after i get past the diesel fumes burning the night air, the horns honking at the people and cows, and the layer of dust that covers me as i ride through banaglore in a rikshaw, i start to settle into life in india once again. it takes a few days. and by the end, i wholeheartedly believe in the madness. and each time i come back to the motherland, i seriously consider making it my home, even if for just a few months of the year. that is how this country has captured my heart – since the time i was 12 years old bouncing around trichy on the back of my cousin’s scooter.
when i landed in bangalore, my uncle met me at the airport. the fellow sitting on the plane said to me, "be prepared, the international terminal is like a bus stop. it will take you 2 hours to get your luggage and another hour to get out of the parking lot." surprisingly, my bags came with no real damage in about 30 minutes and the customs guy just mildly harassed me over my dance bells he saw in the xray machine. apparently he thought i was smuggling rows and rows of gold coins into the country. i laughed and said i wish i had that much gold sir, but alas, i am a poor dancer here for a performance. that seemed to soften his heart and he started asking about my guru and when the show was. fair enough. better to politely answer his questions, than have to open my suitcase, have him rifle through it and then offer him $100.
we arrived at my uncle’s house around 11:30 at night and i went straight to bed because dance rehearsal was at 7:30 the next morning. and that’s when the fun started. apparently, bangalore is a lot like LA. the city is very spread out and distances with traffic seem far. and of course, in stride with india’s chaos, there are no road maps and studying the road is an oral tradition passed on from driver to driver.
first rikshaw driver we saw, we told him we needed to go to banashankari, which by the way, no one knows where it is. bumpy roads, dodging the lorry trucks about to smash right into you and avoiding hitting women trying to cross the road, the driver carefully travelled through bangalore. but every 10 minutes or so, he had to stop on the road and ask a pedestrian where banashankari was. typically, the answer was…"oh yeah. go straight. make a right at the sign. a left at tree. and two streets down, you’ll see a dead end, don’t go there. make a left 5 streets after and you’ll see it. just go yaar. go straight and you will see it." so was that go through the bazaar in marrakesh or go straight? i’m confused. so was sayd the rikshawvala.
but we got there. we got there in a little over an hour and a half. my toes were very cold from the chilly bangalore air whipping at them through the rikshaw. i walked in like a frozen popsicle and attempted to dance past my jetlag. that was 3 days ago. i finally slept last night. sayd has tomorrow off for new years.
something horribly shocking i had to share with you all because it is telling of where this country has been heading for the last 6 years. thank god for the elections…perhaps we can get our civil and human rights back now.
a ucla student was tase’d last night at powell because he didn’t have his id card and he took too long to leave..the ucpd officers kept yelling at him to stand up after he was tasered but he couldn’t so they did it again and again.
and here’s a video a student took with a phone camera.
so if you want to listen to one of the songs off the new album i’m working on…you can.
coconut is up on myspace.
COCONUTS ARE PEOPLE TOO!
can i tell you a story? years ago, when i was studying for exams at u.va., i came upon an album. dave matthews tim reynolds: live at luther college. when i popped the cd in, i realized then that music can really change a person’s life and it can certainly help shape a life. something about the acoustic 2 cd set moved me to play them over and over and over again for the entire exam period. if you called me at 7am or at 9:30pm, you’d hear the album in the background. i never thought two guitars and one man’s voice could keep my attention for so long. it was that album that i credit for pushing me over the edge to chase my life as a musician.
the album became an obession. tim reynolds is a phenomenal musician and i learned for the first time the gift of a twelve string guitar. and whether we like to admit it or not, dave matthews is charming – in a goofy, obsessed with feces kind of way. i dissected the album. the songs. the playing. the banter. and i soon found myself in a local charlottesville cafe. and of course, i was listening to the album on my discman.
i got bored of studying of course. so what did i do? i got up to order food – eating can entertain me to no end. when i got up to the counter and waited for my food, i heard a couple of guys come behind me. the one fellow’s voice sounded oddly familiar. and he asked his friend to bum a couple of dollars off of him for a cup of coffee. thinking it was someone from school, i turned to offer to pay for him. when i looked back, it was none other than dave matthews – standing a foot from me.
