This year, no fewer than six music acts with a South Asian connection are in the running for the 2013 Grammy Awards.
Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar (the first Indian artist to win a Grammy, in 1967) has been nominated in the Best World Music category for his album “The Living Room Sessions Part 1,” while his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, is nominated in the same category for her album “Traveller.”
Arun Shenoy, an instrumentalist and producer from Karnataka now living in Singapore, has been nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album; while Sri Lankan pop star M.I.A. is nominated for a second time, in the Best Short Form Music Video category for “Bad Girls.”
Krishna Das, a non-Indian kirtan artist, has been nominated for Best New Age album for his collection entitled “Live Ananda”; and the LA Percussion Quartet, whose members have had training in Indian classical music, are nominated for Best Surround Sound Album for their “Rūpa-khandha.”
“The Living Room Sessions Part 1” was recorded in Shankar’s home in Encinitas, Calif., and released on his own label, East West Music. Accompanied by tabla player Tanmoy Bose, Shankar (then 91 years old) interpreted seven ragas over the course of the four-day recording session. Four ragas have made it to the album: Raga Malgunji, Raga Khamaj, Raga Kedara and Raga Satyajit — dedicated to Shankar’s friend, the late film director Satyajit Ray. The release of a second disk is planned for early next year.
“It is thrilling to see something we worked so hard on, and released on our own label, given this wonderful recognition. And, of course, I am deeply proud of my daughter Anoushka and her own nomination. Actually, I think she might give a better speech,” said Shankar via e-mail in a statement to India-West.
“Traveller,” Anoushka Shankar’s seventh studio album, is produced by acclaimed guitarist Javier Limond and focuses on the 1,000-year-old connection between Indian and Spanish musical traditions — Shankar calls it a “raga flamenco journey” of ancient Gypsy migration. The Deutsche Grammophon release recently won a Songlines award as well. “Shankar’s dexterous style pushes the boundaries of her instrument, meandering from the classical Indian ragas to whirlwind jazz to pop phrasing … a sound without borders,” reads the LA Times review.
Anoushka Shankar has been nominated for a Grammy twice before, in 2003 and 2005. The Indian American musician was the youngest-ever and first woman nominee in the World Music category. Ravi Shankar’s other daughter, pop artist Norah Jones, has won nine Grammy Awards.
Arun Shenoy is a new face on the scene here in the United States. His “Rumbadoodle” is an impeccably arranged and recorded collection of gypsy-tinged works recorded around the world — a project as global as his adopted home town of Singapore.
“Combining elements of the traditional art form with a myriad of popular music forms, this record is an explorative journey, doodling across genre boundaries as we know it today, creating a unique and true masterpiece along the way,” said a spokesperson.
In response to India-West’s question about how his Bangalore upbringing has influenced his current music, Shenoy told the paper in an e-mail: “This is a rather interesting question at this point in my musical career, because the project I am working on right now, (a follow up to ‘Rumbadoodle’) is an Indian fusion project.
“Here I am looking to explore my Indian cultural roots to try and bring out a new essence of what I discover through music … I cannot say I have any Kannada-specific influences in my music. I borrow influences from both, the classical forms and folk forms, but without specific focus on any particular kind. It is all about what works with the music.”
Three of the four members of the LA Percussion Quartet have studied classical Indian music — at the Ali Akbar College in San Rafael and at the California Institute of the Arts studying with tabla virtuoso Pandit Swapan Chauduri. Ensemble member Dr. Justin DeHart received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in South India in 2001.
The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet is an “innovative and dynamic chamber music ensemble whose unique 20th and 21st century repertoire has been called ‘sublime, visceral, exotic…and aurally stunning,’” states their Web site.
“Rūpa-khandha” (Sono Luminus) has broken new ground as one of the first 7.1 surround-sound recordings of percussion chamber music.
LA Percussion Quartet member Sean Heim explained the title of their album in an e-mail to India-West.
“Rūpa-khandha (Form/Materiality) is the first of the Five Aggregates (khandhas) by which all phenomena can be categorized. In Buddhism, it is these khandhas that bind us to this existence and are consequently the ultimate cause of suffering in the Four Noble Truths,” said Heim.
“There are many layers of inspiration and meaning woven into the piece, but in the end I would say that ‘Rūpa-khandha’ is primarily about our being bound to this physical form, the suffering that this causes, and the different ways that we as humans mark our separation from this ‘material’ existence.”
The album is divided into eight sections, some related to the elements; one section in particular, “Air & Fire (Cycle 2),” is “directly inspired by Hindu cremation ceremonies — though the translation of my impression of these ceremonies is quite abstract, its influence is quite strong none the same,” Heim told India-West.
The 55th annual Grammy Awards will be presented Feb. 10 in Los Angeles and broadcast live on CBS.