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Beyond The Border: Psychedelic Hip-Hop, Classical Music and More From Indian Origin Artists

Tune in to moody, calming and dexterous music from the likes of Toronto-based sarod artist/guitarist Shankar, African-Indian violinist-composer Orchestereo and more

Anurag Tagat Mar 31, 2021

Toronto-based sarod artist/guitarist Shankar, Indo-American rapper NAJA, South African-Indian violinist composer Sumeet Sarkar aka Orchestereo (clockwise from top left). Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Anirudh Singh Chohan

Informed by the melancholy and despondent songwriting of Elliott Smith, New Delhi-bred, Singapore-based Anirudh Singh Chohan chooses warm acoustic guitar melodies as his passenger for a ride that’s sorrowing on songs like “Nickel & Steel.” This track marks his third single, following “It’s Only Right” and “Together Again,” which released in 2020. There’s an overall sense of simplicity and warmth that’s typical to indie rock in Chohan’s music, although the emotional weight of his lyrics often pull listeners in another direction.

NAJA

As someone who was raised on the music of Pink Floyd, 50 Cent, A.R. Rahman and everything in between, psychedelic hip-hop artist NAJA is currently in the American Midwest but he was transplanted from Mumbai, Visakhapatnam (an unlikely connection is to metallers Against Evil, for whom he designed artwork) and New York. On his latest single “New City,” there’s wavy atmospherics and an unhurried, unpredictable flow featuring lyrics that seem philosophical at times and carefree at others. To top things off, the song also includes hypnotic guitars.

Shankar

Performing sarod as well as guitar, Toronto-based Indian origin composer Shankar Narayan Venkatraman (who goes by his first name) is a product designer by profession but has also been releasing music since 2020, starting with his debut instrumental guitar EP Tangent and a single called “Three Degrees of Bliss.” With his latest song “Platform 7 (Busking at Pape),” however, Shankar leads with the sarod and soothing fusion, away from the direction of jazz, prog and math-rock. While there’s still some guitar, he’s aided by violinist Maria Grigoryeva, bassist Zoltan Renaldi and tabla artist Shahbaz Hussain, who are from different parts of the world. The result is breathtaking, which makes Shankar one to watch for his approach to both, guitar and sarod.

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Darshan Kumar

Bred in Kerala and moving around different parts of India, composer, guitarist and vocalist Darshan Kumar has been based out of Helsinki for a while now. While his day job involves working with artificial intelligence in detecting major illnesses, the musician in him has emerged with two releases so far – “Chintaheen” and “Vartamaan,” with the latter receiving a slice-of-life music video set to Kumar’s Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit lyrics about the importance of rest, sleep and dreams. “Chintaheen” may include a few Hinglish mantras about overworking that make it a playful jibe, but “Vartamaan” sees Kumar as an emotive songwriter aided by cinematic music production.  

Orchestereo

Violinist and composer Sumeet Sarkar was born in South Africa to Indian-origin parents and took to music at age four, which led to him studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston and recently finding a new home in Los Angeles. While his credits range from T.V. shows such as Ginny and Georgia to aiding multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier and guitarist-composer Kaki King on live recordings, his own work goes out with the moniker Orchestereo. Sarkar has released his second volume in his Cymatic Chronicles series in February, which offers classical compositions focusing on mental wellbeing. There’s soft, spacey and intelligent piano work that leads on Cymatic Chronicles and it extends into Sarkar’s daily livestreams on Twitch, which ties together music and augmented reality for gamers to relax to.

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