i freaked. turned back around quickly. it felt like i willed him to be there and this eerie, wow there’s something cosmic happening right now feeling rushed over me. all i could do was sit down and catch my breath. i also ran home, check my horoscope for the day (which said that my dreams would come true), and wrote a song in 15 minutes.
i knew after that day that my life had been touched by something or someone with a plan larger than mine. years later, i am in a bit of awe at the way my life has bumped along. if you had told me that day i ran into dave that i would be producing my second album now, i’d have laughed. at that time, i could barely sing and play guitar at the same time!
a few weeks ago, i got an email in my inbox. some junk mail from a new credit card i got. something about advanced tickets to a dave matthews tim reynolds benefit concert on october 30th in LA at the wiltern. the tickets were mad expensive. and the concert was monday night – the night of my dance class. but i thought…you know what, you’ve just got to go. i bought a couple of tickets.
the day of the concert was the same day i finished mastering my new EP with the four songs from my upcoming album – one of my favorites is "coconut". when i got to the show and started drinking my wine and inhaling the secondary pot smoke, i started to sink into the evening. it occurred to me that once again, someone or something touched my life…maybe to remind where i’ve come from and and maybe to give me a hint of where i’m headed.
during the month of ramadan, i find myself becoming increasingly focused and disciplined. i also find that i discover more of my softer parts and occasionally cut myself on the sharp edges of my personality. it’s amazing how blood sugar can effect you. i’m doing my best to focus blood sugar anxiety into the new album. it seems to be working.
song 3 is done. i’ve titled it "play with me (jaaneman)." thankfully i’m enjoying it. phew. it’s got a funk drum part and a hindi hook and a bit of world spoken word. american, european and indian all at the same time.
the best part of being the sole producer on the album is that my songs are not being filtered through another creative mind. it’s all me and the chaos in my head being worked out on my instruments and software.
jay and i have our first mixing session set up for october 17th. this means i need to finish song four by the 19th – our second session. and once the 4 songs are mixed, i’m handing them over to my team to start spreading the word. they can do their job and i will continue on with song 5…
what do you think…should i put the new tracks on myspace now or wait til the album comes out next year? play now or later?
thank god the month of libra has come. and thankfully, the month coincides with ramadan. so while i’m fasting, i will be basking in creative, beautiful universal energy. though i’m a gemini, i have a libra moon. it’s a great combinations. generally, if you’re a libra, i will become fast friends with you. it can’t be helped. there is something so delicate and lovely about libras. their focus on aesthetics and balance is admirable. the zen friends in my life.
song three is almost done. it has a mix of hindi and english lyrics. some haunting melody lines and some brash spoken word. even some nattuvanar solkattus. i’ve stuck to my battle plan for the album pretty consistently, minus a brief hiatus for natasha’s wedding. yup…she got married. boys…my lovely publicist is officially off the market. but be happy for her, because i’ve never seen her happier. and that’s such a lovely thing to see in your dear friend.
stay tuned…a pretty polished demo of the new songs will be done towards the end of october and i will post the new songs on myspace. more soon…
i am officially two songs done of my album. post reading the war of art, i set up a fairly rigorous recording schedule. i made a battle plan and have pretty much stuck to it. two songs in, i’m feeling pretty good. and pretty nervous too. there are still at least 8 more songs to go. renaming my studio space as casa que canta – the house that sings – two battles have been won.
the tracks…well, get ready. i’ve discovered i am not folk-rock singer/songwriter shaheen anymore. no no. the past year of being free and single has given birth to a seductress. one who loves to dance. one who loves to provoke. and not just through sexual overtones, but intellectual ones as well. that is the playfulness. sharp, fun, powerful.
the guitar is packed up in the gig bag and tucked into the closet. i’m writing all the songs on the fly. focusing on rhythms. learning to play every instrument i can either via midi sequencing or the good ol’ fashioned analog version. the latest is a rented violin from the local music store. every afternoon, i’m in the studio by myself like a mad scientist. but madness and creativity often go hand in hand. somehow god shows up in that mess. who knows why. and between the struggle and anxiety inevitably emerges a new song. experimental. out of bounds.
