Jai Uttal : the Enchanter

Until a few days ago if someone told me there was this singer called Jai Uttal, I would have shrugged it off. But today I am enchanted by this american man whose voice has enthralled me during the past few days.

I have listened to many of these american singers and preachers who have devoted most of their lives singing Hindu hymns and chants and have made a name for themselves in this special branch of hindustani classical music popularly known as bhajan, kirtan (or keertan) or chant as it is popularly known worldwide.

Krishna Das (not to be confused with Krishna Prema Das) is a well known name. Others are Bhagavan Das and Ram Dass to name a few. Some female voices are also known in India like Deva Premal and Jaya Lakshmi. Most of them are americans by birth (one of them is Irish as far as I remember) and all of them have made singing and teaching Hindu practices and Yoga as their profession. Most of them are also composing and singing ‘Yoga Music‘ (as they call it) with the recent spurt in the popularity of Yoga worldwide notwithstanding.

But Jai Uttal is a little different from the other singers I have mentioned. He is Indian to the soul. Whereas other singers still retain their ‘foreign’ (or american) accent in their singing and inadvertently sound similar to ISKCON chanters, Jai Uttal sounds perfectly Indian. In fact due to his Indian sounding name and total sub continent accent I mistook him to be an Indian. Moreover his is a ‘classically-trained-sounding’ voice.

Incidently all the above mentioned male singers including Jai Uttal are known to be the disciples of Neem Karoli Baba, a revered saintly figure belonging to Akbarpur, Firozabad a town near Agra in India.

Jai Uttal has played Motown songs in cover bands and busked for change on the streets. Both of those experiences have stood him in good stead for his musical career, which finds his music straddling the divide between world and new age.

Born in New York City in 1952, Uttal grew up in the music business – his father worked for a record label – and at the age of seven he began piano lessons. Those were followed by banjo, guitar, and harmonica as Uttal began to discover American roots music, most especially the old-time banjo picking of Appalachian musician Roscoe Holcomb.

But his true spiritual epiphany came when he was 17 and first heard Indian music, which “touched my heart like sounds of my home,” he said. “Then I got all the Indian albums I could, and jammed along on guitar with Ravi Shankar records.”

His obsession became so great that at the age of 19 he headed for the West Coast, to study sarod and voice with the legendary Ali Akbar Khan. Eighteen months after that he traveled even further – to India itself, to experience the music and the culture first-hand. Renting a house in the Bengal city of Bhopur for $15 a month, he came to know singing street musicians the Bauls of Bengal, and started playing and traveling with them.

On his return to the U.S., he became more diligent in his study of Indian music, while supporting himself by playing guitar in bands whose material ranged from Motown covers to punk to blues.

His break came in 1991 when Triloka released his debut, Footprints, which included an appearance by jazz and world music innovator Don Cherry. With his band, the Pagan Love Orchestra, Uttal continued to mine spiritual, Indian-inflected music two years later on Monkey, which hit the Top Ten on the world music charts. Uttal also found himself producing his mentor, Ali Akbar Khan, for two records, Journey and Garden of Dreams, which found the maestro working with a Western orchestra for the first time. Uttal’s next release, 1994’s Beggars and Saints was his tribute to the Bauls of Bengal, in thanks for his formative time in Bhopur.

Three years later came Shiva Station, which was mixed by innovative producer Bill Laswell. After that he concentrated on touring with his band rather than recording. A compilation of his four Triloka albums appeared as Spirit Room in July 2000, shortly before the self-released Live Kirtan and Pagan Remixes, which, along with remixes of three Pagan Love Orchestra tracks, was comprised of chanting by Uttal recorded live in a yoga studio. It was followed by another remix EP, Guru Brahma/Malkouns, which included two cuts mixed by Asian Underground star Talvin Singh.

Courtesy : Chris Nickson

Listen to Jai Uttal singing Guru Brahma in his ever enchanting voice :

I also want you to listen to this captivating song Bajrangi which he has rendered in Raga Durga (please correct me if I am wrong) :

Find more music of Jai Uttal in my new music folder at eSnips : Indian.Raga.New.Age

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Kabir Altaf : a new star on the horizon

I came to know Kabir Altaf accidently. I was searching for the present state of hindustani classical music in Pakistan on the internet and I found a few sound clips. When I first heard Kabir sing a Meera bhajan Badal Dekh Daree, I imagined him to be an old and seasoned singer of the past era. But how wrong I was.

A few days after I uploaded these sound clips on my Hindustani.Classical.Music folder at eSnips, I received a message from Kabir himself telling me how happy he was to find those clips on the internet. He is a mere 21 years of age and a student in the U.S. and he is still learning classical music. I was quite taken aback at knowing about his young age and such maturity in his voice. Only one other singer I know, has such a voice quality at an young age, who also had surprised me earlier. That is Moumita Mitra about whom I have written earlier.

