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Category: Indie Music Page 1 of 69

Yamini Kalluri & the Carnatic Ensemble Bring Kuchipudi Dance to Western Audiences

Yamini Kalluri - all photos by J. Stoller

Yamini Kalluri – all photos by J. Stoller

For a cultural tradition in a diaspora community to not only survive but thrive, there must be dedicated artists who can not only entertain, but inspire. Acclaimed Kuchipudi dancer Yamini Kalluri is an amazing ambassador for this highly complex and nuanced art form.

Based in New York City, Kalluri began a collaboration with the Carnatic Ensemble. This trio of gifted musicians are of Tamil heritage, while Kalluri is of Telugu ancestry. This inter-generational ensemble combines two regional areas of South Indian tradition to create a mesmerizing performance that delights audiences, captivates the imagination and celebrates their Indian heritage.


Yamini Kalluri and the Carnatic Ensemble of vocalist Shaaranya Pillai, mridangam player Bala Skandan (leader of Indian percussion ensemble Akshara) and violin master Parthiv Mohan.

Kuchipudi dance comes from a village of that name in the state of Andhra Pradesh, on India’s Southeastern coast. As one of nine classical dance forms in India, Kuchipudi is based on ancient Hindu dance-dramas known as yakshagana. For 300 years, Kuchipudi was an ensemble dance form with male dancers. However, nearly 100 years ago, modern Kuchipudi was introduced as a solo dance tradition that featured female dancers.

Elements unique to Kuchipudi are an emphasis on dexterity and vigor, with the final act danced upon the rim of a brass plate. It is a dance form that is devoted to graceful, theatrical storytelling, in a vibrant traditional costume, with close interplay between the dancer and the singer. In the telling of these traditional epic dramas, through emotional clarity and delicate nuances, the tradition is made instantly accessible to a modern audience.

Yamini Kalluri performing with Chandra Rao (vocal), Sai Kolanka (violin) and Sreedharachary (mridangam)

At the tender age of 21, Kalluri is already established as a highly accomplished Kuchipudi performer, choreographer and teacher. Though born in the U.S., she grew up in Hyderabad, India, and began studying Kuchipadi dance at age seven. She proved to be especially skilled at the dance’s heightened use of abhinaya (expression), and when she was 12, she became a teacher herself. Kalluri has since performed in India, England and North America.



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Himalayan Heritage Band and Nepal’s Proud Gandharva Tradition

photo by J. Stoller

photo by J. Stoller

Bostonians more familiar with the indie rock scene may not be aware of this, but our city is home to a large Nepalese community. The Himalayan Heritage Cultural Academy is at the center of this growing community, founded by master Nepalese musicians who wanted to give the traditional music and arts of Nepal a formal presence in the Boston area. The academy is also home to the Himalayan Heritage Band, an ensemble of virtuoso musicians and educators whose collective mission is to keep this noble tradition alive.

Shyam Nepali, one of the founders of this wonderful band, came from an impressive musical pedigree — one of the most prominent musical families of Nepal’s centuries-old Gandharva musical caste. Throughout history, the family earned their living as traveling musicians, composing and performing songs that conveyed the day’s news to villagers who lived in the mountainous areas. Their music was also inspired by nature and by the rural landscape. Shyam’s father and grandfather are accomplished sarangi musicians in the Gandharva tradition. The sarangi is a bowed string instrument that is carved from a single log of wood. Notes are played by touching the sides of the strings with the fingernails.

Music of the Gardharva tradition, while popular in the ’60s and ’70s, is now endangered, though through the work of the Himalayan Heritage Band and Cultural Academy, the tradition is being revived.

The Himalayan Heritage Band features Shyam Nepali on sarangi, Sushil Gautam on murchunga (jaw harp) and madal (hand drum), Ranjan Budhathoki on bansuri (bamboo flute) and Raj Kapoor on madal. Kapoor also performs the Lakhe Mask Dance, a traditional part of the Indra Jatra, a religious street festival that takes place every September in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

photo by J. Stoller

photo by J. Stoller

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Pharos Ensemble featuring Vasilis Kostas – Bringing to Life the Anatolia Greek Tradition

photo by J. Stoller

photo by J. Stoller

The language of music is such that, with a gifted group of musicians, you don’t even need to understand the language to be swept up in the emotion and carried far away. Such is the case with the Pharos Ensemble featuring Vasilis Kostas. Their name taken from the Greek word for “lighthouse,” Pharos Ensemble illuminates the richness and beauty of their heritage, performing highly authentic Greek traditional music. The ensemble comprises five acclaimed musicians and educators who take extensive research and training and bring this proud tradition to the public in stunning musical form.

