By Samir Shukla
The Milk Lady of Bangalore
By Shoba Narayan
Cows and their lore are wholly intermingled with India's culture and religions, especially Hinduism.
Writer Shoba Narayan lived and worked in the US for 20 years and moved back to India with her family (husband and two young daughters) to the South Indian city of Bangalore (now formally known as Bengaluru).
Sarala, the milk lady, lives across the street from Narayan family's new digs, a modern apartment complex. Sarala and her family own several cows, keep them in sheds near their simple home and sell fresh milk to people in the vicinity. Narayan meets Sarala and the two women slowly strike up a friendship and over the course of the book expound on life, family, and all things milk.
Narayan develops this backdrop and writes from the crossroads of centuries old traditions (folks selling fresh milk daily) crossing paths with the 21st century modernity of Bangalore.
Cows are part of the fabric of India. They are everywhere, lazing on roads and highways, sauntering about where they please. They are bringers of good luck and are used to bless everything from apartments to auspicious occasions.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore is a wonderful non-fiction account of the friendship between a world-traveled and educated woman and a local, illiterate milk seller. Narayan documents many encounters and adventures with Sarala in everything cows, their milk, dung and even urine in her wit-filled book.
Narayan follows Sarala and her family of milk sellers, their connection to their cows, and their constant need for money. The working poor of India are forever in debt and trying to make ends meet, but are also passionate for life.
Eventually Narayan embarks on a journey to buy a cow she wants to give to Sarala, guiding readers into the unseen world of cow markets in South Indian villages with their unique ways of bargaining and socializing.
The book is a travelogue through a world so common in India, yet its struggles and ethos unknown to most. She writes with the keen reporting of a journalist combining fluid prose and storytelling, stitched with first-hand research.
The following passage gives the essence of India's connection with the cow and the premise of the book perfectly.
“The elevator door opens. A cow stands inside, angled diagonally to fit. It doesn't look uncomfortable, merely impatient. “It is for the housewarming ceremony on the third floor," explains the woman who stands behind the cow, holding it loosely with a rope. She has the sheepish look of a person caught in a strange situation who is trying to act as normal as possible. She introduces herself as Sarala and smiles reassuringly. The door closes. I shake my head and suppress a grin. It is good to be back."
By Samir Shukla
NY-based group Akshara's debut album In Time fuses timeless Indian music with layers of contemporary musical ethos. The album's five tracks weave South Indian (Carnatic) classical with jazzy, western classical and folk rhythms into an intriguing blend. The astute musicians infuse bansuri flute, cello, mridangam, cello, violin and tabla with vocal scats.
“At its root, Carnatic music is very complex and mathematical," explains classically trained, New York-based mridangam (South Indian double-headed drum) player Bala Skandan in the liner notes. “That makes it interesting rhythmically, even for seasoned Indian musicians."
Skandan is the ensemble's leader and composer.
The album's five tracks (clocking in at more than 50 minutes total) are an exploration of possibilities of Indian music that are meditative, trance-inducing, and joyfully percussive.
“Mind the Gap" opens the collection with galloping tablas and foretells, musically, of what's to come.
“Mohana Blues" opens with a meditative bansuri and highlights both konnakol (spoken rhythmic patterns) and tabla, as well as floating strings.
“Urban Kriti" is a rolling work beginning with hammered dulcimer that sounds like santoor. The cello moves in and out like a slithering creature. Tabla and mridangam play happily along with each other, picking up speed and building layers.
“Opus in 5" is the longest track and emphasizes the scatting, percussion and violin.
“Shadjam" could be an ideal track to accompany a Bharat Natyam dancer, emphasizing scats and violin.
Other than the vocal scats (konnakol), this is an instrumental recording.
More details at www.aksharamusic.com
The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame will celebrate its 10th Annual induction with seven new inductees being inducted into its Hall of Fame this fall. The induction ceremony will take place on Thursday, October 18, 2018 in Kannapolis, NC. Those being inducted are:
John Tesh: Pianist, composer, singer, and outstanding national broadcaster who studied music, radio, and communications at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. John’s Power of Love album was Grammy nominated in 2003 for "Best Pop Instrumental Album". John has six music Emmys, two Grammy nominations, three gold records, and several Public Television specials.
Chris Daughtry: 2006 American Idol contestant from Roanoke Rapids, NC. His chart-topping song “It’s Not Over”, performed by his rock band Daughtry, was nominated for “Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance” by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.
Dolphus Ramseur: Record Executive and founder of Ramseur Records, an independent record label based in North Carolina. Dolphus is responsible for successful artists such as The Avett Brothers and Steep Canyon Rangers. Dolphus was born and raised in Concord, NC.
Luther Barnes: Stellar Award winning and Grammy nominated gospel singer, songwriter and producer. Barnes was born in Rocky Mount, NC where he currently pastors the Restoration Worship Center.
Calvin Richardson: R&B/Soul singer-songwriter and producer from Monroe, NC. Calvin has received multiple Grammy nominations.
