one aspect of my childhood: Bollywood music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bollywood music. The background is intricate, the melodies are fun, and the storytelling is incredible. I just don’t know enough of it. 

Of the hundreds of Bollywood songs I’ve heard in my life, I only know “Subhanallah” from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani fully, mostly because of my mom, and that took me hours on end to learn.

I don’t speak Hindi so learning the lyrics took me almost an hour. I read through it at least fifteen times – it was difficult for me to understand. The melody wasn’t hard because Subhanallah is a simple song, but unlike many Western songs, each of its two verses had different melodies -I had to figure out how the verses changed- not easy!

Give me a song from Bach’s cantata and a piano and I can learn it within the hour. That process takes me half the time. I’ll listen to the song, play it on the piano, sing it through a couple of times, figure out the lyrics, then practice it. Twice. That’s it. 

I’m incredibly tuned into Western music, whether it’s choral pieces or theatre tunes or “contemporary” music. It’s expected, easier.

But Hindi songs are difficult. They live by a different set of rules. The language requires a unique technique, while the musical tones, the different runs, vocal flexes, and background, are often more complex than a Western song  (unless it’s background-driven). 

When singing has been defined by Western classical music like mine has, it’s very hard to switch mindsets.

For instance, when I’m singing a song I’ve sung a thousand times, I can mess with it however I want, but I’m almost always true to the style of the song. It’s twice as hard to do that with a Bollywood song. The intricacies are very different and I have to really think about the nuances of the song.

Sometimes that makes me feel like a traitor to my heritage. 

One time I was asked to sing at a neighbor’s Navaratri party. I sang in English. I could’ve sung in Italian, but that would have been weird. I was complimented on my singing afterward, but I know that everyone was disappointed that I hadn’t sung in Tamil or Hindi or any Indian language.

What do I do? I don’t regret singing Western classical. I love my choir and what it’s taught me. 

But, of course, music is about give-and-take. From my point of view, I have excellent Western training but I lost a good desi background. Can you have a perfect vocal technique for twentieth-century English music and for twenty-first-century Bollywood? It seems impossible!

But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. For a year my mom drove me to Palo Alto once a week for Carnatic music but I sucked at it. It was not my jam. Then again, it could’ve just been my petulant eight-year-old self.

Yet despite what my fears tell me, I’m not a traitor to my culture for not enjoying Carnatic music when I was eight. And yes, I do want to get better at singing Indian music, but ultimately, that’s not what matters.

 My younger brother likes dubstep music, I hate it. My dad loves the song “Take it Easy, Urvashi” and my mom detests it. But even then, my entire family will always listen to songs like Culture Club’s iconic “Karma Chameleon”.

The thing is, music is different to everyone.

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

First Indian Woman to Sing the National Anthem at a NHL Game

As Indian culture continues to intermingle within American culture, the influence of Indians on American music, film, art, food, sports, technology, business and politics also continues to grow. We open up to more opportunities for Indians to succeed in various careers. One such opportunity came for Soukhya Inamdar, a second generation Indian American, who found her passion in singing. At a young age, she already has a prolific singing career having performed in a multitude of competitions and stages, including singing at the Purdue University NCAA Basketball game.

INDTVUSA, a San Jose based South Asian channel focusing on interests of South Asians, spotted Soukhya Inamdar at a singing competition in the Bay Area. INDTVUSA, in collaboration with the San Jose Sharks, are hosting their first Indian Heritage Night at the SAP Center on March 5th – a San Jose Sharks vs. Minnesota Wild game. INDTVUSA and the San Jose Sharks have selected Soukhya to sing the National Anthem at the event, where she will also become the first Indian woman to ever sing the National Anthem at an NHL game. This sets the stage for Soukhya’s biggest opportunity yet.

Everyone that purchases the discounted tickets from www.sjsharks.com/indian website will receive a free Sharks beanie and post game picture on the ice rink. Come out to the game and support a local Indian American make herstory!

Carnatic Vocal Debut: Kaushik Shivakumar

Kaushik Shivakumar has been learning Carnatic vocal music for the last 13 years under the tutelage of Sangeetha Vidushi Srimathi Jayashree Varadarajan, Founder and Artistic Director of Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandir School of Fine Arts based in Sunnyvale, CA.

Kaushik is very passionate about his singing  and has participated in many of the school’s music productions at various venues across the Bay Area and in Cleveland. He has won prizes at various music competitions that include the first prize in the Manodharma category at Silicon Andhra Annamaya Jayanthi and the 2nd prize in the Ragam Tanam Pallavi Category at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana in 2016. He was also a first prize winner in the group category of the Carnatic music Idol USA in 2013 and his group was invited to perform at the 2014 Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana. Kaushik has also presented solo vocal concerts under the banner of Nandalala Mission,  LOTUS and Swara Lahari.

Don’t miss your chance to experience Carnatic Music Vocal Debut Concert. Kaushik Shivakumar (Vocal), will be accompanied by Vignesh Thiagarajan on the violin and Vignesh Venkataraman on the mridangam.

August 3, 2019 4:00 pm. Campbell Heritage Theatre 1 W. Campbell Ave.Campbell, CA 95008. (408) 507-4680. shanthi.shivakumar@gmail.com, http://srirama.net/ .Admission free.

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.

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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.

Who’s Afraid of Dhrupad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dhrupad singer and instrumentalist
A Dhrupad singer and instrumentalist

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

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

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

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

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