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News |  18 Aug 2022 16:52 |  By RnMTeam

Berklee Indian Ensemble Releases Debut Album 'Shuruaat', Featuring Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, Vijay Prakash and Shreya Ghoshal

MUMBAI: Today, the celebrated global Indian music collective Berklee Indian Ensemble announced the release of their highly anticipated debut album 'Shuruaat' which marks the Ensemble's first decade together. The innovative, multicultural Ensemble has earned acclaim for its' unique style that honors Indian traditions while boldly experimenting with a cross pollination of genres, cultures, and multidisciplinary art forms. After enthralling millions of fans through live performances and viral YouTube content, this is the first time that audiences will be able to enjoy the Ensemble's music via streaming services worldwide.

The 10-track stand-out compilation features an impressive total of 98 prolific musicians from 39 countries, and also highlights the pinnacle of Indian artistry, including Grammy-winning tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, virtuosic composer-singer Shankar Mahadevan, Oscar and Grammy winning Kannada vocalist Vijay Prakash and one of Bollywood's finest playback singers Shreya Ghoshal. Every track is nuanced with the Ensemble's diverse musical influences including jazz, progressive rock, Indian classical, Sufi and Middle Eastern flavors.

In addition to the much-admired Indian musicians, alumni and students from Berklee College of Music, 'Shuruaat' boasts collaborations with contemporary-classical duo, Shadow and Light, and features two Shakti tributes, as well as four original compositions.

Berklee Indian Ensemble Founder/Director Annette Philip notes, "'Shuruaat' (meaning new beginning in Hindi) showcases our journey thus far and the one we're about to embark on. Our audience has been begging for this music to be available on streaming platforms for a decade. It is fitting that our debut album gives a glimpse into the global family of musicians who've been exceptional the thpart of the Ensemble since 2011, alongside historic collaborations with many of our musical heroes. The 10 tracks on "Shuruaat" showcase the depth and breadth of our 10-year journey with original music, tributes to 'Shakti' and 'Remember Shakti,' as well as signature Berklee Indian Ensemble reinterpretations of Indian film music."

Reflecting further on how the concept of unity and open mindedness plays a pivotal role in the origin of the album Annette expands, "There is a unique power when musicians from different cultural or musical backgrounds make art together in a space that celebrates their similarities and differences. The music that gets created in this vulnerable space comes across viscerally, and allows a song in a foreign language to feel completely relatable because of the human connection. It changes from 'their story' to 'our story'. Bridge building has always been at the heart of the Ensemble's intent, prioritizing the people who create this music, regardless of genre or form. And 'Shuruaat' mirrors this intent."

Iconic Bollywood playback singer Shreya Ghoshal shares, "I have so many memories of my Berklee residency! Just visiting Berklee is a life changing experience for any musician; for anybody who loves music. We performed so many songs together, but we had such a blast with "Sundari Pennae" that we decided to record and share it with everyone who missed the live concert. The composer, D. Imman, loved the new arrangement, too! I remember it was the only song of the concert in 5/8! Those fives gave me nightmares, but the song was so beautifully rearranged. I felt so honored and happy that these wonderful Berklee Indian Ensemble musicians were playing and acknowledging this song of mine. And the nuances you brought were never about showing the skills you have; rather it was always about the soul and love you all put in these songs. I hope I am back in Boston someday soon, to do many such sessions, and spend more time with you. I miss you all!"

Grammy winning vocalist and composer, Vijay Prakash reminisces, "It was in the year 2015, I had the opportunity to be at the Berklee College of Music and collaborate with the Berklee Indian Ensemble. I was amazed to see the kind of talent coming together from over 42 countries, all playing Indian music. The ability to keep the aesthetics of Indian music intact, yet create music that is so international, so contemporary makes the Berklee Indian Ensemble very unique and very interesting."

Vijay Prakash goes on to share, "I'm very excited that Berklee Indian Ensemble is coming out with their brand new album; it's a time to celebrate for all music lovers! It features some of the greatest artists of our time, and I feel honored that I'm a part of this wonderful album by the Berklee Indian Ensemble. Two tracks that I've worked on for "Shuruaat" are so different from each other. Sashank Navaladi's composition, Arz-e-Niyaz, was a very divine experience to sing on. I remember recording it at the Berklee studio facilities in Boston. He's such a wonderful musician, and we had a great time working on this. The second track Sati, has also been brilliantly produced by the BIE musicians. I want to congratulate my friend and incredible musician, Annette Philip, for keeping the Berklee Indian Ensemble family together and sharing Indian music with the world through this Ensemble. Once again congratulations to BIE and my best wishes for all their future endeavors."

