Performing artists have been hard hit during the pandemic. With nowhere to go and no space to perform at, Sunny Jain, Red Baraat‘s founder, drummer, and composer has turned to the social distanced visual medium for expression. He began the Quarantet series engaging with different emotions and movements occurring in our current timeline.
His second video in the series, Heroes, was released on Breonna Taylor’s birthday and addressed the Black Lives Movement. Fusing his music with a moment, singer John Pfumojena bellows in the language, Shona, “There are rebels and mighty people out there.”
August 14th-15th marked the anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan. The state of Punjab was split up by the British upon exiting the subcontinent. This caused the largest mass migration in world history, something Jain’s parents went through themselves.
Sunny comments, “Punjabi people and really the entire subcontinent have so much shared culture that’s often pushed aside for political and/or religious reasons. It’s a shame, but I’m thankful the many people I know of the South Asian diaspora feel more as one, than not.”
Rhodes to Punjab was released in celebration of the ancestors, people, and culture of Punjab on the 73rd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Raaginder‘s violin croons as images of Punjab in 1947 splash across the screen and we are transported to another time.
In his most recent video, Family, Jain’s young twin daughters sing Hai Apna Dil To Awara from the 1958 Bollywood film, Solva Saal. He remembers his father jamming out to it when he was a child.
“My twins heard it for the first time last year as I was working on my Wild Wild East album. They fell in love with Ganavya’s voice, who recorded a version of it. Family, chosen and/or blood, is everything, and maybe some of us are lucky enough to have people that are with us through the many phases of life. We hope you all are finding love and support with your family during these times,” Jain notes.
Music has the ability to unify, evoke, support and Sunny Jain capitalized on that. The Quarantet series is innovative and finds ways to connect with diverse voices, giving sounds to emotions felt during the pandemic. Find the entire series here!
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.
My name is Arjun Chandra, and I am a 14 year old teenager entering my sophomore year of high school, at Dougherty Valley High school in San Ramon. I will be performing my debut South Indian classical violin concert on August 4th 2019 at the Lakireddy auditorium, Shiva Vishnu Temple, Livermore. I will perform a variety of Carnatic music songs on the violin that I learned from my Guru Vidushi Smt. G. Bharathi, daughter of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. M. Chandrasekaran. I will be accompanied on Mridangam by Laya Kala Rathna Sri. Ramesh Srinivasan, leading disciple of mridangam maestro Sangita Kalanidhi Vellore G. Ramabhadran, and on ghatam by renowned Ghatam Vidwan Sri. S.V. Ramani.
I did not think that I would be playing my violin debut concert this summer. My parents were primarily planning for my twin brother’s mridangam arangetram. Around the end of April, my Guru suggested that I was ready to have my debut violin concert as well! I was a bit hesitant as I felt that I was not ready. However, I was told that, when senior artists of such caliber express confidence, then, it is important to take such advice seriously. And pretty soon the debut concert started to become a reality, thanks to my Guru and the support from my family.
This concert will also serve a cause, where I will be raising awareness for “Sai Aashraya”, an organization that aims to provide high quality health, education and nutrition services free of cost to the needy across India. More than 1000 children are fed nutritious food every day. Free state-of-the-art medicare camps are conducted on a monthly basis in a South Indian village, and once every two months in the tribal areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
Sai Aashraya has been carrying out Gram Seva (Village Service) where the villages adopted are given holistic care with an aim to make them self sufficient. Five of these villages are in extremely remote areas near the Indo-China border In Arunachal Pradesh and one of them is in Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. Many other projects are conducted on a regular basis, as shared here: https://www.saiaashraya.org/service-projects
They have inspired many people, like me, to help people in need. Inspired by this organization, my friends and I have started making burritos every other week for homeless people on the streets of Oakland. Few families in the Tri-valley area take turns to serve simple breakfast everyday, to people on the streets, with the goal of connecting with them and understanding their needs. I truly believe in their cause. As their website says, “Sympathy for all mankind is a moral obligation and a duty“.
Hope to see you at the concert to enjoy the music, and hope you get inspired by Sai Aashraya sharing.
Every so often, you come across individuals who leave a lasting impact on you. They hold within them the wisdom of life experience – which cannot compare with academic laurels or material worth. Their stories can be likened to a well aged wine of a full-bodied flavor, enriched by many layers of emotions and experiences. But one common trait they share is a spirit of gratitude and humility.
If you met Seetha Ramakrishnan on the street, you’d see at first glance, an Indian woman of mature years, walking along briskly with her two ‘grandkids’, Zook and Miki – her daughter Radhika’s pets. She will greet you with a smile and walk on.
It is only when you spend time with her, that you realize her remarkable attributes. She has the ability to understand the subtleties and nuances of people across age groups. And she possesses a sense of humor that belies the hardships she has faced along her life’s journey. Of course, she will make light of these revelations saying “that was then… this is NOW”. A person could spend their entire lifetime learning this ability to live in the moment.
The youngest of 10 children, born into a family of modest means, Seetha learned to ‘make do’ from an early age. Her story reads like a movie script, when she speaks of long walks to the bus stop to get to school in Kuruvayur, a small Kerala village of her birth. She remembers those times, with a matter-of-fact attitude. Her sisters married early, as was the norm, but Seetha managed to complete her SSLC – 10th grade. When the family moved to Mumbai, Seetha lived with her brother’s family. Learning to live with people of varying personalities and dispositions were part of her early learning experience, and has served her well throughout her life.
Music was a familiar backdrop in her early years. Her sisters could sing, but did not receive formal training. At her brother’s home in Mumbai, Seetha began learning music formally after completing her 10th grade education. Her brother was a respected dance teacher. And in that environment, Seetha received initial training on the violin by Shri. A. Narayana Iyer and his daughter, N.Rajam – who is one of the most renowned violinists of our time. She relates how difficult it was to start training at the age of 17. But she persisted. And so began a musical journey that zigzagged its path from Mumbai, to Coimbatore, and back again. Her teachers – Smt. Meenakshi Vishwanathan, and the famous Kovai Kannan brothers – helped further her musical growth.
Along the way, music transformed into a teaching career, quite by chance, when a neighbor requested that she teach her kids. And then came the dawning awareness of wanting to be financially independent in order to be able to continue her own musical education. Completing a Stenographers course which led to a paying job, aided the process. Teaching music also enhanced her own learning. Whether it was necessity that created opportunity, or passion that gave shape to it, she found herself beginning to enjoy teaching.
Marriage at the age of 26, brought with it another change of role. And with it came limitations of a different sort. A joint family meant more adjustments, and a need to find her place within its framework. But her passion for music and teaching never waned. They shaped her identity. Later in life came hardships in the form of her husband’s ill heath. Seetha found herself in the position of being the sole earner, providing for the family both emotionally and financially. The forward-facing attitude inculcated through her early life, and a deep abiding faith in her music, got her through those trying times.
Balancing family life and teaching, Seetha managed to accompany many eminent vocalists on stage. And she was also an ‘AIR’, All India Radio artist for 25 years. Despite the recognition and growing fame, she considers her influence on her children as the greatest feather in her cap. Her children grew up around music, learning by listening while she taught. And then beginning their training under her care. Her son, Kumar, preferred the Mridangam. While her daughters, Radhika and Ranjani took up the violin and went on to win accolades, perform and teach – a testament to their mother’s passion, resonating with their own.
Radhika Iyer, is a prolific California based musician. She balances her job as a Finance Strategist, with her musical journey, which has taken her down interesting roads. Radhika plays Western and Indian Classical music on a seven-string fretted violin called the ‘viper’. She is also an author, songwriter, session musician and record producer.
Ranjani Ramakrishnan divides her time between Chennai and the U.S, playing on the Carnatic concert circuit, and teaching the violin. She has performed extensively including the most revered World Festival of Sacred Music at the James Armstrong theatre and the Cleveland festival. The musician visits the US in March-April before the Cleveland Aradhana Festival, to train kids who participate in the events. The sisters have collaborated on albums and play duets occasionally.
As for Seetha, at age 78, the enduring love affair with her violin continues. She now considers her music as a service to humanity. While it brought with it financial help and support when the need arose, she firmly believes that it is a form of the Divine – enriching her life, and those of many she has managed to touch through the ages. She is known by many labels – Daughter, Sister, Wife, Amma, Aunty, Musician, Teacher and Thaati (grandmother). She gives of herself without hesitation, with loving kindness.
Her parting comment to me was profound – “My learning never ends. It has taken a different route – inwards”. Hers is a life, shaped by circumstance, as much as by her passion for her violin.
A full life – a synergetic union between the bow and the string.
This is a tribute in words during Women’s History Month for a woman I am proud to know.
South India Fine Arts (SIFA), is the premier organization in San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and presentation of South Indian fine arts. SIFA is proud to present its Spring 2018 Season artists.
We started off the Spring 2018 Seasion in February by celebrating Saint Thyagaraja’s Aradhana. A lot of talented local Bay Area artists and Bay Area Music/Dance Schools presented their tribute by presenting various Kritis of Saint Thyagaraja. Check out our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/carnaticmusicbayarea/ for photos/videos from this program.
We kick off April with a concert by the dynamic duo – Dr. Krishnakumar and Smt. Binni Krishnakumar, followed by amellifluous Flute concert by Shri. Shashank Subramanyam.
In May, we have a blockbuster Vocal concert by one of the giants in Carnatic Music — the great Shri T. V. Sankaranarayan, followed by a scintillating performance by the dynamic duo – Shri Ganesh and Shri Kumaresh on the Violin.
In June, we present a grand Vocal concert by Shri Palghat Ramprasad, the grandson of the legendary Mridangam player Palghat Mani Iyer.
In July, we have a divine Harikatha / Music Discourse by Harikatha exponent, Shri. Dushyanth Sridhar. We have also planned for an enchanting evening with a Vocal concert by Kum. Pragathi Guruprasad, who was the runner-up in the third season of the reality-based singing competition Airtel Super Singer Junior.
SIFA is super excited to present the above line up of artists and hopes that all rasikas would attend and enjoy the above concerts. We also would like to remind that SIFA sponsors get FREE admission to most concerts.
Please signup for Sponsorship here: https://care.way.com/#/public/13492
CHAI for 6, a music group with members based in four states across two continents will perform on June 17 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The group traces its origins to the Berklee Indian Exchange founded in 2013 to celebrate and share Indian music and culture with the Berklee student body. Assistant manager Rohith Jayaraman says, “Just because we play Indian music doesn’t mean we all have to be of Indian origin. We have had students and collaborators from 42 countries (and counting!) work with us over the years. Just this past semester, we had students from Australia, Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Spain, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, China, Israel, Singapore, Bahrain, the United States and more! The stamp on your passport does not matter.”
A significant item on the Exchange’s agenda is to ensure that there is a cultural connection with India, through the Berklee Indian ensemble. Thus, the group has worked with the likes of A.R. Rahman and Clinton Cerejo, both stars in Bollywood music, working on originals and rearrangements with these masters.
It is at Berklee that Jayaraman, who’s also the voice of CHAI, met up with Layth Sidiq, (violin) incidentally the only musician of non-Indian origin in the group, along with Shubh Saran (guitar), and Sashank Navaladi (sarod). These four musicians first performed a piece called “Shuruaat,” written by Navaladi, which they intend to play in the upcoming show as well. M.T. Aditya Srinivasan (tabla) and Vignesh Venkataraman (mridangam) found their way to Boston briefly and “something just clicked.”
Music, literally, is what brings the group together: Sidiq and Jayaraman live in Boston, Saran lives in New York, Venkataraman in the Bay Area, Navaladi in Los Angeles, and Srinivasan in Chennai.
The Berklee spirit of exchange seems to drive the sound for CHAI as well, as Jayaraman puts it, “I think it’s less of a conscious effort and more of just happy experimentation. We get together and throw ideas around. What comes out is what comes out. If we think too much about it, we would never get there. The key is finding the similarities and using them to highlight the differences.”
One can argue that given the backgrounds of these artists, there is no other way to make music: Navaladi is a film/tv composer as well as a sarod player, Sidiq is a classically trained Arabic violinist, Srinivasan is a tabla player but also a percussionist who has studied in Spain, Saran is a contemporary American/jazz/Indo-world guitarist, and Venkataraman is a Carnatic mridangist extraordinaire. Jayaraman is a Carnatic trained vocalist who claims that he cannot claim an exclusive musical foot in any one world, even though he has had rigorous training from his mother Asha Ramesh, who is an Indian-music brand in the Bay Area.
While the six joke around and are prone to watching funny Youtube videos (even during rehearsals!), they have serious musical chops, as the videos on the Ensemble’s site will prove. Sidiq picked up the violin when he was four and now is a sought-after composer and directs the Arab music ensemble at Tufts University. When asked if the Indian quotient gets overwhelming when they get together, he said, “The more Indians I have around me the more I know I’ll be surrounded by good food, beautiful music, and a profound culture!”
Saran is an official Reunion blues artist and has played alongside several international artists. He confesses that he is somewhere in between a Blues man and a Rock guitarist. He has his own album, Hmayra under his belt and has set his eyes on Bollywood next. Navaladi has been the ensemble’s star composer and released Zikr, a musical, inspired by and based on a Mirza Ghalib poem of the same name. He says, “I started with one tune for the first couplet and kept revising it for days until I finally started feeling a solid melody that worked well with the rhythm of the first two couplets. Zikr taught me how the subtle rhythms embedded within each sentence influence composition and texture.” Srinivasan’s band was the winner in an all-India band hunt organized by A.R. Rahman and in a TEDx session, he talked about how there is a rhythm in everything, “The Rhythm of Intent.”
