Tag Archives: Indian music

Sri Tyagaraja – Musi-Drama: A Pongal Boananza for Muscat Music Lovers

T V Varadarajan’s Sri Tyagaraja Musi-Drama


Saint Tyagaraja strode the field of Carnatic music as a colossus. While there is no way of establishing how many kritis he actually composed (estimates vary from 6000 to 24000, but less than a 1000 are extant), there is no doubt about the extraordinary influence he had on the development of Carnatic music practice.

T V Varadarajan and his devoted team have put together important and interesting events from the saint composer’s life in the form of an eponymous musical play. It is creditable that a play lasting over two hours manages to keep the audience glued to their seats. This was demonstrated by TVV’s team, for the 109th and 110th times, at the Krishna Temple in Muscat on 11th and 12th of January 2018.

Tyagaraja (1767 – 1847) lived in South India in times when the Bhakti movement was in full swing. Kings and commoners alike believed in a Supreme Being and lived their lives in accordance with the tenets of Sanathana Dharma. For Tyagaraja, the Supreme Being was Lord Rama, in the form of a vigraha (statue) in his prayer hall. There was no room for anything else in Tyagaraja’s life.

Ascetic to the core, indifferent to the possibilities of encashing his talent with the local rulers, he lived as if in a trance, truly believing in his Rama, unshakable in his belief that He would provide deliverance from the mundane existence on earth. Naturally, this led to conflicts with his own kith and kin, who were more of a materialistic bent. All this and more from the saint composer’s simple yet event filled life were shown on stage with remarkable clarity by Varadarajan’s team. There was no hint of unnecessary dramatization, no meaningless exaggeration or populist twists.


T V Varadarajan’s Sri Tyagaraja Musi-Drama


The entire cast demonstrated their total commitment to the play – this was not a performance for earning kudos for them – this was duty fulfilled, time and again, commemorating the great soul whose story they felt honored to depict on stage. Varadarajan lives the part of Tyagaraja in every syllable, every move, every muscle and sinew. His portrayal of Tyagaraja’s anguish when he finds his beloved Rama taken away from him had many in the audience wiping away tears. That he continued in the bard’s garb during the presentations after the play, was ample evidence of his total devotion to the storyline. Indeed, he said in his thanksgiving speech that his team had decided not to dilute their commitment by doing other plays while engaged in this labor of love.

Every single character was portrayed by the artistes with utmost professionalism. The timing and lip sync of the various singers was so accurate, it was difficult to believe they were not actually singing one beautiful composition after another. Every actor on stage was alive and involved, adding value to emotions conveyed by some superlative dialogues. And the genius of Bombay Jayasree Ramnath shines right through the play in the lay out of the music and the choice of kritis.

Everything, from the selection of the songs to the extent of its portrayal was just apt. She along with other singers (OS Arun, Kunnankudi Balamuralikrishna, Vignesh Ishwar, and others), have done a remarkable job of providing the necessary background music.

There have been movies made – very well made indeed – on the saint composer’s life in the past. But to do it more than a hundred times on stage calls for a level of devotion that can only come from a team committed to the cause. This writer came away drained – and extremely contented – from the experience. The organizing team, comprising of Venkatesh, Savithri Raghu, and others deserve whole hearted thanks for their wonderful Pongal gift to the discerning Muscat audience.


Masterful Recreations of Carnatic Ragas by Akshara

Akshara – In Time (Blue Skinned God Records, 2017)

In Time is the debut album by Akshara, a world fusion ensemble rooted in Carnatic music led by percussionist, vocalist and composer Bala Skandan.

Akshara is based in New York City and brings together musicians from various traditions, including Indian classical music, jazz and western classical.

Bala Skandan’s main instruments are the mridangam (South Indian barrel drum) and his voice used as a percussion instrument (konakkol). The ensemble includes two violinists, a cello player and hammered dulcimer performer, who deliver a fascinating mix of string sounds from diverse traditions.

Throughout In Time you’ll find a mix of highly complex rhythmic pieces featuring drums and vocal percussion, along with laid back moments focused on the strings and bansuri (Indian flute) melodies. These performances are new arrangements of classic ragas.

