In October 2017, the Akshara Music Ensemble introduced to the world music scene their innovative and meticulously crafted debut album In Time, a project that was five years in the making. Five songs, all instrumentals, make up this album. The single “Mohana Blues” won the “Best World Traditional Song” award at the 13th Annual Independent Music Awards. The ensemble’s music is dynamic and diverse. Classical Carnatic (South Indian) ragas and talas, a South Indian music scale (ragas) whose meter is measured by any rhythmic beat or strike (talas) fuel the instrumentation. Jazz improvisation, world music, and modern composition coupled with traditional Indian and western instruments like the violin and cello make up the music.
All seven musicians are extraordinarily gifted in their instrument of choice and they have received honors by publications like the New York Times. They have performed with renowned Carnatic musicians like Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, have studied at prestigious universities like Harvard University and the Julliard School; they have performed in venues including Carnegie Hall, and the list goes on. In short, they are an impressive group of musicians who deserve the high praises they’ve received and much more to come.
Their album begins with “Mind the Gap,” a rhythmically tantalising, lively, and inspirational musical piece. It is followed by “Mohana Blues,” the single that won the “Best World Traditional Song” award. When you listen to the song, it is evident why it won that award. It has elements of traditional Korean instrumentation that’s reminiscent of the haegeum, a Korean fiddle. It is also soothing and has many rhythmic variations that keep you guessing and anticipating the next surprise. Furthermore, it has vocals that one could describe as an Indian version of scatting. Next, is “Opus in 5,” a piece that has a beautiful melodious opening and distinct impressions of each instrument throughout the recording. Each musician gets to showcase the mastery of his instrument clearly. Click here to watch a live performance of it on YouTube. It is a fun piece to watch when performed on stage.
“Shadjam” and “Urban Kriti” are the last two songs on the album. They are similar in style, and both are inspiring to a belly dancer. “Shadjam” appeals more to the sultry belly dancer whilst the percussion in “Urban Kriti” is a choice for a drum solo belly dance. Although the songs are similar, they also have distinct qualities. The differences in them lie in the imagery and associations they evoke. “Urban Kriti” evokes an image of an adventurer on a desert exploit while “Shadjam” has similar vocals to “Mohana Blues,” the Indian scats.
Overall, the melange of eastern and western instrumentation in the album creates a unique sound that stimulates the ear and is delightful to hear. It is clear that the musicians took great care in composing each masterpiece and they should be proud of their work. Click here to have a listen to “Mohana Blues” and get a taste of what’s in store for you on the album.