Anahita (Intuition, 1998)
Avishkar (21st Century Cosmos, 2003)
I enjoy serendipity so I play a game with myself that involves sifting through the world music CDs at the library and choosing artists unknown to me. Two years ago while I was seeking musical treasures, I discovered a stunning recording by North Indian vocalist Shweta Jhaveri. At the time, I knew little about world music and nothing about Indian music, yet even as a novice, I allowed myself to be swept away by Ms Jhaveri’s mesmerizing vocal talent. Even an absolute beginner realizes the years of mastery required obtaining vocal mastery and as I recently learned, Shweta began training at the sweet age of six.
As time went on, Jhaveri studied North Indian classical vocals with the master Pandit Jasraj. By the time she turned 19 (she’s now in her 30’s), Jhaveri became the first female vocalist from Gujarat, India to perform North Indian classical music in India and abroad. Besides her performances in India, she has performed in the US, Canada, Bangladesh and was the first Indian vocalist to perform in Argentina. Her first recording, Anahita (1998) which was recorded in San Francisco and produced by Lee Townsend has been considered a pioneer of world music by some critics. Anahita which featured Jenny Scheinman on violin, Will Bernard on guitar/dobro, Bill Douglass on bass and Jim Kassis on drums/percussion seamlessly blend Eastern modes and scales with Western instrumentation. Instead of hearing the drones of sitars or the power beats of tablas, the musical atmosphere is enhanced with rolling thunder drums and a wah wah guitar.
This approach might come across as a bit shocking to connoisseurs of Indian classical music, but would be at home with fans of Susheela Raman. However, do not mistake Anahita for a world pop crossover recording since, “the music presented here is composed in traditional North Indian rags, in the form of Drut Khayals,” according to Jhaveri in her liner notes. She also adds that this is the most innovative of the North Indian classical vocal forms and its rhythm is based on Teental or 16 beats. Her six rags that appear on Anahita are not conventional khayals, but she composed the lyrics in traditional North Indian rag to give the impression of North Indian Drut Khayals.
Invocation starts out with the drone of a tamboura and then Shweta’s unwavering voices enter and are then followed by the unconventional drum beats and bass notes as well as, Jenny’s wailing violin (actually performed in the Indian tradition). Wah wah guitar adds a distinct flavor to the seductive, yet sacred mix. To a Beloved again marries Jenny’s Indian style violin with fluttering and soaring vocals. The rag reflects on longing for a loved one. Amidst A Mist begins in the same fashion as Invocation with the tambour drone pairing with mesmerizing vocals that could lull anyone into a meditative state. Drums come in slowly and soak into the dissonant atmosphere created by the other instruments. And Jhaveri’s vocals evoke powerful emotions that grow more passionate throughout the rag.
No More, a song composed in the serene mood of Rag Bhairav (CD notes) features lilting violin alternating with dissonant drone. The lilting and even playful violin continues into the next track, To the Spring, (composed in the style vibrant mood of Rag Shuddhakalyan) and which resembles a Bollywood classic. The final track, A Nosy Dawn is based on a poem that reflects on the (Gopies) or lovers of Krishna and of a nighttime of lovemaking. Krishna’s main consort, Radha curses dawn as it arrives and spoils the moment. (A Nosy Dawn was composed in the haunting morning Rag, Lalit).
Shweta’s self-produced follow-up CD, Avishkar forges a different musical path. This time around, Shweta is backed by traditional Indian instruments including, Ramesh Bapodara on tabla, Jayant Bhalodkar on harmonium, and Parul Kapadia on tanpura. The songs are composed and performed again in the khayal or North Indian Classical form and sung in Hindi. Shweta composed the six compositions that appear on the recording that features two kinds of khayals, Bada khayal (elaborate version) and the Drut khayal (brief and fast version).
Dream, Saanvaro and Abhogi reflect on Krishna’s many facets. 14 Beats possesses a vibrant mood and is set to Ada Chautaal or 14 beats as the title implies. The raga Call of Spring and Night Fever are both set to 16 beat cycles. Although the vocalist is obviously the same on both recordings, the two albums will interests a different set of listeners. Anahita will excite a westerner with a growing interest in classical Indian music, while Avishkar will most likely attract dedicated classical Indian students and sophisticated listeners. Both recordings however, point to Shweta’s dedication to composing and singing khayals. It is unfortunate however, that her vocal talents aren’t matched with other top classical Indian musicians and put out in a more accessible format. Shweta possesses a stunning vocal talent and when put in the right setting could excite an appreciative audience of Indians and world music fans alike. For more information visit www.shwetajhaveri.com