Personnel: Bala Skandan on mridangam and konnakkol; Arun Ramamurthy on violin; Trina Basu-Ramamurthy on violin; Nitin Mitta on tabla; Jay Gandhi on bansuri; Max ZT on hammered dulcimer; Dave Eggar on cello; Thejeswini Raj on konnakkol; Beenakumari Viju on konnakkol; Kabilan Jeganathan on kanjira; and Shrinath Viswanathan on konnakkol.

In Time features masterful genre-defying performances rooted in Carnatic music.

Buy the digital version of In Time. The CD is available from store.cdbaby.com.


Harini Raghavan, Chennai Talent on the Rise

Rini – Maya (December 8, 2017)

New York-based Indian vocalist, violinist and composer Harini “Rini” Raghavan delivers an exquisite combination of Indian music with electronica, funk, rock and jazz.

The highlights of the album are Rini’s superb vocals, violin and electronic effects, along with the fabulous note-bending Southeast Asian guitar of Aleif Hamdan. On the down side, the smooth jazz saxophone seems out place within the band’s innovative sound.

The lineup on Maya includes Rina on violin and vocals; Aleif Hamdan on guitar; Achal Murthy on bass; Yogev Gabay on drums; and Iñigo Galdeano Lasheras.



Maya is a masterfully-crafted Indian-rooted world fusion album by a talented young Indian musician with a great potential.

buy Maya


Desert Visions

Prem Joshua – Desert Visions

Prem Joshua – Desert Visions (New Earth Records/Music Today, 1995)

This CD showcases New Age guru Prem Joshua’s versatile multi-instrumental skills. The lineup also includes Manish Vyas (vocals), Jo Shiro Shunyam (guitar), Rishi Viote (percussion) and Chintan Relenberg (bass).

A fine mid-tempo blend of Indian ragas and smooth jazz, the 10 tracks make for a nice mellow and positive mood. The tracks are largely instrumental, and we would recommend the opening track Raja’s Ride and the percussion piece Jungle.

Buy Desert Visions


Artist Profiles: Talvin Singh

Talvin Singh

Talvin Singh was born in London in the early 1970s; as a young boy he was inspired to play tabla on his grandmother’s knees upon hearing the great masters on the TV or early recordings. His upbringing in a vibrant and multi cultural city and the sacred heritage of Indian classical & folk music provided an inspiring background. His tastes ranged from Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha Khan to local bands like the Jam. It was this diverse appreciation for music that inspired the young boy to seriously consider training in tabla.

At 15, after convincing his parents and teachers to allow him to take early examinations Talvin was initiated to become a disciple of the great academic and musician Lachman Singh Seen of Punjab. After initially spending 3 years learning, the young man returned to London with a life long effort in mastering his instrument and upholding the traditions of the famous Punjab Gharana (school).

At 18, Singh continued his formal education in Art History. In demand for studio sessions, the young musician was becoming a sought after programmer producer and tabla artist in the late 1980s underground scene. This was an exciting period. Acid House was emerging as well as a fledgling UK dance scene. Still only 18, Singh embarked on a tour with renowned saxophonist Courtney Pine to Russia and Eastern Europe. An estimated 25 Pop albums of that time had the melodic tabla rhythms or frenetic programming of the ambitious tabla artist and producer. He worked with seminal artists Sun Ra and Massive Attack.

Talvin Singh closely collaborated with Bjork on her Debut (1995) album and her subsequent World Tour. Madonna asked him to do remixes for both her Ray of Light (1997) and Music (2001) albums. As a producer and cutting edge artist his studio sense is unique.

At the age of 23 he created his own record label Omni and released the concept album Calcutta Cyber Cafe as a limited release.

Singh toured the United States with the seminal record breaking Lollapalooza Tour playing to sold out mega stadiums in North America.

