There is a divine time for everything. There is a divine space for everything. And we have to let the larger forces bring the right time and right space to us, setting down the range of emotions while we wait.
After 30 years as a dance student, I’m now finally going to be a dance teacher. In order to do so, I had to be willing to leave some to find others. Even in that, there are lessons from a teacher to one entering teaching.
There is also exhilaration. I will finally get to share all this knowledge that has and continues to make its way to me. I am grateful for those students who come before me. I promise to honor the sanctity of you entrusting your search for Art to me.
To prepare, I am listening, and watching, and reading and practicing. I’m remembering all the creative forces who’ve I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage with or ponder Art with over a glass of wine late at night somewhere deep in the night in Los Angeles and London. All of you. I will be calling you. All the ideas I’ve stored up while having babies are rising to the top and I will be forced to unleash them on you. Let’s plan to meet once again in dark studios and cold garages.
Though I did not ask for it, dance has always been my bliss. With humility, I am finally accepting the gift. Thank you. Just thank you.
Not so long ago, a friend of mine asked me if I still “do” music. I get asked this question a lot these days because it used to be – before the kids – that me and my music were very public. We were all about shouting from every street corner and dark, sweat-drenched stage just how much we loved to play and sing music. And then I decided to become a mother and in more ways than I can explain, everything I knew about life and truth changed. And so did my music. And so did my expression of it.
Suddenly, without warning, me and music retreated and became very quiet. Reflective, almost. As if we had to have a very long, meditative conversation about what actually mattered. I mean, what was the point of singing from every rooftop if in the end…? First we fought about not having enough time for each other. Then we got silent and hardly spoke. And then slowly we started toying with the idea of bringing each other back around for another, more mature go. And finally, we decided that maybe we could find a new way to co-exist. I’m sure that dance seems very familiar to most.
When you become a mother, you have to steal moments for yourself and any relationship that does not involve your children. I mean, stealth-like deftness to grab 5 minutes to be a selfish adult. The only day you get a by to be as selfish as you want to do whatever you want is on Mother’s Day (followed closely by your birthday). And so this Mother’s Day, I decided to have a date with my sarode. And we decided to take a masterclass with Pandit Rajeev Taranath.
Imagine getting schooled and blessed by an 82 1/2 year old Maestro just feet away from you. Now imagine that after you apologized for not having memorized a 5-page composition of the 50 you’ve been taught over the years, you got him to say “bravo” (or in this case “Kya Baat Hai!”) to your teacher for some small thing you did on your instrument. A Maestro’s praise is hard-earned and something a musician takes with her forever, even if all that rings in her ears are the mistakes she made in class because after 12 years on the instrument she still considers herself a beginner. And after the class was over and after the other students shook your hand and introduced themselves to you but in a way that makes you feel like you managed to do something right with your instrument, imagine you went to sit beside the Maestro to shyly thank him for his time and teaching.
And then the most remarkable moment of all. He speaks to you in your mother tongue and empathizes with your plight of being a South Indian playing North Indian music, because he too is a South Indian playing North Indian music, and tells you in the kindest, most grandfatherly way, that if you practice, it is all in your reach. And you’re not necessarily sure if he’s talking about the sarode anymore or music for that matter. Maybe he’s talking about life in general because by the time you’ve walked 82 1/2 years on this planet, maybe you think everything is connected and playing the sarode is one and the same as playing life.
As I sat there in front of him, listening him speak Tamil to me, I made myself hold back my tears. What would this funny, sharp, strong man do with tears from a strange(r) student? I knew when I listened to him speak that something much larger was happening for me than just a master class with a Maestro. I had the glorious experience, on Mother’s Day, to have selfishness be a life-long gift.
Nearly 6 months ago, I reached out to reconnect with my friends and music supporters. It had been years. I explained that motherhood had taken me on an internal journey, as it typically does. Even then, while quietly focusing on family, it seemed I was also quietly evolving and growing. The music as much as me.
In response to my email, a good friend named Gunjan relayed to me her own journey of the arts and creativity to where she wanted to being hosting house concerts in her own home. With such warmth and generosity, she invited me and my sarode teacher, David Trasoff (my sarode teacher of 12 years), to perform. I was blessed to be accompanied by Kabir Jhita, a fantastically talented and gracious tabla player. We did a simple live recording of the two pieces I performed sarode in Misra Jhinjhoti. Listening link below the pic. I hope you enjoy listening.
After we finished and David performed his pieces, Samiyah and I stole a few moments to sing a few songs. My baby’s debut performance and we sang Jiya Dhadak Dhadak (originally sang by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan) together. Our little lullaby. Obviously, she stole the show! Video coming soon of our ditty…
Spring is nearly here. I’ve been busy. Birthed our baby boy on December 30. He came a month early. With his arrival came the departure of a phase of life. A hibernation of sorts. A tremendously creative time as well. Literally using my body and energy to build beings from nothing.
Now that they are here, I’m taking time to reclaim my body and refocus my creative energy on art outside of myself. Manifesting music. Manifesting dance. Manifesting writings.
