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.
By Samir Shukla
The “picking" tents, filled with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle players of all ages, were hopping as I walked through the entrance and into the musical swirl of the 30th edition of MerleFest on April 28. The Friday afternoon sky was scattered with clouds and bits of sunshine, a perfect day to take in music in the outdoors.
There are over dozen places setup for performances during MerleFest and the Hillside stage has become my favorite spot to see bands there. The Hillside stage is a natural amphitheater where folks can sit up on the hill facing the stage. It's a bit of a workout on your back as you sit on the hill, but the view of the stage and the sound are top-notch.
I caught the ever-danceable Scythian perform a feisty set there. The band has become a crowd favorite and this was their 10th year performing at the fest. The Steep Canyon Rangers played later in the afternoon with special guest mandolinist and bluegrass veteran Sam Bush. The legendary Del McCoury was slated to be a guest but had to opt out due to laryngitis. The Rangers started off mellow, but played a toe-tapping set with Bush adding his mandolin firepower into the mix.
I strolled up to the indoor Walker Center and caught the Docabilly Blues Blowout with Mitch Greenhill and compatriots. It was an eclectic jam of blues, rockabilly, and country blues with several guests including Tara and Jeb from Donna the Buffalo, Jim Avett and others delving into the bluesier side of Doc Watson's music.
Sierra Hull's soft mandolin and voice were a bit mismatched for the large Watson stage, sometimes getting lost in the crowd's chatter. She is a wonderful performer but maybe better heard at a smaller, more intimate venue or stage.
The Watson stage is of course perfect for a large band, like the Transatlantic Sessions Tour hosted by Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain and on this night featured the main attraction, music legend James Taylor. The headliners brought a multi-artist jam to the big stage and Taylor strolled onto the stage and opened his set with the classic “Carolina in my Mind." He quipped, “I might as well get this out of the way," knowing fully well the crowd would expect that song, especially from a Chapel Hill native performing at a beloved NC music gathering.
I caught parts of many other performances at other venues including the Creekside stage and the Plaza stage.
Over 100 bands and musicians performed this year, including Zac Brown Band, The Avett Brothers, Béla Fleck, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Leftover Salmon, Sam Bush Band, The Earls of Leicester featuring Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Jorma Kaukonen, Sarah Jarosz, and Jim Lauderdale.
According to MerleFest officials, over 80,000 people attended and or participated in the festival this year. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
“We've had an incredible weekend," Festival Director Ted Hagaman said in a press release. “With over 100 artists on 13 stages over the four days, we again feel we succeeded in providing a quality and successful event for all involved. Preliminary numbers show we attracted thousands of fans from all over the world. This event could not happen without the work and dedication of our 4,000-plus volunteers and the many great safety and service agencies in Northwestern North Carolina. We're already looking forward to MerleFest 2018."
By Samir Shukla
Red Baraat is a rollicking dhol 'n' brass band that can get the sleepiest crowd shaking their booty and moving their feet with leader Sunny Jain's first beats on his dhol. The band's interaction with the audience when performing live, including jumping in the middle of the dancing mass and leading them around like pied pipers, only fuses that connection further. The diverse musicians combine their individual specialties into the Red Baraat alchemy, constantly experimenting and expanding the possibilities of their sound.
Red Baraat is back with their third recording Bhangra Pirates. The album is bhangra (that unmistakable beat of the dhol), New Orleans brass, rock, jazz improv, Bollywood kitsch, and hints of hip hop all rolled into Red Baraat's wholly original sound. This time around there is the added layer of a guitarist while Jain also infuses effects into his dhol beats for an occasional whirling sound. The brass section is tighter than ever as are the percussionists.
The fluid instrumental “Horizon Line" kicks off the album while the title track “Bhangra Pirates" begins with the dhol and guitar leading the horn section to kick open the dance doors goaded on by a mix of Hindi and English lyrics. It's too infectious to sit still through. “Bhangale" (feat. Delicate Steve) is a scat-filled number while “Se Hace Camino" is a Latin and bhangra blend. The songs can wander and skitter off into all sorts of angular sounds.
There are two rockers on the album that benefit with the added guitar including “Zindabad," a skewed wedding march-like song that turns into a jazz scorcher and returns home halfway through with a decidedly Punjabi twist. The other is “Gaadi of Truth," clearly the most rocking song on the record with guitar riffs sparring with the horns and percussion.
“Tunak Tunak Tun" is a scats-laden take on Daler Mehndi's hit song.
“Rang Barse" is the Red Baraat version of the classic Amitabh Bachchan song. It begins as a jazz and Indian classical swirl that dives into a percussive instrumental mélange. The cut is interspersed with the horns going in and out of the mix, turning it into a long jam.
“Akhiyan Udeek Diyan" is a lingering showcase for the musicians as individual players do their solo bits and melt back into the groove.
“Layers" is an experimental track that flows on its own accord and nicely wraps up the record.