The early 90s urban club and music scene was rapidly progressing. Jungle and Drum & Bass was being born in clubs like the Blue Note in Hoxton Square, east London. His club night hosted early experiments with the self-invented Tabla-tronics instrument. New acts such as The Asian Dub Foundation, Joi and The State of Bengal were presented, as well as the music of A.R Rahman were introduced to a western audience for the first time. He conceived and licensed a compilation album Anokha Soundz of Asian underground (Island 1996) on his Omni label. One evening the electronica wizard Square Pusher (Warp) Bjork and India’s great Hari Haran jammed on the same stage. It was to celebrate Talvin’s 25th birthday.

Anokha was received to instant acclaim and his weekly Mondays became the stomping ground for tastemakers clubbers and recotrd label A&R reps. The highly evolved melody and complex rhythmic intensity of Indian Classical music meeting the technology and gritty electronica in Jungle began a music sub-genre a sound of Asian underground. Having created the environment & marketplace for the burgeoning movement he went to New York for a meeting with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Blackwell had introduced Bob Marley and U2 to the world. Island Records offered Talvin a world-wide recording deal andthe company was rewarded for its belief when Singh’s debut solo album OK (Island 1999) won the celebrated Mercury Music Prize for Popular Music and South Bank Prize for Popular music in the same year. OK was recorded over 3 continents and featured many musicians.

Singh presented a single pre-sold live show at the Barbican Centre London. Performing on stage were pianist Ruichi Sakamoto sarangi maestro Sultan Khan vocalist Cleveland Watkiss trumpeter Byron Wallen and other musicians. OK was hailed a rare achievement in modern electronic music its sophistication and depth making it an instant classic.

His relationship with Guruji his musical master is one in the true Guru-Shishya tradition. During his meteoric rise to acclaim the student would visit Jalandhar to be with his musical master time spent refining his musical aesthetic and spiritual focus.

His composition Butterfly (OK 1999) was chosen by choreographer Durshan Singh Bullah to celebrate midnight at the Millenium Dome London (1999); attended by British Prime minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries.

In 2000, the celebrated producer released his second solo album Ha (Island 2). During that Singh artist embarked on his debut Tabla solo World Tour Untouched. A film made titled Drum & Space. Also in 2000 Singh curated a festival at London’s South Bank Centre which included Iranian artist Susan Deyhiem Sultan Khan and DJ Howie B.

In 2001 Singh presented a composition at the Barbican Centre London. The Electronickfestival which included his contemporaries William Orbit Craig Armstrong & Aphex Twin Richard D. James; commemorated the achievements of Karl Heinz Stockhausen a pioneer in post-modern music and theory. He also opened the new wing of the Tate Britain gallery with a solo tabla performance attended by the Queen of England.

In 2002 Singh recorded his first Indian Classical solo tabla.

In 2003 Singh composed a piece for a Choir and Orchestra intended for performance in the cathedral Abbey Church of Saint Denis an 11th century gothic masterpiece in Paris.

Talvin Singh continues to write and produce music for personal projects & teaching as a Music Director, Hollywood & Bollywood icon.


Ok (Island Records, 1998)
Ha (Island Records, 2001)
Back to Mine (DMC, 2001)
Vira (Navras, 2002)
Sweet Box (2008)
Songs for the Inner World (Naive, 2007)
Together (World Village, 2011)


Artist profiles: Susheela Raman

Susheela Raman

Susheela was born in London in 1973 to a Tamil family. From her childhood she studied traditional Southern Indian music as taught by her parents. She grew up between two musical cultures: western and Indian.

At the age of 11 her family moved to Sydney where she started her singing career. Her strong stage presence was soon noticed. Wishing to delve deeper into her Indian cultural heritage she left for India to study with Shruti Sadolikar, a leading Hindustani classical singer.

Back in Great Britain in 1997, she sought to combine Indian and Western musical styles. In 1998 Susheela started to work with Joi, pioneers of “Asian breakbeat fusionist” music and was featured on their album One and One Is One (Real World).

Susheela Raman

In 1999 Joi won the BBC Asia Music Award. Susheela sang with Joi in Europe and the United States supporting the Eurythmics at Wembley Arena and winning over audiences unfamiliar with the new Asian sound.

She continued her fusion of South Asian and Western musical styles in her solo recordings.


