Vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy’s new album merges prose with genre-bending music

In Ganavya Doraiswamy’s debut album, Aikyam: Onnu, there’s a track called ‘Black, Brown, Beige (Are the Colors)’. The track—in Tamil and English—uses Tamil poet, writer and activist, Subramania Bharathi’s iconic composition, ‘Parukkulle Nalla Naadu Yengul Bharata Naadu (Our Bharat is the best in the Universe)’, as the central motif to weave over and within it powerful poetry that becomes a metaphor for the idea of colour: of skin, of identity, of love and of oneness.

The release concert for Aikyam: Onnu at Rubin Museum

The music itself becomes a reflection of the idea of multiple identities and of how they all inhabit within a self. Responding to my question on how the many selves in her live and feed off each other, she says, “I suppose they live in harmony the same way I try to be in harmony with my classmate who thinks that Trump isn’t that different from Obama as a President or my Chithappa (uncle in Tamil) who thinks the only reason I think critically of Indian politics is because I have an American passport. My many selves keep trying to talk to each other; they are trying to listen to each other.”

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Currently pursuing a PhD at Harvard’s newly developed creative practice and critical inquiry programme, Doraiswamy’s music is a fascinating intersection of voice and verse; of form and technique, of genres and a sense of grounding. Across the 12 tracks that comprise Aikyam: Onnu ( Aikyam in Sanskrit literally means oneness, sameness, unity, unanimity and harmony), Doraiswamy, who has roots in south India, displays command and both range and depth of character in artistic expression.

She brings to the album years of her training in South Indian classical music combined with her nuanced anchoring in contemporary jazz. “Henry Threadgill, the American composer, saxophonist and flautist, speaks about following your sacred. I think that’s all there is,” says Doraiswamy. “What we produce, should, in a way, reveal something that was sacred to us at that time… Ultimately it’s a game of finding harmonious co-being; between different musical ways, between just intonation and equal temperament. Aikyam was built on the pursuit of aikyam.”

Photographs: Nick Caiazza, Adrien H Tillmann (concert for Aikyam: Onnu)

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