Shastra is a community of artists dedicated to creating meaningful, cross-cultural music that connects great musical traditions of India and the West. Through festivals, recordings, educational events, and commissioning initiatives, we are a nexus for musicians to share their artistry and bring this music to the world.

xojane: My Indian parents love cultural appropriation, but I can’t stand it

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.

Read the full article here.

The tabla concerto you’ve been waiting for: Zakir Hussain’s ‘Peshkar’ is here

372984-zakir1Tabla concerti are certainly a growing body of work, approached from both sides by Western composers and Hindustani tabla players alike. But a concerto conceived by the top name in tabla performance, Zakir Hussain, promises to be a breed apart.

“It’s very easy to go one way or the other,” says composer Dinuk Wijeratne, in regards to Indian and Western musical styles. “But it takes a huge amount of work to find what I call the ‘third solution’, where both traditions are respected and the result is something that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts,”

In its article about Peshkar, Times of India asks the important question: “Why create fusion when the two traditions, by themselves, are vast and rich?” The answer, they assert, may lie in the effort to bridge their different philosophies. “It is no coincidence that as the 20th century wore on and the dichotomy of Eastern and Western societies as ‘contemplative’ and ‘practical’ started disappearing, more experiments in fusion started being done.”

Hussain says of his new work Peshkar, “The tabla is not a melodic instrument, though there’s pitch in the right drum. So it’s not got melody that someone can hum. It is pulse, suggestion, colour and points of sound.”

Conductor Zane Dalal led the Symphony Orchestra of India in the world premiere of Zakir Hussain’s tabla concerto, Peshkar, at the NCPA, Mumbai, on September 25, 2015, with future performances in Europe coming up this season.

The full article is incredible, and raises some very thought-provoking questions about Indian/Western crossover music. Read it here.

Shastra Festival 2015: Shawn Mativetsky plays Paquet “Les Arbres Celestes”

Last April, Shastra put on its inaugural Festival of Indian/Western crossover music. We had a wonderful day of performances from top artists at (le) poisson rouge in New York City, and we also streamed the festival live for our audiences around the world. If you missed this event, or if you want to hear it again, you’re in luck: Over the next few months, every Friday, Shastra will be releasing videos from the entire festival on our YouTube Channel, so you can enjoy these performances any time.

First up: Shawn Mativetsky’s performance of Bruno Paquet’s work for tabla and electronics, “Les Arbres Celestes”. A beautiful crystalline piece of music that dazzles the senses. Take a listen:

Be the first to know about our weekly video releases: Subscribe to the Shastra YouTube channel here!


In ‘Cipher’, Samita Sinha connects cultures through the voice

Photo by Paula Court_samitasinha_cipher-pic3

Samita Sinha in Cipher, photo by Paula Court

REDCAT theater in Los Angeles is an experimental performance space. This weekend’s experiment: connecting Indian and Western musical forms through the use of a single voice. That voice belonged to Samita Sinha, a genre-bending vocalist who is as much at home in jazz, folk and electronic music as she is in the world of Hindustani khayal.

Sinha’s one-woman show, Cipher, “unravel[s] Indian music into fundamental principles — of tone, rhythm, line, embodiment and language… the voice unspools and communicates within analog and digital soundscapes of rhythms and drones.”

The movement between vocal styles is sometimes a slow evolution over many minutes, and is sometimes instantaneous, using the consonants on either side of a single vowel. Sinha an Indian-American draws from her eclectic cultural and musical background, using her own voice as the “thread that runs through the chaotic multitude of eras and cultures and energies that inhabit [her].”

To learn more about Cipher, click here. And to read more about Samita’s work, visit her website here.

A Raga Grows in Brooklyn

The place to be on a Wednesday night in Brooklyn is clearly at Bluebird, listening to a set by the Brooklyn Raga Massive. Eric Fraser, one of the founders of BRM says that “part of the mission of the Raga Massive is to demystify Indian music… It’s not like this thing that has to be presented in a certain sort of way. We do everything from pure classical, to very meditative, to a party vibe. It’s a living tradition.”

BRM has even performed music of Western composers, most notably, Terry Riley’s “In C”. Fraser explains that the piece is “designed to be played by as many musicians as you can gather. We’ve had up to 30 people playing at the same time—sitars, tablas, dulcimers, flutes, sarods, violins, vocals, everything!”

Read the full article here. And if you’re stopping by Brooklyn on a Wednesday night, you know where to be.

Indian Music’s Spotify is here!

Saregama-classical-AppSaregama, India’s leading music company, has just released a shiny new app that allows for effortless navigation through its vast catalog. Saregama Classical is similar in scope to Music India Online (the largest free source of Indian Classical music online). However, this app has a beautiful, easily navigable interface, free of intrusive advertising. It offers browsing by style, artist, instrument or raag. The yearly subscription rate to this treasure trove of music is $16.99 – the price of a single CD.

In addition to dedicated sections for Hindustani and Carnatic music, Saregama Classical has dedicated a full section to crossover or ‘fusion’ music. Artists like Rakesh Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain and other major leaders in crossover are represented among a diverse range of artists.

Maestro Pandit Jasraj says of the app, “Jai Ho! What could be better? Our scriptures tell us change is the only constant. We need to keep up with times or get left behind. Such an app will help in keeping classical music accessible to all whenever they feel like.”

Read the full article here. And try Saregama Classical free for a week here!

Los Angeles: Indian/Western String Quartet by Shastra Co-AD Reena Esmail

In the opening program of the season, Salastina Music Society explores the String Quartet of award-winning, Indian-American composer Reena Esmail.  In this beautiful and melodic work, Esmail uses the quintessential Western classical ensemble, the string quartet, to express the essences of different raags (scales and modes) of Hindustani music.  Resident host Brian Lauritzen will interview Esmail who, together with the ensemble, will demonstrate the basic elements of Hindustani music and explore the differences and connections with Western classical music before a complete performance of her quartet.

ZZ-DSC_0495-squareThere will be two performances presented:

Sept 11, 2015 at 8pm
Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica
(Indian-themed reception to follow)

Sept 13, 2015 at 8pm
Thayer Hall at the Colburn School (downtown LA)

Tickets to this event are available here.