Salt Rain (Narada, 2001)
Love Trap (Narada, 2003)
Music for Crocodiles (2005)
33 1⁄3 (2007)
Vel (2011)
Queen Between (2014)

United Kingdom’


Artist profiles: Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra

Singing at her family home at age 12, Sheila Chandra discovered her voice – an instrument which has beguiled and mesmerized her audiences around the world ever since.

Born in London to a family of East Indian ancestry, Chandra resolved herself at an early age to be a singer and spent countless hours honing her voice a labor of love. But unsure how to break into the music business Chandra was ready when the chance came her way.

That chance came when Steve Coe, a writer and record producer was forming a new band as an outlet for his increasingly East Indian-influenced music. He came across an audition tape by Chandra and knew immediately that he had found his singer for the group Monsoon.

Monsoon’s first single, Ever So Lonely a song written around a raga used newly available production techniques to create a groundbreaking modern pop fusion sound. The single became a top ten hit with a quarter million sales worldwide. Yet six months later Chandra walked away from her blossoming success frustrated by a lack of artistic freedom. She came to the independent cottage industry-style label Indipop to explore her musical creativity and to learn the craft of composition.

Free to focus on her art, Chandra entered a remarkable and prolific two years with Indipop. Her solo albums for the label chronicle a profound transformation in the quality and depth of her work both as a singer and as a composer. Her subsequent years with Real World Records created another truly unique sound — forever setting a new standard in world music.

Originally released in 1984, Quiet was Chandra’s second solo album for Indipop and marked her debut as a composer. For the first time she faced the ‘blank page’ – the potentially most powerful reflector of the human soul. “I was terrified at the necessity of committing to paper or vinyl what I really thought or felt musically – I still am sometimes. I have since grown to deeply value the mental freedoms possible in the pure world of imagination that composing led me into. In it I open any social cultural or material restrictions. I can think thoughts I was perhaps unable to think of before.”

Quiet is the recording where that process began. Chandra along with a team of writers approached the album as a platform for her musical evolution and as a showcase for the possibilities she was developing as a composer and for her voice. Her goal was to force herself into a new territory to learn as a musician and writer by discovering obscure musical methods structures and elements.

Consequently, Quiet has no lyrics, the tracks untitled and the music explores a structural world of cyclic riffs and as many Eastern and Western tones and textures as Chandra could vocally bring to the work.

The album has a very different approach, acting as a prelude to Chandra’s innovative work on the Real World label. The music has strong melodies and an Indian influence but there are no dance floor drums or Indian percussion.

Originally released in 1990, Roots and Wings was written by Chandra after a four year sabbatical. During those years Chandra thought seriously about what constitutes an artist not only in terms of skill and imagination but also in terms of mastery of the self and mental independence.

Chandra’s writing also evolved with her heightened sense of artistic creativity. Already incorporating drones into her work Chandra discovered their multi-harmonics were irresistible backdrops to her solo voice. “Drones are magical things in terms of what they will allow me to do structurally psychologically and creatively.”

Roots and Wings contains the seeds of Chandra’s a cappella/solo voice style brought to the forefront on her groundbreaking Real World albums Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices and The Zen Kiss. The album also led Chandra on a series of small but significant steps to finding gateways between vocal cultures within the context of a single melodic line — a style which has since set her apart as one of the most influential and innovative world music masters.

In 2009, Chandra began experiencing symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as burning mouth syndrome, as a result of which she is unable to sing, speak, laugh or cry without suffering intense pain. As a result of her illness Chandra retired from music. She turned her attention to writing self-help books.


Out On My Own (1984)
Quiet (1984)
The Struggle (1985)
Nada Brahma (Indipop 1985)
Roots And Wings (Indipop 1989)
Silk 1983 – 199 (1991 – a best of album)
Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1992)
The Zen Kiss (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1994)
ABoneCroneDrone (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1996)
Monsoon (Mercury 1995)
This Sentence is True (Shakti/Narada, 2001)
Indipop Retrospective (Narada, 2003)
Imagined Village (2007)


Artist profiles: Shammi Pithia

Shammi Pithia

Shammi Pithia is a British Asian composer and producer based in east London. Shammi follows the path of great artists such as Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and Niraj Chag.

