Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

When Music Bridges Cultures and Countries

Shubh Saran

Having grown up in six different countries, Indian-origin musician Shubh Saran’s career has been shaped by a mixture of influences. Saran is now looking forward to his India tour next month, during which he will also perform at the Udaipur World Music Festival.

“My Indian identity is strong but I find myself caught in a dance between different identities and influences,” he tells Little India. “My songs and the subject matter that I write about are heavily influenced by my nomadic lifestyle but often times music is the only common thread I find living between multiple cultures. It’s what has allowed me to be able to simultaneously work in India and the United States,” says Saran, who was born in India but has also lived in the United States, Canada, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Mexico.

He began playing the guitar in his teens after trying to play the piano and drums. More than a decade since he took up music, he says in a self-effacing way that he has “weak to no-skills” on the drum set and piano.

A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Saran now lives in New York and travels between India and the United States to pursue two separate lives. He is still in a state of disbelief that his dream of bringing his band from New York to India is coming true.

“It’s something I’ve been planning and dreaming of for years. It still feels surreal and will probably continue to until we exit the airport in Delhi and frantically look for cabs. I’m excited to finally merge these two worlds and foster collaboration between my Delhi and New York music circles,” he says.

Beginning Feb. 2, he will be performing almost every night, conducting workshops and doing a live video recording session. His first performance will be at a Delhi University college’s festival, and the visit would culminate at the Udaipur World Music Festival. In a span of nine days, he will be visiting four cities. He will also record with famed indie musicians like Shadow & Light, Chayan & Smiti, Dhruv Visvanath, Pakshee, Kamakshi Khanna, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, and Saptak Chatterjee.

“I’m very excited to see how our audiences react to the music. It’s doesn’t fit neatly into one genre so I think there’s something in our set for everyone,” he says, pointing out that listeners of jazz and contemporary music are on the rise in India.

“The best part about young Indian audiences is that they’re open- minded and looking for something unique and authentic. Because my music is instrumental, I’m hoping we appeal to a diverse audience regardless of what language people are comfortable speaking,” he says.

Saran (extreme right) with ared Yee on Tenor saxophone and Brian Plautz on Alto saxophone

While Saran acknowledges that his music doesn’t sit neatly into genres, he points out that many of his compositions include “modal melodies and rhythmic displacement which are commonly heard in Indian music.”

His Indian heritage is hugely present in his music, he says. “I wouldn’t say my songs sound overtly Indian but the intricacies in the melodies, rhythms and subject matter tend to be influenced by my Indian identity,” he elaborates. His debut album Hmayra, that was released in May 2017, also stemmed from the Indian and Middle Eastern mythology.

“The idea of music that transcends labels, languages, and identities really excites me,” he says about musicians he looks up to, which are as diverse as AR Rahman to Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based Grammy award winning band that plays jazz, rock, and funk.

Saran plans to release either another EP or album in the later part of 2018. “I plan to travel between New York and India more often,” he says. “I want to work in both music scenes and hopefully bridge the gap.”