In addition to sharing their love of Greek music, Pharos Ensemble wishes to educate and inspire young people about the values of this musical tradition, in the hope that it continues into future generations. Drawing from a wealth of history, the ensemble is inspired by the music of the Greek refugees of Anatolia. It is a heartfelt and deeply emotional music that speaks strongly of traditional Greek culture.

Vasilis Kostas, on laouto (lute), was raised in northwest Greece. From an early age, he listened to his grandfather sing every night. The gentleman became his mentor, and Kostas learned to play guitar so he could accompany him. It was through this that he developed his love of the music, which focuses on a strong melody, slow rhythm and melancholy lyrics. He performed at local celebrations and came to the U.S. to study on scholarship at Berklee College of Music.

It was during a fateful trip to Spain, where Kostas was sent to present Greek traditional music, that he discovered his true calling. While there, he met flamenco master José Mercé, who encouraged him to give up the guitar and return to the laouto. In Athens, Kostas studied with Laouto master Christos Zotos, who transformed the laouto from an instrument that accompanied violin and clarinet into a lead instrument that adapted the clarinet’s melody lines and made them its own.

Now based in Boston, Kostas is well respected in Greece and among Greeks in this country for his laouto playing. He is joined by Panos Aivazidis on qanun, George Lernis on percussion and Eirini Tornesaki on vocals, performing beautifully as Pharos Ensemble.

Pharos Ensemble: facebook | youtube

Vasilis Kostas: web | facebook | instforgram | soundcloud | youtube

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Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Spreading the Word Through Song

photo by J. Stoller

photo by J. Stoller

Do you love traditional string music? Appreciate some finely executed a capella? Look no further! If you’re a bluegrass fan and you haven’t heard of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, where have you been? With deep roots in the Tennessee-bred gospel tradition, this extremely talented and powerfully spiritual bluegrass band has released almost 40 albums in as many years. Over the years, they’ve been bestowed with many awards, and their leader Doyle Lawson (mandolin and vocals) was inducted in the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2012. But don’t take others’ words for it. Have a listen for yourself.

Lawson is joined by Josh Swift (Dobro/Vocals), Stephen Burwell (Fiddle) , Eli Johnston (Bass/Vocals), Dustin Pyrtle (Guitar/Vocals) and Joe Dean (Banjo/Vocals), and they sound like they’ve been playing together for, well, 40 years! Doyle Lawson was raised on The Grand Ole Opry and was a big fan of Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. The entire family sang gospel music and were involved in various church and revival a capella groups. He taught himself to play mandolin, playing along to radio, records and TV shows.

When Lawson was 14, he added banjo and guitar to his musical toolbox, and began playing banjo professionally in Nashville four years later. He’s played with Jimmy Martin, JD Crowe and The Country Gentlemen, settling back into mandolin to accompany his tenor vocals. In 1979, he formed his own band, which he first called Doyle Lawson & Foxfire before changing “Foxfire” to “Quicksilver.”

Through the many member changes through the years, Lawson’s Quicksilver band has been, in his words, “the farm team for bluegrass.” He has tried to integrate each member’s unique talents into the band, without sacrificing their core wholesome Americana sound. One constant has been the strong inspiration and influence of gospel music on their work and lives. Lawson believes that it is his “musical mission” to bring God to people’s lives through his work. Whatever your personal beliefs are, there is no denying the deep soulful sound of this fine band.

Listen to Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver on Spotify or Pandora.

web | facebook | twitter | instagram | soundcloud | youtube | Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Mark 25 Years in Bluegrass

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The Bing Brothers featuring Jake Krack and their old-time tradition

The Bing Brothers' Hoedown - photo by J. Stoller

The Bing Brothers’ Hoedown – photo by J. Stoller

What’s better than an old-timey string band? An old-timey string band at a hoedown! When The Bing Brothers perform, it’s a participatory event. Hailing from Marlinton and Huntington, West Virginia, the serious jams of this 100% authentic old-time string band naturally lends itself (I would say demands) a country square dance complete with caller. Old time music is a rural American string band tradition that was born in Colonial times from the meeting of the African banjo and European fiddle. These traditional continue today in Appalachian mountain communities.

