Tag Archives: indian music

Completing a Cycle

Note: As I get ready to head back Stateside, here is a blog I actually wrote when I was leaving to come to India several weeks back.

Poster from Talavya's first Charlottesville show - also their debut concert in the US.

Poster from Talavya’s first Charlottesville show – also their debut concert in the US.

In May, Talavya ended their spring 2013 North American tour.  It was the group’s 7th concert tour in the US  and /or Canada in the last three years. Performing in North America has become a regular part of Talavya’s musical career and their geographical reach extends from Atlantic Canada to California.  They regularly return back to many cities and every tour, we perform in a few new ones. On this tour, Talavya’s last stop was Charlottesville, Virginia.  While this in itself was not necessarily worthy of note, its significance only dawned on me the day of the performance, when one of the guys mentioned how Charlottesville was the city where they debuted in the US (under their former name – Tabla Ecstasy).

We were traveling from Charlotte, actually our second ever performance city, to Charlottesville, when I realized that we were approaching the sam.  In North Indian classical music, the sam is the first beat of the rhythm cycle – it signifies an end and a new beginning.  For the group and for me, the sam could not have come at a more appropriate time.  For a few months, I have been feeling a shift as Talavya’s manager.  Seeds that were planted several years ago seem to finally be sprouting, doors that we’d been long knocking on have been opening.  The tide has been shifting from only outgoing calls to getting many incoming calls.  Tours have gone from being investments to financially neutral to a reliable income for all of us.  My designation in the world of music business as an artist manager has been expanding to be more far-reaching than that.  Returning back to the place where it all really began in the States reaffirmed to me that a chapter was closing and a new one had begun.

Landing on the sam during a performance with Talavya

Landing on the sam during a performance with Talavya

What a journey it has been thus far.  One that has questioned all of our determination and thrown up unexpected challenges, while solidifying our goals and creating new avenues.  Personally, this journey has also been a test of my trust in myself and in the universe.  It has been four years since I started out an artist manager. When I began, I didn’t have that title, nor did I understand what it mean.  It began with a desire – a desire to share the amazing work that my music brothers (and sister) or gurubandhus and Guru were doing. I didn’t know what I was doing (after all, being a water and sanitation engineer isn’t exactly the right training to join the music industry), but I had a goal.  While the lack of experience could be seen as a disadvantage, I took it as a way to find my own way without preconceived notions of how it should be done.  The “outsider” perspective allowed me to view things from the periphery and perhaps that is why today, my objectives and work in the industry have extended beyond just the career of Talavya or the other artists in my musical ecosystem.

Before I even began with Talavya, from my cultural experiences growing up in Canada and living the States, I knew one thing – Indian artists had yet to really make it into the wider musical consciousness in large masses.  Everyone knew and attended concerts by the thousands if Raviji or Zakirji were to perform, but what about all the other fantastic artists?  Slumdog Millionaire hadn’t yet happened – so the larger Bollywood crossover was also still to come.  I didn’t know how, but I figured if other world music artists coming from African and Latin America could be known by those beyond their diaspora, Indian artists could do that as well.  Through Talavya, I learned, made mistakes and learned some more (and by no means am I done learning). We have gone from performing almost exclusively for the diaspora to having a large diversity in our audiences, from performing primarily in homes and temples to festivals and concert halls.  And it is not that we have left the diaspora behind, but rather the opposite.  Through Talavya, I have been working to building bridges between the diaspora and larger community.  We have a long way to go, but the initial struggle of craving a space is over.  Talavya, Rhythm Riders, and I are no longer newbies and unknown to the space.  We have a presence and recognition.  We are going to build on it, not just for Talavya, but for South Asian performing arts a whole.  Through my work with Talavya, I have been able to identify the gaps in the market that limit the penetration of South Asian performing arts in the mainstream and now I’m working to fill them.   No longer am I “just” an artist manager.  I’m now a consultant – for presenters, for artists and can be a dot connector all over again within the music space.

In Gujarati, there is a saying that you have to sit at your business for 1,000 days for it to become “solid” or established.  In music, there is a saying that you need to play something 1,000 hours or 10,000 times for you to “owe it”.  Talavya has completed its 1000 days as internationally touring artists.  I have completed my 1000 days as an artist manager, now onto the next cycle.

PS. If you haven’t already, check out how amazing “my guys” aka Talavya are.  Yup that’s me on harmonium.  Somewhere after year 1 of touring with them as the manager / emcee / photographer, I learned to play the harmonium so I could join them on stage.  Yes, I play tabla (with Taalika), but I’m not quite at the level of performing with Talavya on tabla yet.

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All Alone

We come into this world alone, we leave this world alone, yet why are we so afraid to live alone.

I was about to post this this morning and found the perfect quote in the Quote of the Day:
Do not blame Heaven, and do not blame earth, for your loneliness. You are traveling the ways of loneliness because your mind has not tried to conquer the darkness of frustration-frown. – Sri Chinmoy

The novelty of living alone is starting to wear off, the time is beginning where the lessons are starting to come in. It’s funny you know because you can’t really say that I am alone, I mean I’m not holed up in my apartment, on average once a day I am doing something that is not related to philosophy/music.