i’m preparing you as a means of preparing myself as well. after spending the weekend with my family for my nephew’s first birthday party and my mom’s surprise retirement party, i’m heading back to work tomorrow. song three…i mean battle three…on the floor.
being a professional artist is like being a soldier. the twisted poetry of this is remarkable to me. but it is true. the kind of razor sharp focus and fierceness it takes to show up everyday to meet your muse despite if you feel inspired, if you feel like it, or if the world around you feels like it’s collapsing, is daunting, but doable. at least that’s what i’ve experienced personally and read about in steven pressfield’s book "the war of art." anyone interested in living an unlived life, get the book. it will kick you in the ass.
i read the book going up and down the "e" train in nyc. shuttling back and forth between midtown and soho this past weekend, i relaxed into my rides like a new york native with a literary kick in the ass. it was just what i needed to process the week before and figure out what was important to me and how to get where i wanted to be.
i landed at the newark airport early friday morning and had to figure out how to take the train into manhattan. luckily, there was a young man headed in the same direction and i basically followed him into penn station like a little puppy dog. his name is ed and we ended up roaming nyc all morning long waiting for our friends to wake up and get through their work day. he told me all about his life, as i told him about mine, exchanging war stories of life and love. it turns out he has a dear, sweet girlfriend. he was in the market for an engagement ring for her. so you know what we did that morning? we walked around to different jewelry stores and to the diamond district haggling over diamonds. ed is an engineer so he has done all kinds of research into the exact type of diamond he wants. it was a complete education for me. i had no idea so much went into buying a diamond. my start to my nyc trip was quirky and random, but lovely.
the rest of the weekend, i made sure to have a lot of fun! doing kula yoga with tasneem, dancing at bed with akshay, eating kati rolls on macdougal street and in washington square park, sipping sparkling wine on zia’s rooftop, and gazing at cute boys with heather. just what the soul needed.
i cleared my head. read my book. wrote in my journal. and then thought…i am an artist no matter what anyone else says. and i’m curious to know what my new album is going to sound like regardless if anyone else wants to listen to it – including record companies and money makers. in the end, they are not the reason why i stay up late at night in the dark writing my songs. i do it because i love it.
on my plan ride home, i found the soldier in me. i started mapping out a production schedule for the album and blocking out 4 hours everyday to work in the studio. it’s my goal to get this next one done by mid december and then take a long sabbatical in india. i’m happy to report that after my 2nd day, i finished tracking the intro to the album. being an artist who trains like a soldier – i find it sexy. you’re going to hear that in my new songs. get the book. it may turn you into a sexpot too…
setbacks are a normal part of life. this we are all too familiar with. and of course we also know there are times when it feels like a gentle breeze that could flip up your skirt if you’re not careful – playful and inspiring giggles. other times, it can be so forceful that you feel flattened. unable to breathe or believe you will recover as the same person.
i was flattened last night. somehow it seems that when i take four steps forward getting closer and closer to my dream, all of a sudden, the hand comes slamming down only to leave me shocked and spilled all over the floor.
the irony of course is that music is my life line even when it feels like i am denied access to the world i love so much. clinging to my collection of songs, i’ve been letting the hundreds of artists i admire move me all day today. these men and women have surrendered to their craft in ways that i have yet to learn. i am still enslaved by my desires of freedom to be an artist.
the song carrying me now is peter gabriel’s remake of a punk rock song called, "the book of love." i am hoping that some rejuvenation comes soon.
Today, during rush hour in Mumbai, 7 bomb blasts ripped through the train system killing 135 people. Thankfully I’ve heard from all but one of my friends in Mumbai and they are safe, but sad and mad. I pray that the last friend is sleeping and hasn’t heard his phone.
I received one message saying that people are giving food and shelter to those stranded on the streets without a way to go home. The capacity for compassion and generousity is inspiring.
Please say a little prayer for those suffering.