The Bing Brothers Featuring Jake Krack “Handsome Molly” live @ Appalachian Rising ’13 – by Christopher Harper

Mike and Tim Bing first played together, on mandolin and banjo, in 1974. They had grown up raising hogs, with music a key part of their lives, from singing on their family’s porch to seeing legendary Flatt & Scroggs perform locally.

They built up a large repertoire of old-time music and 40 years later, they’re still going strong. Tim has been named West Virginia State Champion on the banjo for 14 years, and Mike is founder of Allegheny Echoes Summer Workshops, teaching traditional music for 22 years. They’ve been recognized by the state for their lifetime contribution to West Virginia’s traditional culture.

Since 2002, The Bing Brothers has featured Bob Lieving on guitar and Tim Corbett on bass. Jake Krack has been their fiddler since 2010, and the band is a four-time winner of Best All Around Performer at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention. They’ve toured the U.S. and Canada, Europe and Australia, and even performed on Broadway. They’re extremely versatile, playing songs in old time and bluegrass, in addition to traditional Irish songs and ragtime pieces.

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It’s Not Because of You: Jonas Brøg and his personal struggle


Depression doesn’t just affect the individual who suffers from it. The illness might begin on the inside, but it radiates itself outward to envelop everyone around them. Those closest to the person bear the brunt of this the hardest, as they struggle to be understanding, supportive, and above all, to know that they are in no way responsible. As Danish artist Jonas Brøg explains in his latest song, “It’s Not Because of You,”

My family has been hit the hardest when depression became part of our world. When I struggle mentally I don’t love, and I can’t be loved. On these days it’s best I’m in solitude, but thankfully I can write songs when I’m alone, and this one I wrote for my family, the ones I know I love the most. I feel the importance for them to know, It’s not because of you!

I quiet the dark, not because, settle the dust, not because
Fading to black, not because, no it’s not because of you
Walking the line, not because, little to give, not because
Losing the plot not because, no it’s not because of you

This emerging songwriter began as a drummer, playing with Sister Sledge, Roy Hargrove, Dutch bands Relax and Beef, and UK band Westlife. He also produced works by other artists, until depression hit. To make sense of what he was experiencing and to better express his feelings, he began to sing his own songs. His first release, “Tell Me Why,” which came out in the summer of last year, was his cry for help.

Music, lyrics and song production for “It’s Not Because of You” is by Brøg, inspired by quiet walks in the early morning. He’s joined on strings by Frank van Essen, and by Sven Hammond (hammond) and Kim Ormel (keys). Jonas’ wife Kim filmed the video, during their road trip through the South of Italy.

Listen to “Not Because of You” on Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer.

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Mangum & Company *Shouts* the Lord’s Praises

Mangum & Company - photo by J. Stoller

Mangum & Company – photo by J. Stoller

In Psalm 150 of the Bible, it says “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet.” Gospel brass shout band Mangum & Company, led by trombonist Cedric Mangum, does exactly that, and not just with a trumpet but a full-on honkin’ brass band. The musicians represent many of Charlotte, North Carolina’s United House of Prayer congregations.

These “trombone choirs” are a sacred musical tradition, and it’s truly a joyful noise that they create. The church was founded by Cape Verde spiritual leader Marcelino Manoel da Graça (a.k.a. Daddy Grace) in Wareham, Massachusetts in 1919, focused on the ecstatic experience in worship. Their all-day, all-night services were propelled by the jazz instrumentation of the time, set to traditional gospel hymns. Trombones lead the way with a central melody, with others going off on roof-raising solos. This tradition continues in more than 130 United House of Prayer congregations across the U.S.

The shout band was first introduced in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1926 and huge parades with marching bands became commonplace in the religious and cultural life of the city. There are currently almost 20 shout band ensembles statewide. Cedric Mangum began playing music early and learned all the instruments before becoming lead trombonist. At age 13, he was already leading his band, the Charlotte Mother House’s legendary Bailey Clouds of Heaven, which he still helms today. As he explains, “Our music feeds the soul,” he says. “It’s designed for the soul, and that’s what draws the people.”