In 2008 Shammi released his debut E.P., Cinema for the Ears which led to the release of his album Audio Descriptive and the singles The Seeker and Pacifist Theme in 2010.

Shammi, who also plays the bansuri performs his music live around the UK with the backing of his band Flux and other artists.


For The Ears (2007)
The Seeker (2010)
Audio Descriptive (2010)
Paredolia (2011)
Cosmic (2014)
Shadowlines, with Flux (2016)


Musicians need to collaborate and promote environmental conservation – interview with Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej

Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej recently organized and performed at The RoundGlass Samsara Festival in Bangalore, focused on environmental sustainability and nature conservation. He joins in this exclusive interview from his home in Bangalore.

As part of the multi-disciplinary festival, film screenings and art exhibitions were held at the Sublime Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art, showcasing art about nature. A conference was held on environmental conservation, with speakers such as President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who highlighted the disastrous climate change effects in the Pacific islands.


Ricky Kej


The Samsara Concert featured other performers as well, such as Darlene Koldenhoven and Wouter Kellerman (Grammy Award winners), Lonnie Park (Grammy nominee), Hai Phuong (virtuoso on the Vietnamese zither, dan tranh), Venugopal (tabla maestro), Raveolution String Section, Suma Sudhindra (veena exponent) and B. Jayashree (theatre actor and singer).

Ricky has won a range of awards and distinctions such as the United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist Award, Producer of the Year at the South African Music Awards, Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards (New Orleans), Centre for Conscious Creativity ‘FutureVision’ Award (Los Angeles), Mirchi Music Awards (India), as well as ‘Pride of Karnataka’ and ‘Youth Icon of India.’

His earlier albums include The Shanti Orchestra and Shanti Samsara, as well as the benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel (aimed at humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza). The album Winds of Samsara won a Grammy in 2015; it was a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Shanti Samsara was launched at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.


Ricky Kej – Shanti Samsara


Ricky Kej – Shanti Orchestra


2 Unite All


Tracks from Shanti Samsara were performed at the Bangalore festival, which was held at the government legislative centre Vidhana Soudha. In this interview, Ricky shares his visions and insights into the connections between music, artistic collaboration, nature, spirituality and global environmental consciousness.

How do you view the connection between music and nature?

There is a deep relationship between music and nature. Music began as the sounds of nature, and early instruments were derived from nature. Only later did academic, professional, mass market and electronic elements come in.

I strongly believe that all artists have an obligation to use their work to make this world a better place. The threat to our environment is progressively getting worse. Musicians play an important role in creating conversations about our world. It is important for musicians and artists today to be on the right side of history. Art can be used to celebrate bio-diversity, and also showcase ecological impacts.



What was it like to perform at the Vidhana Soundha?

It is one thing to play at concert venues and hotels, but another thing altogether to perform right where policymakers are. That is why our recent Bangalore concert was held at the Vidhana Soudha, so that government officials could be exposed to the important messages about conservation right at their workplace.

I have always dreamed of performing at this venue and have known it right from my childhood. We began planning this festival way back in December last year.

I performed twice at the United Nations General Assembly. My work has been encouraged by India’s prime minister, and I have performed for heads of state in the audience. Music and art can go beyond speeches and pamphlets, and evoke messages at a deeper level. Musicians have the gift of art and communication.


Ricky Kej


Who are some of the music influences in your life?

My influences include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, AR Rahman, Wouter Kellerman, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others.



How is technology transforming your work these days?

On the one hand, technology has helped with reducing costs of production of music. Digital technology has helped promote my music and the movement for conservation. The rapid growth of technology also means you have to keep learning on the job.

While consumers benefit from getting access to lots of music, they also need to work hard at filtering what’s out there and finding what appeals to them. Many consumers are just content with getting music ‘pushed’ at them. Discovery gives thrill but takes work. Curators play an important role here.

What do you when you take a holiday from your hectic music career?

I have not had a holiday in over 11 years! What would I do on a holiday – nothing? I can’t imagine that; music is my everything, and I am devoted to conservation. Even when I am not making music, I am listening to new music.

