As the Sikh community in India and around the world gets ready to celebrate Baisakhi: The Harvest festival of Punjab, India on April 14th, I would love to introduce my new album Navaratna.
Baisakhi is celebrated as a New Year in Punjab, India with much gusto and ferver. People celebrate Baisakhi by dancing the traditional folk dances called Giddha and Bhangra. Sikhs pay a visit to the Gurudwara (house of God) where Langar, a community lunch is served by volunteers to thousands of people. Baisakhi also holds significance for the Buddhist community as Buddhists believe that Gautam Buddha attained Enlightenment at Bodhgaya on this day.
My album Navaratna (a Sanskrit word for nine precious gems) is conceptualized and sung by me to showcase and salute the secular and festive spirit of India. It is executive produced by multi-Grammy and Academy Award winner A. R. Rahman. The music is produced by Ranjit Barot.
India has embraced various cultures and religions from all over the world. For centuries, India has celebrated cultural diversity and continues to inspire the world to live harmoniously and peacefully. India truly personifies the Sanskrit phrase "Vasudeva Kutumbakam", meaning "The world is one family."
The album Navaratna consists of nine songs based on thousands of year's old Indian classical raagas (melodies) and showcases nine major festivals of India from various regions and religions that have coexisted in India for centuries including Eid, Christmas and Baisakhi. The musical arrangement of the album reflects the very essence of these regions of India. As human beings, despite our differences in race, color, gender and religious beliefs, there is more that unites us than divides us. We laugh and cry for similar reasons. It is an album of celebration of unity in diversity since music is a such powerful unifier.
I had been thinking about making this album for a few years. There is so much suffering and pain in the world and a lot of it is due to ignorance, lack of understanding and lack of patience. I wanted music to be the messenger of peace and unity and wanted to make an impact thus the idea of Navaratna was born. I wanted to keep the spirit of the album festive and celebratory as happiness is contagious. Therefore I chose the raagas (melodies) that are vibrant and cheerful. The album presents the songs based on Indian classical raagas with an overlay of Western orchestration thus giving the songs a more contemporary flavor so it can appeal to a wider audience as well as younger people.
The album Navaratna is a result of two years of intense and passionate labor and research. An incredible team of Indian and international musicians, mixing and mastering engineers have collaborated on this album. Western orchestration was done in London and Macedonia under the able guidance of Andrew T. McKay. The album was mastered by Tom Coyne of Sterling Sound Studios in New York.
One very interesting anecdote I would like to share about collaborating with various artists. One of these incredible artists is Grammy award-winning violinist and a fellow Huffington Post blogger and most importantly my very dear friend Miri Ben-Ari. During the melody selection stages of the album I happened to share one melody with Miri and she surprised me by saying "Is this melody from Punjab?" She grew up in Israel listening to a lot of Middle Eastern melodies. Although she did not understand the lyrics or Indian classical music system, the song had touched her. A lot of Middle Eastern melodies have traces of raag Bhairavi and similarly a lot of folk songs from Punjab are also based on raag Bhairavi. And indeed the song that I had played for her was based on raag Bhairavi and it was for Baisakhi: "the harvest festival of Punjab." Thus Miri has played beautiful violin in the Baisakhi song!
I launched the album on February 27th, 2015 at the Carnegie Hall in New York at a sold out concert and in the presence of Mr A. R. Rahman himself along with many dignitaries from the music and media world. Navaratna was released worldwide on iTunes, Amazon and many other channels on March 5th, 2015 on another Indian festival day: Holi. I also launched a video for the Holi song on March 5th which has gone viral on Sony Music's Youtube channel with 130,000 views ! Within the first week of its release Navaratna was number one best-seller on Amazon.com in the Asian subcontinent. It's gaining ground in the U.S. and around the world as we speak and I am humbled by the love and outpouring of support I have received from the far corners of the world. My sincere hope is that Navaratna will continue to connect with people around the globe and will continue to inspire me to carry on my work in the world of music.
Please enjoy the Baisakhi song with this blog and send me your feedback.