A perfect blend of Indian classical and American blues, Jay Nair's Hope has a universal message

Jay Nair’s latest collaboration with jazz guitarist Ross Hammond offers a perfect blend of Indian classical and American blues.

Fathima Ashraf Published :  19th February 2021 12:04 PM   |   Published :   |  19th February 2021 12:04 PM

Jay Nair with Ross Hammond

Sacramento-based Indian musician, Jay Nair believes there are three stages to creating fusion music. He says it starts with creating a foundation for peaceful coexistence and moves on to the second stage, where you give space and respect for the other tradition. The third is a celebration of the first and second stages where the artistes are ‘in the flow,’ creating music. Calling the whole process an ego-destroying exercise, the 50-year-old elaborates, “The experience of being in the flow’ is much deeper and intimate than just creating, listening, or enjoying a good song.”

Of hope & harmony

Having recently released his sophomore album Hope — his second collaboration with jazz and experimental guitarist Ross Hammond — Jay’s work seamlessly brings together Indian ragas and American blues. Released last year in December, the record with five tracks features songs in Sanskrit, Hindi, and Telugu. With Nair on vocals and percussion and Hammond on the resonator and steel guitar, the music in Hope is free-flowing. Much like the duo’s first outing (Songs of Universal Peace), the lyrics are in Sanskrit and convey a similar message that is part sacred and part spiritual.

However, the music here is heavily improvised and blends Nair’s Carnatic, Ashtapadi, and Hindustani styles with American blues to create something so soothing and accessible, as all the best global music is. “My idea of fusion is ‘becoming one.’ It is not just a mathematical coexistence of different musical traditions. It is something like yoga in music, where two types of music are fused together to create an experience of oneness in the musician and also the listener,” shares Jay who works in the IT sector for the State of California.

Jay Nair

All the songs in Hope are traditional classical compositions by the masters. For instance, Mother of Compassion (Telugu) is by Subbaraya Sastri, Ocean of Bliss is a Carnatic composition by Tyagaraja, Rain Of Blessings is by Muthuswami Dikshitar and Bhavani Dayani is a well-known Hindustani Bhajan in Rag Bhairavi.

A call for peace

Talking of his previous work, Jay shares that Songs of Universal Peace, for him, was not a musical expression but was more of a prayer offering for peace. Jay recalls, “I met Hammond, early in 2017 at a concert and heard him play the guitar. The tones and notes he was playing reminded me of the sitar and later, I found we shared a similar philosophy musically. Collaborating with Ross is magical not just because of his music, but also because of how he is as a human being. The first time we played together was on stage when I was in the audience and he invited me to sing with him. We improvised two songs. During the second song, I noticed a couple who were watching us perform intently and were moved to tears. I immediately knew that it is what I want to create with music,” Jay shares, adding that Hope was recorded at the historic St Paul’s Church in Sacramento, within just three hours.

We ask Jay about his future projects and he tells us, “For decades, I followed the traditional musician’s path singing classical music, film music, devotional and all that the audience wanted to hear. But now, I am a passionate explorer who likes going to places where I have not been. I like experimental music — breaking rules and following my own bliss. I hope to make more world music that promotes joy, love and freedom.”

— Fathima Ashraf

fathima@newindianexpress.com | @fathiimaashraf