Those who want to be a true sadhak of music get restrictions, imposed upon them by the teacher (particularly if you are starting late in the game in terms of age). Very limited social life, full focus on music, cutting out people and things that will disturb your practice. Movement is restricted. It may seem overbearing, but completely necessary to do the sadhna. It is not just a sadhak of music, but any sadhna. Why is it that Vipassana has no cell phones, no contact, even eye contact with anyone. Because they really want you to spend time with yourself.

Spending time with yourself is hard. (note I am not complaining, just trying to go through the thoughts running in my head). To gain complete control over your mind and actions (ie doing everything with full awareness) is difficult and not something that your mind will easily allow you to do. Our training and upbringing typically is such that we are the slave of the mind. To try to change that power dynamic is not simple, who would want to give up power and become the one who follows.

My yoga instructor is always telling me, we have to gain control over the mind, even if you don’t want to hold the position, you must hold it (unless I absolutely can’t). Be strong, yog requires determination. The more determined you are, the stronger you are, the more powerful the experience. Be it for the postures or breathing exercises, everything requires control over the mind and strong will power.

In philosophy classes, after 20-30 minutes, the yawning begins and drowsiness begins to set in. Not because I am tired. All of sudden I want to pee. I try pinching myself and forcing myself to concentrate – wanting to listen, wanting to understand. Not wanting to seem rude or that I am not interested, I try to stifle the yawns and concentrate even more – after all what teacher wants to see the student yawning. But the teacher understands. “Your mind does not want you to understand reality, which in turn of course is linked to control over the mind. So it’s defense mechanism – causing you to become sleeping, once it distracts you once, it wins. It takes effort to build concentration, which is why we are beginning with the basics, easy stuff, slowly training the mind to listen and absorb this material.”

Tabla practice. Little Rahul once said to me that once you sit down for riyaz, you cannot get up. “Ha.” I thought. I can’t sit for that long at a time. It is always during riyaz that I remember the twenty-five thousand things I need to do – call this person, pick up this, etc, etc. But taking motivation from the comment, I sat down one day and with strong determination decided (made a “sankalp”) that I would not get up for 2 hours. And I did it. But the sad part about it, and this is me being completely honest, is that when I tried it again the next day, I got up. It was as if the one time was to prove to myself that I could do it. Good news though is that it is improving.. I remembering less things to do and trying harder to make a mental note and move on vs acting upon it immediately. The physical challenge of practice is hard, my lack of flexibility in the inner thighs makes it difficult to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time. However, esp with yoga, the flexibility is increasing and the stamina particularly in the arms and shoulders is building. Going from around 1hr/day straight to 4hr/day was a big jump, but its happening.

When challenging the self on so many different fronts, living on my own and cutting social ties on one side does not “help”, though in reality is it critical. The old Heena loved being around people, but at the same time stayed separate from them. I am glad to step away from social things, particularly of an Indian nature, which so many times I find to be very forced and artificial, but at the same time, I love to talk and share and limiting the people I interact with has been challenging. There are two sides to this – one is that I am not completely ready to share because I am still figuring it out and am in the process, yet two I miss the social comfort of having people around. (this last paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense I know)

I’ve been sick for the last two days. While I could easily go to the ashram house and be around people, I want to be alone so I can keep up practice, etc (which hasn’t really happened). But what happens almost everytime I get sick happened again- I wanted to be taken care of. I wanted someone to be around to cook, to do things to make me feel better. At one point, I felt sorry for myself that I had no one around (which is not completely true – I could go to the ashram house), but that really isn’t the point. The craving for another to provide for me arose. I wanted someone else to do stuff for me to make me feel better. When I look at that question a little closer, the topic for this long post came up. What does it mean to be alone. Here I am, enjoying the time for self, but when a physical challenge comes up in terms of health, I feel sorry for myself that no one is around. What is that really? I have all the resources. All I have to do is call someone, let them know I am sick and they will more than happily do things, but I don’t do that. Subconsciously, I don’t want to take action, but I want something done – which is completely unrealistic.

Being sick is simply a metaphor. We come into this world alone and leave this world alone. In the middle, most tend to live their lives surrounded by others, trying to find that happiness with the crowds, but ultimately something is missing. If we can’t live with ourselves, is it possible to find true satisfaction? True happiness only comes from within and when we seek it from the outside world, at some point, we will be disappointed. If I want to achieve anything, ultimately I need to do it myself. I am lucky that I have people around sending me their support and love, but in the end I need to find the determination within myself. Things are going to be harder and are going to get harder as I enter deeper into the battle with the mind, but to win, I have to keep faith, determination and strong will.

The study of Indian classical music and philosophy are a huge help as I delve deeper into the self. Ultimately it is knowledge that brings a person out of their misery, their suffering and ignorance.

All alone? Of course. We all are. They say though, that the deeper one goes into the self, the more one truly sees the connectivity one has with the world and the world becomes an extension of the self. Walking on the path to get there, til then, the lessons will keep on coming.

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Filed under Indian classical music, Reflections, Spirituality