It is a light at the end of the tunnel. In a way, my rebirth.
It’s not that I knew him personally but the emotion that is overwhelming me after hearing of his death is visceral. Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away yesterday and although he leaves behind a legacy and treasure of recorded music, his soul leaving this plane has surely left a hole in all of our hearts.
Panditji studied with my guru’s guru, Ali Akbar Khan, under Allauddin Khan. When my guru, David Trasoff, tells me stories of the old days of their studies, I’m taken back to 1940s India. I picture them young and joyful, completely immersed in ragas and God’s movement within them. I’m taken back to a time when the Guru-Shishya Parampara was still intricately linked to a spiritual mentorship. A purity of humble study and total focus. A lost art and one conceivably unattainable in American life. Who is willing to sacrifice in such ways? Which teacher? Which student? Perhaps the parampara in today’s time has to be much more subtle and inferred.
When Khan Sahib passed away in 2009, I saw a new side of David. A softer, more emotional side. As if with Khan Sahib’s passing, David connected to the larger meaning of having studied under a maestro, not just about the music, but about all the life lessons he imparted – some with direct intention and others with casual reference. Certainly I watched David mourn the loss of a tremendous father-figure in his life and as he teaches me today, I have seen his teachings transform from chasing my fingers on a sarod to holding the space open for me to let music overwhelm my heart and soul so that my fingers can follow.
This is what I think of when I think of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and their legacies. The technical skill is but a part of what they leave behind. It’s their never-ending love and joy for music, their commitment to their craft, their understanding that classical art is but an expression of prayer and submission to something much larger than ourselves; that is the inspiration I carry with me.
Motherhood has greatly interrupted my lifelong conversation with music. There are days that I get discouraged and miss those lost, languid hours caressing ragas. I concede that I was never willing to forsake all else for classicism – motherhood staked its claim much stronger than music. But with the passing of Ravi Shankar Ji comes the remembrance that in this meditation of Life, there is always time to come back to your instrument, re-introduce yourself, offer a humble apology for the lost time and surrender to the next Raag.
today i found out i lost the most influential vocal teachers of my life. i remember hours and hours spent running scales at his piano and him pushing me to learn breath control and courage and empathy when singing. he taught me how to share the most intimate experiences with my audiences. he was not gentle in his methods but he was terribly loving. he pushed me like no other because he believed in what i had to offer. week after week at the lush lounge in san francisco, he challenged me to sing my folk songs to a room full of show tune lovers. and somehow, one day, it all clicked and i had those men singing my songs with me. i will never forget the day he point blank told me, “shaheen, housewives and secretaries don’t get record deals. get your shit together!” he was right. in that moment, i vowed to get my shit together. i got my record deal in 2005 and lived a life i only dreamed of as a kid. RIP Richard Nickol. you gave me my voice, in every way. your work and your life has changed me forever and you will be terribly missed.
I was in the studio the other day. Practicing. The muse met me. And we sang together. Red light on and recording began. A rough cut, but a beginning of a journey into music based solely on heart guided inspiration. Thank you for listening.
Thank you to my dear friend, Vikas Bhushan, for letting me know the bands that Discovr (a new iPhone app) says I sound like. Know any of these bands?
Okay. I am infatuated with my daughter. But now that her year birthday is approaching (can’t believe it!), I’m beginning to imagine myself back in the swing of a new normal again.
Yesterday, I got word that an indie publishing company that I have been wanting to work with based here in Santa Monica accepted me as a new artist. People. I prayed. I prayed hard. That I get this deal so that it motivated me to get back to my music.
Being a mom leaves very little time to practice and perform. I have to fight for every spare moment. So when she’s asleep, and I’m completely spent from another day of being a working mom, stealing a couple hours at night in my home studio is at first so hard and then slowly becomes blissful. Creative time, writing and recording new music. Getting aggravated because vocals won’t lay down just right. Hoping poetry flows through me. Remembering the War of Art and Stephen King’s book On Writing – you have to show up. Every day. Or else the muse won’t know when and where to find you. But if you show up. Every day. She will be right there nudging you along.
This isn’t easy. I have many things I want to accomplish, including being a mother once again. But as I once told my lawyer, no one ever told me being a professional musician would be easy. In fact, anything worth doing requires consistency and discipline.
This to me is the true struggle of a life worth remembering – showing up. Every day. Present to everything that moves and inspires you, even when it seems impossible, even when it feels like no one is listening. Especially when your mind tells you to get scared, to run the other way, to give up.
This new deal has given me just the nudge I needed to get my ass back in my studio every night after Mia is asleep. Relearning how to show up every day for my music. When I look at my life down the line, I want my daughter to know that being a professional musician is well within the realm of possibility. I can only do that by showing her how to show up. Everyday.
It’s great fortune. Clearly someone is nudging me along as I make my way back to the studio, doubting my ability to ramp up for the giant undertaking of crafting another album. SoulAvenue and I landed another track on Buddha Bar XIII. It’s called One By One. Hope you’re able to check it out and enjoy our contribution to the chillout/lounge world.