Virtuosic improviser and composer Shankar Mahadevan states, "I'm so happy that a collaboration I did with the Berklee Indian Ensemble is releasing as part of their debut album. The song "5 Peace Band" was composed by our legendary John McLaughlin Ji, and I got a chance to sing this particular piece with a set of amazing musicians from Berklee. I thank Annette Philip, Rohith Jayaraman, and the entire team for giving me this opportunity. God bless them, and all the very best for their beautiful music releasing soon!"

Shadow And Light pianist and producer Anindo Bose says, "It was always a dream for us, as a duo, to collaborate with a big ensemble for our music. Finally this 'dua' has been answered!"

The band's vocalist Pavithra Chari agrees, "Yes, 'Dua' gained a new perspective in this collaboration. When so many people who love and admire a song come together to re-interpret it, it's nothing short of magic!"

'Shuruaat' truly serves as a new beginning for the Berklee Indian Ensemble, that has been churning out soulful original music, and dexterous jazz-informed renditions of India's biggest hits, while honing their craft, and cultivating an engaged fanbase for more than a decade now. The multi-lingual tracks on this groundbreaking album glow with the transcendence of genres, cultures, and art forms.


1. 'Unnai Kaanadhu Naan' is one of the Ensemble's most popular live videos to date, producing over 5 million YouTube views for its rearrangement of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's original composition. Tabla bols feature heavily in this song that was choreographed for the movie Vishwaroopam by Pandit Birju Maharaj, late Kathak master, featuring the versatile Kamal Hassan, who is known for his extraordinary grace as a dancer. The Berklee Indian Ensemble, while honoring the original Tamil classic, takes the song to a different realm with an emotive swell of back-and-forth interplay between Berklee violinist Layth Sidiq of Jordanian and Iraqi heritage, and buzouki player Yoel Genin from Israel.

2. 'Sundari Pennae' is a grunge-inspired take on a Tamil film song foregrounding Shreya Ghoshal's crystalline vocals. Recorded during Ghoshal's artist residency at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the track sees a fusion of progressive rock, konnakol, and jazz over intricate Indian classical rhythms. On 'Sundari Pennae', Ghoshal (who sung the original version for composer D. Imman's soundtrack to 2014 Tamil film Oru Oorla Rendu Raja) is seen deconstructing and experimenting alongwith the 11 member-strong Berklee Indian Ensemble in her bespoke transformative style, while Berklee vocalist-percussionist, Rohith Jayaraman recites intricate Konnakol rhythms. It is the only song on the album in five, and till date, is the most collaboratively re-arranged cover the Ensemble has ever produced.

3. 'Lady L' features Grammy-winning tabla master, Ustad Zakir Hussain, and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the iconic indo-jazz fusion group, Shakti, that originally released this song in the 1970s. The Berklee rendition came about when Ustad Zakir Hussain was awarded an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music and collaborated on this iconic piece with the Ensemble. The track represents the stylistic mission behind 'Shuruaat', which pays tribute to Indian traditions while transforming the songs with a variety of multicultural rhythms and nuances. The Ensemble's version was arranged by Berklee Iranian pianist, Amir Darabi, and produced by Israeli cellist, Emanuel Keller. Founder, Annette Philip shares, "Lady L's" soulful melody piqued our curiosity, and in true Berklee Indian Ensemble style, our featured musicians from Israel, Iran, Brazil, India, Poland, Australia, and Norway, each brought their unique influences to the table. Having Zakir Ji himself play with us on this Shakti tribute and BIE reinterpretation was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; simultaneously awe-inspiring and nerve-wracking."

4. 'Arz-e-Niyaz' is an original Berklee Indian Ensemble song, composed by Berklee composer, sarod player, and vocalist, Sashank Navaladi from New Delhi who drew heavily from Sufi and Hindustani classical music for this track. Featuring the Grammy award-winning virtuosic Indian vocalist, Vijay Prakash, 'Arz-e-Niyaz' was notable for many reasons. This song marked the first time a renowned artist performed on an original Ensemble composition; while the lyrics were inspired by a poem written by the preeminent Urdu and Persian Sufi poet of the 19th century, Mirza Ghalib. Written in the form of eight couplets, 'arz-e-niyz-e-ishq' literally translates to the 'supplication for the blessings of love.' Ghalib reflects on the days when the heart was more engulfed in the humility of passion and considered himself a more worthy offering to the beloved. The Ensemble's video features Kathak dancer, Meera Seshadri, along with Arabic calligrapher, Parham Haghighi, from Iran, and is the first Sufi inspired original to have evolved in the group.

