Indian music continues to impact Western audiences even as the influences of modern musical genres come to affect Indian sounds. The Karmeleons, a group that consists of DJ Nasha (who spins house music) U. Rajesh (an Indian classical mandolinist) and Greg Ellis (the drummer/percussionist from Juno Reactor). They were joined by Meetu Chilana, a vocalist who has worked with Cirque du Soleil for a set at Cielo, a club in New York, as the first event presented by Maharishi.
The group bridged the realms of Indian classical music and electronic house with their cohesive, uninterrupted set. The band performed for at least 45 minutes before giving DJ Nasha some time to spin and the other musicians some time to relax before they rejoined him once more. Ellis’s palms must have been raw from the constant rhythms he was producing but he looked blissfully engaged so it likely didn’t matter. DJ Nasha had on some crazy spectacles that rustled up images of Dr. Magoo combined with steampunk and, as he spun in the DJ booth, he swayed and cheered on the rest of the group. U Rajesh, brother to U. Srinivas also a classical mandolinist, worked his double necked instrument with such precision and clarity that he made clear his classical musicianship could apply to the electronic dance realm. Finally, Chilana likely raised some hairs at time with her theatrical cackles, but more often than not she was adding her strong voice to the already strong dance music lending it a bit of humanity. It didn’t hurt that the band chose to make their debut at Cielo, as the little club has a dazzling sound system.
Then, a couple of days later, the documentary One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das by Jeremy Frindel screened uptown at Lincoln Center, selling out its one screening with a question and answer session with the director and the film’s primary subject, Krishna Das following. The 65-year-old musician has given Western audiences a taste of kirtan-style music, a type of Indian devotional song which includes repeated chanting of the names of god, for almost 20 years. I didn’t see the film so I can’t speak about that, but I noticed that KD, as he is affectionately called, is beloved by his fans. He can count upon his devotees to turn out in droves for his transcendental chant concerts, based in Hindu tradition but with a Western dimension. The director Frindel could be counted amongst them—he joked about delaying completion of the film so he could accompany KD on tour for longer to gather material. KD himself became a devotee of the guru Maharaj-ji when on an self-exploration trip to India in the ‘70s and he spoke of the challenges he faced struggling with his inner demons before coming to finally turning to music, eventually becoming the spiritual individual he is today.
Though Karmeleons and Krishna Das would probably not play together at the same event, they both expand the scope of Indian music to stir emotions. The former grabs you with its Indian rhythms propelled through electronics while the latter stirs the soul with Western chords backing Hindu devotional vocals.
Karmeleons live set at Cielo:
One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das Q&A at Lincoln Center:
Director: Jeremy Frindel
Stream a few tracks from Karmeleons here: