New York based jazz singer, composer and arranger Kavita Shah traverses the boundaries between jazz and Indian music in her new has a new album Visions. With degrees from Harvard and Manhattan School of Music, Shah has traveled the world and imbibed each musical culture as she goes. Visions features a suite called Rag Desh, which “begins with a rhythm from the tabla and spoken vocals called tabla bols, used in Hindustani classical music to vocalize the different sounds of the instrument, then concludes with “Meltdown”: a bluesy, moody tune that deconstructs the traditional raga, or melody, introduced earlier.”
Shah hopes that, “by creating complex but accessible arrangements, she [will] expand her audience’s conception of what jazz can be, while connecting them to music from around the world.”
Indian/Western classical crossover icon, Chitravina N Ravikiran collaborated with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra this weekend to honor two of the greatest composers of the early nineteenth century. German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) holds one of the most esteemed positions in the Western (european) classical music tradition. Carnatic composer Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) holds an equally esteemed place in the South Indian musical tradition. Depending on your musical background, one of these two composers might be very familiar to you, while the other might be relatively unknown — and yet they were both inconic in their own musical traditions. These composers, though contemporaries, have rarely (if ever) been performed side by side. But the Melharmony Festival aims to jusxtapose the works of these two masters.
Ravikiran has developed his own particular methodology for Indian/Western musical crossover, called Melharmony, which he teaches to pupils in the midwest and worldwide. Ravikiran explains it as “showcasing the similarities between various systems of music, which can enable their contrasts to be appreciated even more positively.” In past years, the festival included juxtapositions of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi (1700-65) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), as well as Tyagaraja (1767-1874) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).
The event, which took place at Mills College on November 8, 2015, included scholarly discussions by Prof. Robert Morris from the Eastman School of Music on Dikshitar & Beethoven, performances of works by professional ensembles, competitions and short recital opportunities for students, culminating in a performance by Maestro Chitravina N Ravikiran and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra conducted by Maestro Andrew Sewell.
We are currently accepting proposals for presentations, performances and papers for the Shastra Symposium 2016. This is the first Shastra-hosted peer-reviewed conference that brings together scholars, performers, and composers to explore the topic of Indian/Western crossover music.
The late British composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) has been known, especially in his vocal work, to have a special fascination with India. His chamber opera is based on the story of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahabharata. Both words and music are written by the composer.
Bay-Area composer Jack Perla‘s “River of Light” tells a more contemporary tale. “Having moved from India, Meera loves her new husband, her high-powered job, and the Houston lifestyle until the birth of her daughter makes her long to recreate authentic Diwali traditions at home. The tale unfolds in about 30 minutes with a score that draws extensively on North Indian ragas and an orchestra that mixes Western instruments with sitar and the tabla.” The librettist is the acclaimed author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
The two lead female roles will be sung by the outstanding young Indian-American coloratura soprano Maya Kherani, and male roles will be shared between three Festival Opera veterans, bass-baritone Philip Skinner, tenor Jorge Garza, and baritone Daniel Cilli.
In a beautiful article for xojane, Nikita Redkar contrasts attitudes towards cultural appropriation between her parents generation and hers.
For Indian Americans who have been born and raised in America by immigrant parents, Redkar says, “[W]e are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion — and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance.”
However, for Indians who have immigrated to the West, this cultural appropriate hardly poses a problem: “They knew from the onset they weren’t going to be accepted. They grew up embedded in a deep sense of cultural identity — one that everyone around them shared. They always knew where they are from and they owned it, even when they arrived in America. Years later, our parents’ generation is bursting with pride at the thought of all the customs they accepted being embraced by the mainstream — whether it’s being exoticized or not. Our parents see the western infatuation with select parts of their otherwise deeply rich culture … as an acknowledgement; it is a cross-cultural equalization they could have never dreamed of.”
As Indian practices become more deeply embedded in American mainstream culture, these starkly contrasting viewpoints between generations are at the fore of the discussion about Indian/Western cultural collaborations. But what if there was a middle ground?
This is why we created Shastra. We seek out musicians whose work is authentic in both cultures, who go far beyond musical appropriation, and truly allow the music of one culture to exist alongside the other. Redkar’s parents are right: It is wonderful to see any semblance of Indian culture make it into the mainstream. And Redkar is right too: We can do more.