5. 'Pinha' is a Berklee Indian Ensemble original written by Berklee composer and vocalist, Dhruv Goel, from Lucknow with vocal arrangements by Annette Philip. Based on a ghazal written by renowned poet, late Fatima Wasia Jaisi, the Urdu lyrics are very poignant. It celebrates the victory of the human spirit over adverse conditions that arise due to prejudices against gender, religion, and ethnicity. Born in a conservative family in Lucknow, India, Fatima Wasia Jaisi grew up at a time in India when women were not usually educated. Her husband noticed how much she loved poetry even though she couldn't yet read or write and encouraged her to learn! Fatima began formal education in her 30s. She went on to get a PhD and ultimately, become one of the literary giants of her time, paving the way for other women to pursue careers in the arts. The word 'pinha' means 'hidden within' and reminds us that our inherent gifts may not always be immediately apparent.

6. '5 Peace Band' is a Berklee Indian Ensemble nod to their musical heroes from Shakti. This Berklee tribute features renowned Indian composer and vocalist, Shankar Mahadevan. Written by the legendary guitarist, John McLaughlin, '5 Peace Band' was first performed by 'Remember Shakti', the reformation of 1970s indo-jazz fusion group, 'Shakti'. Led by John McLaughlin (guitar) and Zakir Hussain (tabla), 'Remember Shakti' included U. Shrinivas (mandolin), Shankar Mahadevan (vocals), and V. Selvaganesh (kanjira, ghatam, mridangam). Several Berklee Indian Ensemble members consider themselves Shakti fanatics, and had 'quoted' an astounding vocal improvisation originally sung live by Shankar Mahadevan, which band members, vocalist Rohith Jayaraman (USA/India), guitarist Aleif Hamdan (Malaysia), bassist Guy Bernfeld and drummer Yogev Gabay (both from Israel) arranged for the Ensemble. Shankar Mahadevan was floored when he heard the band play this piece and decided he would only do a short percussion solo at the end, because he didn't want to mess with the Ensemble's intricate arrangement! The song is extremely high energy; it was recorded live around 8 AM on a weekday!

7. 'Dua' is a track the Berklee Indian Ensemble had the honor of collaborating on with the incredible duo from India: Shadow and Light. Arranger and producer Anindo Bose and vocalist and lyricist Pavithra Chari make up this contemporary classical duo that 'Rolling Stone India' deemed "the new faces of fusion music" in their April 2018 issue. With three studio albums of original music released to critical acclaim, the duo have toured extensively across India, Sri Lanka, and the United States. "Dua" is a song from Shadow and Light's second album 'Elements.' Written about the never ending cycle of desire that pervades human existence, "Dua" may be summed up in a single question: do we ever stop asking for more? The Berklee reinterpretation infused new piano interludes by Israeli pianist, Yotam Ishay, as well as a mammoth choral arrangement for the song, in signature style by Founder/Director, Annette Philip.

8. 'Aakash' is a Berklee Indian Ensemble original written by Berklee vocalist, bassist and composer, Sharon Renold, from Switzerland. The song is uplifting and energetic, mostly sung using scat syllables chosen by Renold, and features a multi-layered vocally dense bridge arranged by Founder/Director, Annette Philip. 'Aakash' meaning 'sky' is a song of hope and resilience. Life occurs in cycles. Everything on our planet goes through experiences of destruction and rebirth, continuously. Just as nature adapts to cycles and phases, and even calamities befall it, we too learn from every disaster that wreaks havoc on our lives, allowing us to weather through the next storm more calmly than before. 'Aakash' reminds us: We will rise looking toward the sky! Just as dusk welcomes the dawn; and winter its spring, we will rise and rebuild.

9. 'Jaago Piya' is a Berklee Indian Ensemble original written by the Ensemble's first Bangladeshi member, Armeen Musa, with Founder/Director, Annette Philip. The Bengali lyrics were penned by Armeen's mother, Dr. Nashid Kamal, and the ballad showcases the Ensemble's obsession with lush choral elements. 'Jaago Piya' is a gentle, loving reminder to stay present, in the moment, to always be hopeful, and live a life filled with gratitude. The song is a collaboration of soundscapes; the melody has a semi classical Indian flavour, with vocal harmony that is rarely used in such a tune. The song being in Bangla, inspired the ensemble to use Bengali colours and clothes for the visual to showcase a bit of Bengali culture. The primary theme incorporated the gamcha (local checked cloth used as a towel) as clothing, scarves, hair pieces inspired by Bangladeshi fashion designer Bibi Russel, who brought the gamcha to the international fashion industry. Released on Bengali New Year, a truly colorful occasion with parades, daylong musical concerts and festivals held in every home both in Bangladesh and West Bengal, the Ensemble's video was intended to capture that beautiful spirit with its own diversity and colours.