Harini Raghavan’s Carnatic music melded with electronica, Bollywood nostalgia through Rumi’s poetry rendered by Katayoun Goudarzi

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NEW YORK – The fusion of Carnatic with jazz music has truly caught on in the metropolitan areas of America, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t: the tranquil, soothing and hypnotic vocals and instruments of South Indian classical music, with its astounding depth and variety, melds well with the sophistication and esoteric notes of jazz, creating abstract but pleasing notes and sounds that, like a good painting, evokes ideas and nostalgia, not to talk of the soft foot tapping and head swaying it brings on in tandem.

Joining this expanding genre is the Chennai-born and New York-based violinist, vocalist and composer Harini Raghavan, an alum of Berklee in Boston, whose electronic group RINI will release their debut record, ‘Maya’, next month, on December 8.

The band RINI

RINI has an international setup of artists, comprising of members who got together during Raghavan’s final year at Berklee: Aleif Hamdan (Indonesia) plays guitar, Achal Murthy (Luxembourg) plays bass, Inigo Galdeano Lasheras (Spain) handles the saxophone/ewi and Yogev Gabay (Israel) plays the drums.

The quirky soulful and expansive electronic-heavy and jazz minor melodies that emerge in ‘Maya’ is stitched with Raghavan’s vocals honed from her early days in Chennai, as she mostly hums through numbers.

In a press note accompanying the record, Raghavan explains her experiments and experience in electronic production, which she specialized in at Berklee, sounds that are front and center on much of ‘Maya’.

“I love the textures and love how it blends with Indian elements,” says Raghavan. “I use Ableton and lots of loops, as well as sing and play and conduct the band.”

The title of the record is inspired by a talk by writer Amitabh Ghosh. ‘Maya’ reflects the delusion that all is well and the starkly contrasting reality of the threat of climate change, painting two sonic pictures with a tip of the hat to Beats Antique.

‘The Red Moon,’ a modal piece based on a classical raag, incorporates mantras chanted during solar eclipses, asking listeners to reflect on susceptibility to misreading cosmic phenomena in limited human terms. There is also the number ‘Filter Kapi,’ which any Tamilian worth his or her salt will immediately latch on to as a tribute to Chennai. ‘Warp 9’ is an homage to Star Trek and the restrained drama of Einaudi’s work.

‘Maya’ is not for the listening pleasure of puritans of Carnatic music or electronic music. Mostly, it attempts to redefine boundaries. The short pieces in the record skid off the surface at a rapid pace almost as if enjoying a joyride on a giant wave.

Harini Raghavan

Raghavan has in the past recorded and performed with Grammy winning composers A. R. Rahman and Bill Whelan, and headlined some festivals and venues, including Boston Symphony Hall, Lincoln Center and the United Nations General Assembly. Till date, she has released two EPs worldwide – ‘Kural’ and ‘Alone in the Blue’.

HINT OF BOLLYWOOD NOSTALGIA THROUGH IRANIAN POETRY

The recently released record ‘Will You’ by Tames Records is a wonderful mixture of Iranian poetry, classical Indian music, tunes, and jazz, that truly captures the essence of captivating world music. One can sit back and revel in a glorious amalgamation; the melodious and svelte foreign lyrics tug out in bits and pieces nostalgia and serenity from the innards of one’s memory.

In ‘Will You’, Rumi’s poetry is brought to new life by Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, sitar maestro and Grammy Award nominee Shujaat Khan, saxophonist Tim Ries (who’s played with jazz greats like Jack DeJohnette and Donald Byrd and rock icons like The Rolling Stones, Donald Fagen, and Rod Stewart), pianist Kevin Hays, and tabla player Dibyarka Chatterjee.

A press note accompanying the record which comprises of outpourings of grief, fear, and mad love came to a head, has Khan explaining that he came up with “the skeleton of the tunes.”

“We converse to make this music. It’s never the same interpretation, the same sound, the same song twice,” Khan says.

Katayoun Goudarzi

“The music is not classical Persian music,” says Goudarzi. “It’s Persian classical poetry sung in Indian idioms, but with a touch of jazz. In that respect, it’s perhaps different than things that have been done in the past.”

She adds: “With Rumi you can find all different kinds of poems, chronicling all different kinds of human experience. Some are wildly romantic. Some are edgier like ‘Don’t.’ Most of the verses we use on the album are love poems. The way I present the lyrics this time, on the title track, is to use three different poems to make sure I’m completing the story.”

Like some vintage Russian music, which inspired some popular Bollywood songs, and vice versa, the rendition of vocals by Goudarzi and accompanying music in ‘Will You’ will make one reminisce of romantic and sad Hindi songs of yesteryears, before it transitions smoothly to more modern notes, punctuated by jazz.

The beauty of Goudarzi’s melodious vocals comes to the fore when music stops and her voice come on solo, heightening the emotional intensity, as at the end of the title track.

Shujaat Khan (in center) and Katayoun Goudarzi (at right) during a performance.

The band, who have been working together since 2009, tasted early success. Their debut album ‘Dawning’, released by Palmetto records and Tames records, was on the top 40 CMJ charts for more than seven weeks in 2013.