Kabir Altaf was born in Karachi, Pakistan on February 3, 1986. At the age of 6, he moved with his family to the United States, where he grew up. Kabir has been learning Hindustani Classical Vocal from Ustad Hamid Hossain (based in Baltimore, Maryland) ever since he was ten years old. He has won several prizes at the Annual Indian Music and Dance Competition hosted by the Academy of Indian Music and Fine Arts and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Kabir is currently a student at The George Washington University in Washington DC, where he is majoring in Music (Western Classical Vocal) and Dramatic Literature. He hopes to have a career that revolves around the performing arts, either as a professional musician or in arts-management.

Listen to this Meera Bhajan by him which he has sung with the maturity of a seasoned artist :

gupta.agra’s Classical.Music collection at eSnips

I am fortunate enough to have collected a large number of hindustani classical music songs over a period of couple of years. I have uploaded some in my eSnips folder :

Hindustani.Classical.Music

I am no expert of classical music nor do I understand the intricacies and technicalities of such music but still I am fascinated by it.

My eSnips folder is a tribute to all those young artists who have chosen to sing this genre of music inspite of better financial and glamourous lure of playback singing in the film world. Only an absolute dedication and love for their art has prevented them from swaying to the ‘other’ side.

I have included about 100 artists, some of them are very young and relatively less known but in no way less talented.

I am also very happy to tell you all, that this eSnips folder has attained Google Page Ranking of 3 within two months. This blog too has a ranking of 4 and my other blog Indian Raga at Blogger has a Google Ranking of 2. Both these were created about the same time as my eSnips folder. This just proves that hindustani classical music is becoming more popular than ever before.

Hindustani Classical Music artists included in my eSnips folders are :

  • Adnan Sami (Piano)
  • Ajay Pohankar
  • Ajoy Chakrabarty
  • Ali Akbar Khan
  • Amelia Cuni
  • Amjad Ali Khan
  • Anita Sen
  • Anoushka Shankar
  • Anup Jalota
  • Anuradha Kuber
  • Arati Ankalikar
  • Ashiq Ali Khan
  • Ashwini Bhide
  • Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
  • Badar-uz-Zaman
  • Barkat Ali Khan
  • Begum Akhtar
  • Bhimsen Joshi
  • Bismillah Khan
  • C R Vyas
  • Chandrakantha
  • Channulal Mishra
  • Chitra Singh
  • D V Paluskar
  • Devki Pandit
  • Dilraj Kaur
  • Dilshad Khan
  • Dinkar Kaikini
  • Farida Khanum
  • Fateh Ali Khan (Patiala Gharana)
  • Firoz Dastur
  • Ganpati Bhat
  • Gauhar Jan
  • Ghulam Ali
  • Ghulam Hassan Shagan
  • Ghulam Mustafa Khan
  • Girija Devi
  • Hariprasad Chaurasia
  • Iqbal Bano
  • ITC-SRA Scholars
  • Jagdish Prasad
  • Jagjit Singh
  • Jai Uttal
  • Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe
  • Jitendra Abhisheki
  • Kabir Altaf
  • Kalapini Komkali
  • Kalpana Zokarkar
  • Kaushiki Chakrabarty
  • Khansahib Nasiruddin Saami
  • Kishori Amonkar
  • Kumar Gandharva
  • L Shankar (Violin)
  • Lakshmi Shankar
  • Latafat Hussain Khan
  • M S Subbulakshmi
  • Malini Rajurkar
  • Malavika Kanan
  • Mallikarjun Mansur
  • Mehdi Hassan
  • Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik
  • Mohammad Bakhsh
  • Moinuddin & Aminuddin Dagar
  • Moumita Mitra
  • Mubarak Ali Khan
  • Munawar Ali Khan
  • Nazakat & Salamat Ali Khan
  • Nirmalya Dey
  • Pandit Jasraj
  • Parween Sultana
  • Prabha Atre
  • Rajan & Sajan Mishra
  • Rashid Khan
  • Ratna Basu
  • Ravi Shankar
  • Rita Ganguly
  • Saleem Khan
  • Sanjeev Abhyankar
  • Satyasheel Deshpande
  • Sawani Shende
  • Shivkumar Sharma
  • Shobha Gurtu
  • Shruti Sadolikar
  • Shubha Mudgal
  • Shujaat Khan
  • Sipra Bose
  • Subha Joshi
  • Subhra Guha
  • Sultan Khan (Sarangi)
  • Taufiq Qureshi
  • Trilok Gurtu
  • Uday Bhawalkar
  • Ulhas Kashalkar
  • Vaishali K S
  • Vasundhara Komkali
  • Veena Sahasrabuddhe
  • Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
  • Zahida Parveen
  • Zakir Hussain
  • Zarina Begum
  • Zila Khan

More artists will be added soon.

While visiting my classical music folder at eSnips don’t forget to have a peek into my other music folders which have some interesting music of different genres. All the music is raga based.

Link to my Esnips profile and all my folders:

http://www.esnips.com/user/guptaagra

Enjoy!