The Hoppers: The Hoppers have been singing to global audiences for over 60 years with appearances ranging from presidential religious inaugural ceremonies and New York’s Carnegie Hall to singing conventions and church platforms.
Blind Boy Fuller: Piedmont Blues guitarist famed for his fingerpicking style of the 1930’s. Fuller was born in Wadesboro, NC.
The Hall is located at 600 Dale Earnhardt Blvd., Kannapolis, NC.
For more details visit, www.northcarolinamusichalloffame.org.
By Samir Shukla
It's time for reimagining. We are not strolling into the future; we are “skipping" into the future, into the beyond, where every step skips several steps in between toward the awaiting new worlds. Don't sit still for long lest the cobwebs tie you down and leave you there to dry up and blow away. We are creating, with the dissonant and reshaping power of technologies, new worlds that will further unhinge norms, bring ease and unease, and increase rapidity and automation in everything.
New worlds wait around the bend of time, ones that are constantly being molded and created, while remaining unimagined in their potential to dishevel the rootedness of humanity. In the meantime we must reckon with a sense of loss, of simplicity and nature. The challenge for humans will be to strike a balance between the digital and the analog, the natural and the superficial, the habitual and the constantly changing, and most importantly, human intelligence and artificial intelligence, the real and the virtual.
These various balances must be guided by our generation. We are that last line of defense and reckoning, because the rapid pace of incoming technology will make it difficult to realign human values and ethos at later times. Our children are at the cusp of this unhinging. We are the bridge, along with today's digitized kids, for the reimagining of human communities while thwarting increasing tribalism and compartmentalization of tech-infused social ethos. This is the challenge of our generation.
Humanity is incessantly gliding toward unparalleled advances including rapid urbanization, because that is where opportunity waits. Current cities will double or triple in size in the near beyond. But the real unknown is in the cities that don't even currently exist, ones yet unimagined. New cities will be built in the desert, atop mountains, floating on the oceans, lurking on ocean floors, and etched out of forbidding landscapes on the moon. Everywhere we decide to inhabit, we have done it and will do so in unforeseen manners in the beyond, the future.
This will become even more necessary as the numbers of humans on this planet continue to increase and changing climate rearranges natural orders and habitats.
The challenge is to find the balance, between dizzying urban lives and our need for places of solitude and of spirituality. They can and do coexist. New cities will require such spaces if for nothing else than to maintain our sanity. Think of verdant places of escape in the midst of massive cities that currently exist – Central Park in New York, Hyde Park in London, and Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai.
They offer respite to the chaos of urbanism, the isolation of technology.
Our survival has always depended on our ingenuity. Changing climate and increasing population will require more of this ingenuity.
Of course we are a cunning species. If we can survive each other, we can survive anything. We are enterprising, creative, but most important we are adaptable. We adapt or perish. We are unique in that we survive at the peril of all other species.
We are creating a new planet that will require fewer humans to run it. This is the undesirable side effect. This is a dilemma as we continue to increase our numbers and simply will not be able to supply enough jobs for these incoming humans.
There are so many redundant and inefficient “occupations" in the world today, that disruptions to economies around the world are inevitable. Countries will have to adapt. We often hear arguments that technologies replacing human capital will create whole new fields and jobs. Yes, new jobs, sure, but much fewer jobs will be created, while many inefficient jobs will be eliminated. There will be simply not enough jobs for those seeking work. There will be experts, politicians, and economists telling you
that obsolete occupations and jobs will be replaced by others. They are wrong and are selling you nonsense. Any logical or common sense analysis will reveal this.
But this doesn't have to be a bad thing. New ways of thinking and living will have to emerge. Families will have to revert to a main breadwinner bringing home the major portion of the income while other members will become part-time workers, volunteers, artists, caretakers, gardeners, musicians, mentors, teachers...pick your personal passion and go for it.
One can argue most families need two full-time incomes to survive. Sure, today that is a reality for many. We cannot possibly employ all the folks in the world who seek work today, forget about trying to employ two billion more workers that will arrive in coming decades. Think of it this way. If we as a society can solve two main dilemmas - affordable housing and affordable health care for all - then a new society can emerge. I don't mean more government sponsorship of people. I mean a combination of players - governmental, corporations, NGOs, and religious institutions that converge to make this possible. It won't be easy, as the first thing required is consensus. Getting past ideological and partisan bickering will take time.
People, men especially, will need to reeducate and retrain themselves to become the workers, no a better word is participants, of the new beyond. I call them “productive participants" and not workers or employees. Women are much more adaptable to rapidly changing social norms. An increasingly autonomous world offers new ways of living. The denizens of this “beyond tomorrow" world won't care about patriarchy or matriarchy, climbing the corporate ladder or wealth acquisition; they will care about what works and productive, creative participation. No one will judge anyone as long as they are participants. That is one possible outcome.
Can we create communities, caressed with nature and humanness, within our tech-infused urban environments while supporting thriving, new means of commerce and living?
Worlds reimagined await the adaptable and forward thinkers of this fast incoming future.
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.