A fused music

Perfect for a Diwali mood, I’m listening to the live broadcast of the Ragas Live Festival, a 24-hour cycle of ragas and raga-inspired world music at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, 8pm 10/22 until 8pm 10/23. Listening in on WKCR is an annual tradition for me.

A transcendent night, just begun. Already at 9pm, a pair of musicians performed a set on the kora and the tabla, blending West African and classical Indian traditions. Roshni Samlal and Kane Mathis talked a little bit about the proliferation of organic collaborations like this, in which practitioners of different musical traditions truly learn from each other and find places of overlap in the traditions themselves that can be cultivated. Of course, being in NYC and awash in cultural opportunities is helpful to this process of true world-music making.

Saraswathi Ranganathan on veena opened the festival, and she explained one of the pieces she played was specifically designed to alleviate depression. She spoke briefly after the set about the science underlying the music, which certainly tempted me to learn more.

Of course, it makes sense that music elevates mood, but I hadn’t thought that scientific process was a thread of the tradition in music. But of course it is. Music is exacting, well-tested, and powerfully potent.

“Our age pesters us with the illusion that we have realized a great deal. The agitation serves chiefly to obscure what we have forgotten, into whose limbo poetry itself at times seems about to pass.”

W.S. Merwin

Of course I’m going to write a poem about this. Ekphrastic poetry, usually thought of as poetry inspired by visual art, can be made of music. And I think Merwin’s reflection on the know-it-all attitude of the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, too, makes very clear the need for poetry writing as a revelatory activity. When we don’t even know that we’ve forgotten things, we are generally in pretty big trouble. Here’s Merwin reciting his poem “Rain Light” amid the greenery of his palm tree conservatory on Maui, to remind us.

On Diwali, we observe the triumph of light over darkness, the vanquishing of ego by the rightful leading elements of the human spirit. In my creative writing classes, I termed this “self vs Self.” It can sometimes be as combative as that sounds, but often it just comes in the form of questioning, honoring, observing. I’ll write more about that in my next post. In the meantime, please go catch the last half of Ragas Live on YouTube or WKCR online.

Look at this amazing darkness around.


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