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.
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.
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.