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Susheela Raman heads London International Arts Festival 2014

Susheela Raman heads London International Arts Festival 2014

October 23 2014

Artists from all over the world are ready to perform in London and Susheela Raman tells why she’s involved…

IT STARTED primarily as a showcase to promote Carnatic (South Indian classical) music but has developed into a month-long run of shows and performances spotlighting the dialogue between world music and classical Indian traditions.

From humble beginnings and modest ambitions in 2012, the London International Arts Festival (LIAF) has grown in different directions and welcomes Mercury and BBC World Music Awards nominated Susheela Raman as the headline act and the iconic Jazz Café in Camden, as one of its four venues for this year’s edition.

Starting on Sunday (October 26) and finishing on November 23, the festival – conceived by former doctor and now Carnatic and Bollywood violinist Jyotsna Srikanth – has blossomed into a platform for those mixing traditions.

It is, as Srikanth Sharma, festival co-director, put it to www.asianculturevulture. com, “like an idli (a south Indian rice and urad dal pancake) with salsa sauce on the top”.

Raman is the most prominent of the international artists to be playing at the festival.

She told “I know Jyotsna through her music and I love playing in London in front of my home crowd. It’s personal and very exciting to be playing in London.” (Please see box below for more).

Susheela Raman, is of Indian Tamilian origin, and her music has taken her around the world. She has collaborated with a number of artists from different traditions, including Rajasthani folk and Pakistani Qawwals – last year she visited Pakistan to collaborate with Rizwan-Muazzam Ali Khan (a nephew of the legendary Nusrat).
Raman has a new album coming out officially next year in the UK*, entitled 'Queen Between', and will be playing more abroad, promoting it (and where the album is already more readily available).
She told she is drawn to music which expresses spirituality and is part of a larger quest.
“Music is a way to explore philosophical questions – who we are what we are doing here on this planet and trying to make sense of ourselves and our position in it. There are further explorations and deeper questions about life - it is a continuing journey.”
She said before she went to Pakistan, she was warned about where not to go, and what not to do, but her time there was uplifting and special.
“I felt warmly accepted by the people and musical experience was so good. The Qawwali tradition is amazing, it is a 700-year-old tradition and it was all about that for me.”
She headlines the acts on Sunday, November 9 at the Jazz Café, and is supported by Bangalore Dreams, a group developed by Srikanth that mixes jazz and even hip hop to more classic Carnatic rhythms. The Krar Collective come from Ethiopia, while Nordic Raga, give expression to Swedish folk infused with traditional Indian classical music

Among the other highlights this year will be India’s top ‘Carnatic saxophonist’, Kadri Gopalnath, playing with that country’s foremost exponent of the South Indian thavil drum, Tanjore Govindarajan; ‘Navarasas’, where the formal nine emotional moods, as defined by classical Indian art and literature, will be articulated in music by Banglore-based singer and internet music teacher Annaporna Karthik; and the North Indian Khyal style where singing fills the air as rendered by Prabhat Rao.

Another draw will be Sunday Driver, a folksy-jazzy Carnatic vocal influenced indie band led by singer, Chandrika ‘Chandy’ Nath.

The founder of Sunday Driver, told “Originally I wanted to learn the music I had heard as a child in my mum’s kitchen – lullabies – I wanted to turn them into beautiful music.”

Her parents were keen musicians and ran an arts organisation, Kala Premi, in the north-east promoting Indian classical music and many of leading performers from around India and elsewhere passed through her family home in Newcastle.

“I am a Geordie like,” she mimicked. “There was such a dearth of Indian culture in the north-east and mum and dad brought all these musicians from all over the world.”

You can hear it in in their music, Chandy’s silky Carnatic vocals over a more discernible English folksy backing. Earlier this year, they released “Flo” which has seven tracks on it and the band have been described by the Sunday Times as “a band to watch”.

“I never studied Indian music, I kind of imbibed it through all these musicians passing through the house and my Mum singing it. I wouldn’t call myself an expert of any sort, ” explained Nath.

The only formal training she had was about 10 years ago from London-based musician and visionary, Baluji.
A particle physicist by training, she found herself based on the Antarctic for six months, and it inspired her to create Sunday Driver about 13 years ago.

“I promised myself I’d form a band. In the silence, all this music would just play in my head because there was no noise,” she revealed.

Originally part of the Steampunk genre, with its roots in heavy rock, the band has moved closer to an Indian influenced sound, both with Chandy’s vocals and instruments such as the sitar featuring more.

Sharma, Jyostna’s husband, and fellow founder of Dhruv Arts, the organisation behind LIAF, told “The music that represents me is absent in the mainstream and this diaspora and diversity is what I am after.”

Chandrika 'Chandy' Nath from Sunday Driver, picture

Sharma has worked on four continents since 1996 and has a wide experience of organising concerts in India and plays the violin himself, though he’s keen to stress he isn’t a performer in the professional sense – he’s actually a banker.

He credited Jyotsna with the ability to persuade international musicians to come and play at LIAF.

“She’s played on 200 Bollywood films, she’s got these artistic connections. She’s known there.

“The diaspora – our communities that live here have an identity of their own, that is neither Indian nor British and we really respect that – it is difficult to be impressive to both and Jyotsna’s worked into that and a lot of musicians respect that – otherwise we couldn’t afford them.”

He added: “This is really an eclectic mix, there are only three Carnatic concerts, there’s a dance and three Hindustani shows. The whole idea is to make it appealing to young people – hence the deviation, diversion and digression – if you are stuck with the purely classical it won’t appeal.”

Selected highlights

  • Sunday, October 26 from 1pm – A series of workshops exploring Indian, western and African music, culminating in performance by Afro-Caribbean and Spanish rhythm and mambo outfit Pocion (Scotland)
    Venue: Rich Mix, Shoreditch. See details
  • Wednesday, October 29, 7.30pm (Tickets from £10 online) – Sunday Driver
    Venue: Brunel Museum, Rotherhite, SE16. See details
  • Thursday, November 6 from 7.30pm, An evening of Indian music in two parts; North and South – Prabhat Rao (Kyhal) and Annapoorna Karthik (Navarasas) – (Tickets from £10 online)
    Venue: Brunel Museum, Rotherhite, SE16. See details
  • Sunday, November 9 – Susheela Rahman from 7pm, supported by Bangalore Dreams, The Krar Colletive (Ethiopia) and Nordic Raga (Sweden); (Tickets from £20 advance) Venue: Jazz Café, Camden NW1.See details
  • Sunday, November 23 Concerts from 2pm-9pm including Dhruv Choir, Ilford Country High School Choir, Harmony with Nature, Dance Ballet by Ragasudha (UK); Pandit Nagraj Rao Havaldar and Pandit Omkarnath Havaldar, North Indian classical vocals; and Kadri Gopalnath, South Indian Carnatic saxophone (Tickets from £13 online)

Venue: Redbridge Town Hall, IG1. See details

For full programme, see LIAF2014

*’Queen Between‘ – available from

From www.asianculturevulture – Liaf 2013 From Afro-Jazz to Carnatic Sounds

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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