By Samir Shukla
One cold January night, while flipping through channels, my wife and I happened upon a movie that had just begun playing on TCM. The B&W film, Hold Back the Dawn, drew us in within a few moments with its layered story. It's a wonderful film that I had never seen or heard of before. TCM's narrator Ben Mankiewicz later recapped the film and said it had received six Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, back in 1941.
The film is about immigrants trying to get into the United States. You can guess by the year that they are all Europeans escaping fascism and war in Europe. They have made it to Mexico on the California border somehow and have applied for visas in their own manners and await their fate. The protagonist is a con artist and womanizer who finds out the “quota" for his country of origin, Romania, is very small and he would have to wait several years to legally acquire entrance into the US.
He is passing the days in Mexico for months until an old girlfriend shows up and tells him how she acquired a legal way to get into the States, by marrying an American. She ditched her husband once she acquired a visa to get into the States, of course. Our protagonist now gets the idea and targets a young American school teacher he accidentally meets when she brings a group of school children to Mexico for a daylong trip.
Well, without going into the whole story let's just say he tricks and then later charms her and manages to marry her within 24 hours. The rest of the film is an exploration of this story. Other characters in the film include a pregnant woman who realizes she is about to give birth and crosses the border one day (it was surprisingly easy to walk through the gate) and has a child on the American side, and now instantly her child is an American citizen. There are other tales of future Americans-in-waiting woven into the whole story. The film's plot and the interwoven characters all make it worth seeing.
I thought of contemporary debates about immigration while watching the film. DACA, H1B, jumping the border, marrying American citizens and other means of entering the country seem to have parallels in the film, which takes place over 75 years ago at a very different time in American history. The film's characters, much like millions around the world today, were simply trying to find ways to enter the land of their dreams.
There is clearly a rise in anti-immigrant feeling under the Trump administration, but his supporters' arguments against chain migration, worker visas taking American jobs, added stress on social services, and reducing illegal immigration by any means, are all valid concerns. I don't write them off loosely as all hate speech or rising intolerance. There are genuine fears for underemployed Americans, even though a lot of the fear doesn't pan out statistically, while the prime ethos remains in place, that Americans are generally very tolerant and welcoming people.
The current increase in anti-immigration sentiment is not new. My family has been here since 1974 and has received much love and support though the years, but I can recall several negative personal experiences. The first year I was in the States, a self-important and pudgy classmate, whose thick accent gave away his own recent arrival from Britain, taunted me several times saying, “We civilized you." Meaning the Brits civilized Indians. His overall meaning was also “What the hell are you doing here? You don't belong here." Alas, I couldn't come up with a retort at the time to put that little punk in his place.
In the early 80s, while strolling through a New York City store during a vacation with family members, the clerk nonchalantly blurted out, “See all Indians are same… they won't buy anything..." I can almost hear him mumble under his breath, “Why don't you go home." His attitude clearly implied that Indians are cheapskates and brought their frugal ways with them, even though there were many other people who strolled through the store and walked out without buying anything, as tourists do in touristy areas and shops around the world.
When I owned a record store, a young black male accosted me more than once to say “You Indians are taking our jobs. Why don't you go back to where you came from?" That was in the 90s.
There have been other instances, but I don't take them as general hostile nature of average Americans. Here, we have been afforded opportunities that would not have been possible elsewhere. I am a product of the best elements of two cultures. I am an American and I am proud of my Indian heritage. I have always said I don't have any issues with my duality.
Human migration to other lands has always been marked with dissonance and fear, the natives sometimes uncomfortable with new arrivals. Some migrants have also wrought devastation of lands and cultures. Just ask Native Americans. White Europeans didn't take away jobs from Native Americans when they migrated to America, they took their souls.
Steady immigration has had a positive impact on America and conversely on those who immigrate here. Most Americans know and understand this. There will always be a small percentage of haters, but most who want to reduce immigration into this country, both legal and illegal, aren't necessarily all haters or racists. They have legitimate economic fears. I get it. It's when politicians skew numbers, espouse fearmongering, and inflame passions that haters and racists crawl out of the woodwork. They feel empowered and bogus narratives are formed. This can lead to further degradation of the real American story, one that evolves with each wave of immigrants into something better.
