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All that Desi Jazz

August 2006
All that Desi Jazz

All that Desi Jazz

One normally doesn't associate jazz with musicians who trace their roots to India. But just as Carnatic or Hindustani music appeals to 1st generation Indian-Americans, jazz is bound to attract music lovers who grew up here; it is, after all, an American art form. Yet just a decade ago, jazz would have been considered an odd career choice for even 2nd generation musicians of Indian descent. "Ten years ago, when saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa was introduced to pianist Vijay Iyer, both men were shocked; neither had imagined that the other existed," noted The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. "Both musicians were American-born with family roots in Southern India, and both were 25 years old and passionately interested in playing jazz with an Indian twist." Iyer and Mahanthappa have collaborated ever since, gaining recognition along the way, and recently they came out with RAW, their first duo album. Both artists have been influenced by the classical sounds of the subcontinent. As a pianist, Iyer is drawn to the percussive rhythms of the tabla, while Mahanthappa has spoken of his interest in the double-reed instruments (veena, nagaswaram) of Carnatic music. Considering that they've also been inspired by African, European and other Asian musical traditions, the eclecticism of their compositions is not surprising. Another interesting fact is that, separately, Iyer and Mahanthappa have used their hybrid style to musically explore the pressures felt by immigrants and ‘outsiders' in this country. Iyer, in partnership with Mike Ladd, does it in a recording called In What Language? A Song Cycle of Lives in Transit. And in Mother Tongue, Mahanthappa attempts to answer questions such as "Do you speak Indian?" or "Do you speak Hindu?" in melodic compositions that have a distinct connection to native Indian languages.

Compiled by Murali Kamma

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