Trombone Shout Band, Charlotte, NC – by HistorySouth

united house of prayer for all people | national folk festival

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Examining the Mind Debris (and discovering a new band)

Photo Credit: Alejandro Avila Gasperin

Photo Credit: Alejandro Avila Gasperin

“Mind Debris” would be a good way to describe the state of my mental health after the past few years of world events. But Mind Debris is also the name of a pleasantly dreamy Boston-based indie rock band who creates an airy and mind-expanding atmosphere that’s laced with psychodelia and inspired by bands lke Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, UK band Temples and Houstin 3-piece Khruangbin. Mind Debris’ latest release is the Endless single, featuring the lovely compositions “Eons” and “Echoes.” Lyrically, they tackle some deep topics, and musically, it’s pretty and seemingly smooth on the surface, though upon further listening, more complex, layered and nuanced. Much like life itself.

Endless single (Eons / Echoes)

Endless is about the intangibility of knowledge inside and outside of oneself, although it’s overwhelming to be standing in a cloud and not ever be able to fully hold it, nor understand what stands outside of it, it’s completely harmless. – Mind Debris

Mind Debris is the songwriting and production duo of keyboardist Diego Valencia and guitarist Michael Beckhart. They met as students in Boston, bonding over their shared Mexican roots. Their debut EP album, Towards the Sun was released in April of 2018, and is a concept album that examines the philosophy of stoicism, with themes of introspection, duality, and the conscious and unconscious self, explored through metaphors found in nature.

He’s gone and found himself astray
Chasing melancholic dreams
Trapped but flowing in a scheme
– This is Water

Have you ever felt like that? I know I have. This is the sort of music that can be enjoyed and appreciated on various levels — as a gentle and relaxing soundtrack to unwind with after a stress-filled day with an endless barrage of stimuli, or as a deeper contemplation of life’s meaning and value. It’s a way to realign with that which is at our core.

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EllaHarp’s Crazy Blues Harp Skills (and it’s not what you think)

photo: Coen Rees Photography

photo: Coen Rees Photography

When you’re in the mood for some low-down, toe-tapping blues with a solid walking bass line, I’ll bet the first instrument that comes to mind isn’t a harp. EllaHarp a.k.a. Ella Dawn Jenkins, is about to change that. She’s a San Francisco based singer-songwriter and blues harpist extraordinaire. And by “blues harpist,” I don’t mean Paul Butterfield or Sonny Boy Williamson. I mean that ancient instrument you might hear on a new age recording. On “It Ain’t Working,” EllaHarp’s supple, seductive voice slithers its way through and around her exquisite mad harp skills to brew up some serious voodoo magic.

If you think that glorious instrument is unlike any angelic and pristine harp you’ve ever come across, you’d be right. She designed it specifically for the purpose of bringing the music in her head and heart to life. In so doing, she’s pushed the medieval, stately harp into places it has never been before — to stunning effect.

Since independently releasing her debut album, Who Asked You Back just last year, EllaHarp has performed more than 100 live shows, including Bay Area festivals and radio, The Bitter End in New York City and an opening spot for Grammy Award singer Mye at Music Box in San Diego.

This amazing debut album is the culmination of 10 years of songwriting both in Scotland and Los Angeles. You can stream her album on Spotify or Bandcamp.

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AKUA makes an ‘Offering’ in loving memory of her father


AKUA (Akua Carson), a Canadian artist of Ghanaian descent, occupies the space between grief and sacredness in her quietly stunning album Them Spirits, a loving tribute to her late father. In “Offering,” she tries to make sense of the loss, and through the drifting music and her ethereal voice, the song becomes a chanted prayer.

my grief is seeping like sap
watch as my heart it falls in my lap
like some ugly offering
though it don’t make sense an once to me.
– Offering

Just months after losing her father, AKUA was asked to tour with Solange. After years of performing on some of the largest stages in the world, it became apparent that she had not faced her grief. She returned to writing songs and producing music to process this profound loss. What came from her period of self-(re)discovery has been captured on this intimate and reverent debut album.

The music was recorded in various places in Canada and Los Angeles, and the album was written, recorded and produced by AKUA. A self release, the album features musical contributions from Daniel Aged, Sam Wilkes and Mocky. AKUA is currently based in L.A.

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