There are plenty of bipartisan possibilities to weave long-term immigration solutions. It requires courage and that is hard for policymakers, many genuinely want to effect positive change, when the next election and loud partisans always loom around the corner.
This piece first appeared in the February 2018 edition of Saathee magazine.
By Samir Shukla
The brighter light of a supermoon sliced the dark night. That particular moon was parked behind an insignificant cloud, as seen from my deck, and somehow made the cool air feel warmer. It also brought a sense of newness, alighted by nature. The still of that night faded into the chilled morning. That supermoon teased its newness in early December and went about its business slowly waning into the same old typical moon in subsequent nights. Meanwhile, the jingles and the bells rang daily as the month of holidays strolled forward to meet its end and to begin a new year.
The town's denizens now competed with the moon, brightening the night with lights of red and green, blue and white, yellow and purple.
I was sitting on my favorite wooden chair one night in the living room, in the waning final days of December, the glow from the neighbor's Christmas lights filtered through the window. It was late. The TV was flickering about its business. My fingers were flipping through some favorite channels.
I landed on Turner Classic Movies and a smile formed on my face. A movie was playing, as it usually does on TCM. It was a western. Jimmy Stewart was riding a horse. His lanky body swaying in the heat of the desert he rode through. My sleepy eyes widened as westerns are among my favorite genres.
I was halfway through a beer, a rather potent IPA, and put the remote down to watch Stewart ramble about his western business while I polished off the beer. I wasn't planning on having another, but popped one open. It must have been the dry desert that Stewart was riding through that further jostled my thirst.
The movie rolled on. My eyes fought sleep as I drifted off and suddenly I was on a horse riding through the desert at night. My lanky body was swaying along to the rhythmic movements of the horse. The vastness of the American west was lit up by a giant supermoon. I rode on and on, into the next moment, around the next bend, and into the future.
I woke up when my head bobbed hard. The western and my dream were over and another movie was now rolling.
I turned the TV off, abandoned the last few gulps of the beer down the kitchen sink and crawled up the stairs to meet my bed.
While I drifted back into slumber, I thought of December winding down and the incoming year. The earlier supermoon that visited us and the moon in my western dream, were both hanging in the sky like portals into the future. They looked like gateways into something new, or some sort of newness, if you will. I vaguely remember dreaming of reaching up to the portals, looking for a latch to open them. A beer-infused sleep can be a restless one.
I don't seem to feel much newness anymore when the end of the year rolls around and a new one is lurking around the corner. The arrival of each fresh year spars with the older one about to wrap up, and the older one always loses, leaving itself behind to be judged by history, but all the while laughing at me and adding another notch to my years lived. Ha! There you go pal, the oldster says, one second past midnight.
I'm approaching the halfway point of my sixth decade on this fair planet, and now every year just rams into the next one in the churn of busyness.
So here I am in late December, and once again, toying with me, New Year's Eve approaches. For some it's just another evening, for most it is about the start of something fresh. It's a marker to erase some of the old and a chance to write new stories, a time to reflect on the year gone by and wager on the one incoming.
This past year was unique as of course all the others have been in their own manners. The year presented celestial wonders, a supermoon and a total solar eclipse gliding across America one afternoon.
It was also a year of political madness rarely seen in this lovely country. People who are generally nice, friends and neighbors became angrier, more separate, succumbing to shallow political arguments. Maybe the incoming year will soften some of the increasing disjointedness. Politics are politics, full of self-serving ideologies. It is up to reasonable people to affect positive movement and deflect long-term societal degradation.
Once again the New Year's Day will arrive. The day will progress into the week, the week into the month. Winter's hard grip will linger for a couple of months and then another renewal, a sense of freshness, will arrive with spring.
Resolutions have become passing fancies. This year, though, I resolve to do more of what I'm doing now, putting words down on paper. Tell some stories I haven't told or even thought of. Document the year as it unfolds. We will spend the eve of the incoming year in our own manners. Some will spend it quietly, others in the throes of lights, music and dance.
After the clock strikes midnight, with the old year tucked away into history, I'll dream of that American west and ride through the desert while I slumber in my warm bed. This time the horse will be riding with the wind, on a soft summer night, maybe a new supermoon will be hanging over the horizon, laughing and teasing with the promises and pitfalls of a new day and a new year ahead.
This piece originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of Saathee magazine.