Even during my travels I have not done typical ‘touristy’ things. I go to New York city six times a year but have yet to see the Statue of Liberty!

What kinds of collaboration are needed to promote environmental awareness?

Everything is inter-connected. The Amazon jungles are the lungs of the world, generating 20% of our oxygen. Global warming is already affecting the Pacific Islands with rising water levels, many of those countries stand no chance unless drastic action is taken today.

Society needs more spiritual balance. There should be more commitment to conserve nature, beyond mere compliance with regulations. This begins with encouraging children to think positively about nature. Scientific advice is also needed here.

That is why the Samsara Festival has been multi-disciplinary. We need more inter-disciplinary dialogue – between legislators, scientists, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists, innovators, musicians, thought leaders, industry leaders, media, change-makers and youth.

What role can India play in the environmental movement?

India can play an important role in conservation. It is a country that can make the most impact, since it is still in growth stage and can choose a sustainable path of development. The West is realizing that centuries of mis-directed development have extracted a huge toll on the environment, we need to have more environmental consciousness across the world now.

There are 350 million people in India who are entering the economic development stages, as much as the whole US population. There has to be a focus on renewable energy. India is in the Top Three countries in terms of coal reserves, but getting energy by burning coal has severe consequences.

India has an old civilization, and rich biodiversity in terms of plant and animal life. We pray to trees and animals, our gods are the natural elements. We can either screw it all up – or preserve it and lead the world with our example. We have the power to do the right thing. India needs to take leadership in environmental consciousness and be at the forefront of nature conservation.



What is your message to musicians and our audience out there?

Do what you can do conserve nature and increase environmental consciousness within you and around you. Do whatever you can within your limitations, be realistic.

There is no need to shame or shock people to change their attitude and behavior towards the environment; people may shy away from gory images of dead animals. Instead, it can be done through inspiration, creativity and positive reinforcement.


Chandrika Tandon’s Inspiring Journey

Chandrika Tandon – Shivoham – The Quest (Soul Chants Music, 2017)

Shivoham – The Quest is an impressive production by vocalist, composer and businesswoman Chandrika Tandon. The album is beautifully packaged and designed in a hard cover box that contains three discs and a booklet with song descriptions, photos and credits. Shivoham – The Quest is divided into three movements: Yearning, Searching and Connecting that reflects Chandrika Tandon’s musical and life journey.



Chandrika Tandon brings together two of the greatest musical traditions in the world: Indian classical music (Hindustani and Carnatic) and western classical music. The Indian influences dominate in some of the tracks, with Indian musical forms, Hindi lead vocals, percussion, bansuri flute, string instruments, mantras and other elements. Western classical appears in the form of classical and early music choirs and orchestras and lead vocals in English.



There is fusion as well, where Indian and western traditions are elegantly intertwined. Additionally, Chandrika Tandon incorporates other world traditions such as the Soweto Gospel Choir, flamenco and global percussion.



The list of musicians is extraordinary. In addition to Chandrika Tandon’s impeccable and mesmerizing vocals, Shivoham – The Quest includes the London Voices choir directed by Terry Edwards; Soul Chants Ensemble of New York; Soweto Gospel Choir; The King’s Singers; and soloists from Ajoy Chakrabarty School of Music of Kolkata.

Also featured is the London Metropolitan Orchestra, directed by Andy Brown and percussion ensembles from Kolkata and Mumbai in India.

The lists of solo instrumentalists includes a striking international cast of acclaimed musicians: Kenny Werner on piano; Martin Bejarano on piano; Sally Heath on piano; Romero Lubambo on guitar; Peter Calo on guitar; Pedro da Silva on Portuguese guitar; Jamey Haddad on percussion; Cyro Baptista on percussion; Thomas Kemp on violin; Gil Goldstein on accordion; Anthony Pike on clarinet; Pandit Ronu Majumdar on flute; Sandeep Mishra on sarangi; Pratik Shrivastava on sarod; Shubhayu Sen Majumdar on esraj.

Shivoham – The Quest is a masterfully-crafted production that seamlessly crosses various secular and sacred music traditions.

Buy Shivoham – The Quest