Jayaraman has a degree in music therapy and co-directs the ensemble. Being introduced to Shakti, (the epic multi-cultural group/album starring Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, among others) was a high point in his life. Venkataraman is “Boston Strong” and talks about the city, basketball, and music with equal passion. He would be unable to pick between a game and concert, saying, “If it was an NBA finals game, it would probably be basketball. If not, I might choose the concert!” He is a columnist for the Stanford Daily.
Chai for 6 promises a new sound, maybe even a Shakti-esque sound, given Sidiq’s international flavor, Saran’s jazz tones, and Indian classical from the others. After individual pursuits and success, these musicians are attempting to discover perhaps, live, a sound that they can own. We shall have to see!
CHAI for 6: A fund-raiser for Vibha, June 17th, 8 p.m., Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Way, Santa Clara.
THE MASTER. Sultan Khan and Warren Cuccurullo Six Degrees. Album and tracks available on iTunes and amazon.com. $9.99
In 2011, the world lost a great artist, master sarangi player and unforgettable vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan. Khan was known in the classical circles as the force to keep the sarangi in mainstream and popular circles as the vocalist for, among others, Bollywood’s Jab We Met (the haunting folk refrain in the track “Aao Milo Chalo”) and the soundtrack for the Tamil movie Yogi.
It was therefore a great surprise to the music world earlier this year, when The Master by Six Degrees Records, featuring Khan and rock guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, surfaced. Cuccurullo is best known for being part of the popular pop band Duran Duran. The two had apparently jammed in 1997-98, but the album was on hold because Cuccurullo needed to finish one particular track. Says Cuccurullo, “One day I typed in my name and Sultan Khan’s name to see where he was at. A Times of India article came up with an obituary. I had no idea. I realized I have to get these tapes, I need to make his family aware of them, and I had to finish 4D.”
The first track, “The Holy Man’s Plea” has Khan’s lilting “Babul mora naihar chooto jaiye,” the sarangi reaching forgotten places in your heart. The 12-minute “4D Suite” was recorded in one day and the soulful sarangi is offset by Cuccurullo’s light-hearted guitaring with drums crescendoing in the background. Interestingly the bass and drums were added later to the album, the original tracks were recorded with just the sarangi and guitar.
Cuccurullo infuses drama in “Mirror Margana,” inducing the illusion that you are watching flitting images from a black-and-white era movie. “Sikar” is mostly aalaap (melodic intonation of notes)—“The first time I ever saw the actual instrument (sarangi) played live it was on stage in 1991 at Royal Albert Hall,” says Cuccurullo, speaking of a Duran Duran benefit concert featuring Sultan Khan. In 1996 while working on the song, “Buried in the Sand,” he remembered an aalaap by Khan that he thought would fit perfectly. That was perhaps the first time the sarangi was heard in American pop music. This album is perhaps the last of Khan’s original work to come to track.
New Jazzsey Violin
JAZZ CARNATICA. Arun Ramamurthy—violin, Perry Wortman—bass, Sameer Gupta—drums Available on iTunes. $8.91
Arun Ramamurthy, raised in New Jersey, was gifted a violin by his grandmother when he was a child. He was urged to play it. He did. And grew up to form The Arun Ramamurthy Trio comprising, apart from himself, noted drummer Sameer Gupta, and bassist Perry Wortman. Their album, “Jazz Carnatica” was released in October 2014.
“We’re playing from within. I learned that approach from my gurus in India, and it is still very upfront in my head,” Ramamurthy reflects. “You can play in front of 20,000 people or a handful, in any setting. It doesn’t matter; you center yourself and play from within—and nothing gets in your way.”
“Maha G” is the ageless Karnatik “Maha Ganapathim” set to a Western ethos. Ramamurthy pays homage to Indian composer Swati Thirunal in his jazz-remixed “Dhanasri.” The fourth dimension in “4th Dimension” is brought by Wortman with the violin at times rounding off the rough sounds of the bass, at times giving them a tonal height. This track comes closest to conventional jazz than the others. “Simple Joys” has interludes of the deliberate karnatik rhythm, but the result is simple joy, not cacophony.
“Delusions” gives us a glimpse into the soul of the Trio. “The piece is in Adi tala [a 16-beat cycle akin to 4/4] but I wanted the melody to pop,” explains Ramamurthy. “I wanted the bass to counter my line, and the drums to hold down the down beats. Sameer crashes right on the one, but my melody leaps off him. You can feel the dynamics at play.”
The album has several guest contributors such as keys player Marc Cary, fiddler Trina Basu, and mridangam player Akshay Anantapadmanabhan
Indian classical music is grounded in rigor, but only to empower as its musicians seek an unbounded musical landscape. Jazz is a free synthesis of immersed melody, notes, and emotion. They just go together. Or as Ramamurthy says, “It’s about connecting in the moment.”
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.