By Samir Shukla
Ours is a rapidly shrinking world. Cultures, ethnicity, foods, travel, and myriad languages are intermingling as never before in human history. This, of course, also has an effect on the most universal language of all, music.
The recording Will You is a subtle exploration of Hindustani music with a touch of jazz performed by multiple-genre musicians. The Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi sings and speaks works of 13th-century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi while the Saffron Ensemble, sitar player Shujaat Khan, saxophonist Tim Ries, pianist Kevin Hays, and tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee, envelope her voice in surreal sounds. Together, they have created new musical backdrops for the poet’s words.
She sings the words in a manner that connects with listeners, even those who don’t know Persian. I wonder if she had spoken the words of each song in English prior to the ensuing track, sort of a prelude, the words would relate more to a non-native speaker, elevated further by the music. But I understand that much is lost in translation, so maybe just imagining what the words mean, and she does a wonderful job emoting them, along with the superb music, the meaning just seeps into the psyche.
The friendship and camaraderie of this singer and musicians are clear in the natural aura of the recordings where many voices walk together.
Rumi is among the most influential Sufi poets, his works now translated across the globe. The Saffron Ensemble and Goudarzi have made a sublime and hypnotic recording that will inspire listeners to find the poet’s work and read it.
I know I’m among those looking to further read his works. In a sense, I have a readymade soundtrack in this recording.
By Samir Shukla
Shivoham – The Quest
(Soul Chants Music)
Chandrika Tandon is a seeker of the deeper meaning of existence and commonality of human connections. Music informs her journey. She is an accomplished business woman, but seeks something more as a vocalist and composer.
Shivoham – The Quest is her fourth recording and a continuation of her journey of seeking. The three-disc set begins with an overture and consists of three movements – “Yearning," “Searching," and “Connecting." The essence of this recording is her serene voice draped over spiritual music. Tandon grew up in Chennai, but it's her world travels that affect her multi-hued music. This collection is ambitious to say the least. She chants timeless Sanskrit slokas and spiritual hymns stitched with numerous musical genres, including traditional Indian classical music, Irish reels, western classical and jazz intermingled with English lyrics.
It's a blend of Indian and Western music with a decidedly Indian backdrop. Recorded at multiple studios in four countries over a period of over two years, including the legendary Abbey Road studio in London, she worked with Indian musicians, the London Metropolitan Orchestra, the Soweto Gospel Choir, London Voices, Kings singers and western soloists. It takes adventurous ears to appreciate the Sanskrit slokas intermingling with western choral singers. Gregorian chants, South African gospel singers, Indian ragas, and English folk music are all at home here.
The English lyrics are quite simple, but that's the point, as the words enhance, not clash with slokas, mantras, and gospel music. It's essentially a spiritual recording, where the music can be haunting, meditative, and exotic.
Multiple listening sessions are required for the experience to fully sink in, as some cuts initially seem a bit incongruent, but they subtly merge in an eclectic manner. An array of musicians, including Indian and Western percussionists, guitarists, accordion, flute, sitar, and several other instruments contribute to the sound. There are many pieces that create a meditative trance. Tandon composed and produced Shivoham – The Quest describing her own journey which she sees as “a universal journey; of seeking the light, yearning for it; searching for it and finding moments of connection to it."
She writes in the liner notes, “We spend a lifetime searching for love, peace, happiness, success – yet the light we sometimes so relentlessly seek, is right inside of us. It has always been – a part of the universal journey that is as old as time itself. Shivoham – The Quest is a musical journey of my own journey."
The culmination of reflecting, writing, composing, and experimenting, including during workshops in her house and during recording sessions, results in a lovely piece of work.
Listen to the record here:
Photos by Samir Shukla
By Samir Shukla
The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame documents and preserves the rich history of musician rooted in North Carolina. The Hall hosted its 2017 induction ceremony on October 19 at the historic Gem Theatre in Kannapolis. There are many legendary musicians with North Carolina roots including John Coltrane, Randy Travis, and Thelonious Monk, among myriad others. This year’s inductees for the Hall of Fame included Anthony Hamilton, the late Etta Baker, Jim Lauderdale, The Sensational Nightingales, Bucky Covington, Richard Lewis Spencer and Steep Canyon Rangers.
The evening began with a VIP reception at Kannapolis City Hall where fans could intermingle and take photographs with the inductees. Later the crowd moved to the Gem Theatre, a short walking distance from the City Hall, for the induction ceremony where additional attendees nearly packed the hall.
The ceremony showcased the history of the inductees, most are still very active recording and performing. Live performances accented the varied genres of the inductees. Bucky Covington brought along his country-rock, The Sensational Nightingales got the crowd singing along to their harmony-laden gospel music, acclaimed singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale performed several songs with his acoustic guitar, and Steep Canyon Rangers lit up the evening with rollicking bluegrass.
The inductees told their stories of struggles as well as support of family and local folks while trying to make it into the music business.
The NC Music Hall of Fame is located at 600 Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, Kannapolis, NC. It hosts exhibits, special events and memorabilia. It is open to visitors from Mon – Fri (10am – 12pm and 1 – 4 pm). For more details call 704-934-2320 or visit www.northcarolinamusichalloffame.org.
By Samir Shukla
The legendary musicologist Alan Lomax spanned the globe and recorded many forms of music. Tribal chants, folk music, healing chanting, classical music, traditional songs as well as other forms of human expression were all part of his gathering over several decades. Much of his recorded catalog is now available online as “The Global Jukebox.” Lomax was a musician, archivist, speaker, writer, and field recordist, among other hats he wore during his illustrious life. The Jukebox is his labor of love. This is more than just a collection of music. Specialists and tradition keepers have given the work a studied backdrop. The project is meant to be enjoyed as a listener, but also to educate via historical, ethnographic and other means into musical and dance traditions from around the world.
Myriad examples of world’s music, dance and other expressive behavior are now available on the jukebox, neatly organized under two sections. The “Map View” offers songs organized by geography and the “Tree View” presents songs organized by culture. There are many selections from the Indian Subcontinent covering India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh including tribal chants, folk and classical music.
The Association for Cultural Equity, the entity Lomax founded in 1983, is bringing the Jukebox to the world. In the near future if visitors want to create their own libraries of songs, metadata, and keep their own notes on the site, the jukebox promises to make this possible. Lomax intended his work to serve both as a medium for scientific research into human expressive traditions and as a tool for arts and education.
For details visit www.TheGlobalJukebox.org.
By Samir Shukla
Superfast Primetime Ultimate Nation
The Relentless Invention of Modern India
Author: Adam Roberts
Journalist Adam Roberts spent five years in India as the Economist's Southeast Asia correspondent based in Delhi. In this book he collates his reporting over the years - traveling the country, interviewing everyone from farmers, tech innovators to millionaires and Prime Ministers. His observations showcase India's enormous potential as well as problems that hold the country back from this potential. Endemic corruption rears its usual head when anyone analyzes India, but Roberts also notes rising improvements in bureaucracy and infrastructure. He analyzes and critiques many from Congress and BJP, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and other politicians.
“Politics has always been fiendishly messy in the continent masquerading as a country. It has never been easy to get a grip on the place, especially for outsiders," he writes.
Roberts writes with a reporter's objectivity and an analyst's studied views. He has experienced India well while living and working there. Historical primers further cement this story of an ever-evolving India. His basic premise is how India can become a great power, exert more influence abroad while gaining further domestic stability. He offers suggestions and policy initiatives, admittedly some are vague and a bit grand in short-term achievability, but he offers intelligent advice that can assist the work of anyone genuinely interested in improving India's many problems. The world's largest democracy has a lot going for it, a youthful population, liberal constitution, general stability, but the country's complicated social and cultural dynamics thwart or at least slow down progress.
Roberts tells interesting tales to bring his reportage to life, assessing problems such as corruption, the treatment of women and Dalits, the degradation of common resources such as water, air and sand, while lending a sympathetic viewpoint of someone who clearly admires the country.
This is a balanced tome for those interested in modern India and its brighter future that can be unleashed if proper governance and leadership are focused while corruption is reduced.
This review appears in the October 2017 edition of Saathee magazine.
By Samir Shukla
The Canadian band Rakkatak, consisting of core duo Anita Katakkar on tabla and Oriana Barbato on bass, blends classical Indian rhythms and a dash of pop to make eclectic music. Katakkar is a versatile tabla player infusing the aesthetic of classical Indian music with just enough experimentation to make the music her own. She is traditionally trained with an ear for contemporary music. It's a treat to hear a woman on an instrument that is generally dominated by male players. Katakkar began work several years ago with her tabla and laptop to weave a mix of classical Indian music and electronica. She conducts tabla workshops in and around her native Toronto where her Indian and Scottish heritage is further informed by the multicultural ethos of that city. She studied tabla in California with Ritesh Das and in Kolkata with the legendary tabla master Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.
Barbato's bass channels her Chilean heritage while exploring many cultures in her playing.
The group released their third recording Small Pieces this past spring with several guests lending their talents. The album is formed with a couple of intriguing covers, “Medley feat. Norwegian Wood," channels the Beatles while the cover of Rush's “YYZ" is reworked where tabla and bass clearly respect the original while taking it further into new musical realms. Vocalist Samidha Joglekar adds a vocal sway to the track “Thoughts of You." The rest of the collection includes the solid tracks “Dreaming," “Heliosphere," “Eesha's Song," “Rain After the Fire," and “Riffing on 9."
By Samir Shukla
Australian Pink Floyd Show
Sunday, August 13, 2017 live at Belk Theater, Charlotte
Bands play covers all the time, sometimes doing a close version while other times remaking the song in their own sound. Tribute bands that perform music of bands that have perished or no longer perform are keeping their memory alive. Although I remember few years ago a Dave Matthews Tribute band was playing in Charlotte the same week the real Dave Matthews Band was performing. My only response was, huh? The original surviving members of the legendary rockers Pink Floyd have not performed together for nearly three decades, aside from a couple of rare appearances. The Australian Pink Floyd Show is an upper echelon combo that has been performing classic Pink Floyd tunes since 1988, marking 30 years next year. They create an experience that gets folks swaying their heads in unison. These musicians play Pink Floyd tunes with all the timbre and subtleties intact, a killer sound and a stage show to rival the original Floyd, albeit in a compact sense. They don't go off on drum or guitar solos, instead they choose to play precise yet soulful versions of beloved Pink Floyd classics. This tour is themed “Best Side of the moon,” a play on the classic album Dark Side of the Moon. They covered much of that signature album, along with cuts from The Wall and Wish You Were Here as well as several other tunes. The Aussie Floyd pay fine-tuned attention to visual and technical aspects that Pink Floyd was known for. The late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright once sat in with this band and apparently guitarist David Gilmour invited them to perform at his 50th birthday celebration many years ago. Call it a cliché but this outfit is about as close you will get to see the original Floyd.
Upcoming US Tour Dates
Thu 24 Aug 2017
Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort
Fri 25 Aug 2017
Los Angeles, CA, Greek Theatre
Sat 26 Aug 2017
Valley Center, CA, Harrah's Resort SoCal
Sun 27 Aug 2017
Las Vegas, NV, The Joint
Tue 29 Aug 2017
Oakland, CA, The Fox
Wed 30 Aug 2017
Modesto, CA, Gallo Center for the Arts
Fri 01 Sep 2017
Salt Lake City, UT, USANA Amphitheatre
Sat 02 Sep 2017
Pocatello, ID, Portneuf Amphitheatre
Mon 04 Sep 2017
Woodinville, WA, Chateau Ste. Michelle
By Samir Shukla
Dosti Music Project
(Found Sound Nation)
The dozen compositions on Dosti Music Project's Travelers are the result of collaborations by 20 Pakistani, Indian, and American musicians who spent a couple of residencies in 2015 and 2016, curated by the Brooklyn-based artist collective Found Sound Nation, working together. The musicians blend their natural talents and leanings into the Dosti (Friendship) Music Project. The 12 tracks are traditional, yet infused with varied genres and regional music that cross paths to create a musical camaraderie. Sure, it may take some time to soak in an American folk singer accompanied by sarangi and tabla, or other such combos on the recording. But as the musicians played together at these residencies they blended their natural musical bonds of the two countries. These compositions emerged during performances and jam sessions. I can imagine loose, playful interplay evolving into solid compositions. It's a session where folk, Appalachian music, Sufi ghazals, Hindustani songs, even some electronica, all sit next to each other and become musical friends. Traditional Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi, Marwari, Sufi, and rock songs come to life, removing boundaries, with the unique sounds of fiddle, harmonium, sarod, tabla, and the human voice merging into an eclectic collaboration.