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Exclusive: Watch Global Recording Artist ILA’s Spectacular Virtual Concert Featuring Grammy Winners

The audio-visual show features ILA, Rick Kej, South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Orchestra and flutist Wouter Kellerman

Rolling Stone India Sep 30, 2020

“I was all set to launch the album at the Kennedy Center, followed by concerts in New York and Los Angeles but COVID changed my plans!” says ILA

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There’s no denying that this is a time of introspection for everyone. Never has an incident in the recent past stirred populations into action the way the current pandemic has. Amidst this climate of global gloom of economic and emotional downturn and colossal job losses, artists have been leading a quiet revolution. The past six months would have been even more torturous if it wasn’t for the arts, be it music, visual arts or the cinematic treasures we all enjoy.

Indo-American Ila Paliwal aka ILA has been leading a music and environment mandate with a range of inspirational songs from her new album, ILA – The Earth Symphony. A collection of nine diverse compositions, this sophomore album by the New York-based artist brings together tradition and modernity in a unique format. While the raga-based songs carry a sense of timelessness, their underlying message couldn’t be more relevant today.

“I was all set to launch the album at the Kennedy Center, followed by concerts in New York and Los Angeles but COVID changed my plans!” says ILA,  who took to YouTube to premiere her cross-cultural concert featuring Grammy Award-winning acts such as composer Ricky Kej, South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Orchestra and flutist Wouter Kellerman. Also part of the show are distinguished Indian multi-media artists — puppeteer Anupama Hosakere and sand painter Raghavendra Hegde, among others.

In this interview with Rolling Stone India, ILA talks about her artistic ethos, creative triumphs and the the challenges of  putting together a global show virtually.

Your new album ‘ILA – The Earth Symphony’ and the virtual concert display your love for diversity in music and commitment to nature. Tell us about how special the project is to you and how it shaped up.

 I have always been inspired by nature from a very young age and feel that Mother Nature is the greatest artist of all. As Shakespeare once said, “The earth has music for those who listen.” However for decades we humans have stopped listening and have ignored the balance between nature and material development. Dumping pollutants in the environment and oceans, massive deforestation, overconsumption of water and other natural resources have caused a serious imbalance between humans and nature. Recent tsunamis, droughts, rising temperatures, and swelling of oceans, and most recently Covid-19 are nature’s wake-up call. The planet earth has existed for millennia and it can survive without us but as humans, we cannot. My album is a musical tribute to our forests, rivers, space, and Mother Nature. I hope my music inspires listeners to think about how our actions – to one another, and to our environment – are all connected. We all must do our part in making environment-friendly choices and consume less so we can make this planet a better and healthier place for generations to come. Ila The Earth Symphony is my shout out to my fellow humans to own responsibility towards nature as Mother nature is abundant but not limitless.

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Having lived in six countries on four continents and having traveled to over 50 countries, I have learnt to respect cultural diversity. There is no other medium that bridges the cultural gap like music. As a musician, despite the difference in our race, gender, color, and religion we all work toward one goal of creating a piece of art that touches the heart and leaves an indelible imprint on our soul. Music is the biggest unifier. In my music, I always strive and infuse various sounds to bring the message of hope and peace and unity in diversity. There is a beautiful Sanskrit phrase in ancient Indian scriptures: “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakaum” which means the world is one family. Despite our differences, inherently we all are the same and this is the phrase that guides me when I create music.

As an artist, the most gratifying feeling for me is that my work connects with audiences and makes an impact. And I feel very fortunate to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback for both, my album and the virtual concert.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in putting together the virtual concert?

When I decided to do the virtual concert, the biggest challenge was not being together with the musicians and the production team in one place/studio. All of us were scattered around the world. And different time zones and lockdowns made things extremely challenging at times but we all persevered and pivoted with the situation. We embraced and put to use the technology to move forward. We all ended up recording our own pieces independently and then stitched it all together which is significantly more challenging than performing together on one stage. Thankfully the final outcome was very rewarding.

The virtual concert also features a lot of mix-media artists. How did you conceptualize those bits?

I am very fond of visual arts and I love to visit the art galleries, Broadway shows, and the opera regularly. I feel that music and visual arts together can create a 360-degree experience for the audience. When the COVID lockdown happened in NY it was very tough to witness the pain and suffering of people and as a coping mechanism, I would constantly search for beautiful and meaningful visual content on the TV and on the Internet. COVID has prompted many artists to produce virtual content. I wanted my virtual concert to be the perfect antidote to the pandemic — something my audience will enjoy and appreciate for one hour while also reminding ourselves that we have to protect nature and all the beauty around us.

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Therefore to make the experience richer and wholesome I decided to include mixed media like puppetry, speed painting, sand art and dance.

What are the things and memories you would you like the viewers and your fans to take away from the concert?

I would like my audience to take away two messages from this concert. First, each song is an ode to Mother nature and I hope the audience will pause and think about their responsibility towards planet Earth and all its inhabitants. Every ancient culture has taught us to live in coexistence with nature and we must return to our roots for our own survival.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau has said it so well and it is also the theme of my album and the concert: “For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it. “

Second, I also hope that the virtual concert will create a feeling of hope, joy, love, and peace. And the richness of the multimedia in this concert will prompt people to watch it again and again and get a new enjoyment each time.

How has your personal artistic journey been since you released the album — have you had a chance to create more in the busy days?

It’s been a very hectic few months first with the album release and then the virtual concert. I am humbled with the outpouring of love and compliments from tens of thousands of people from all parts of the world. Successful launches of the album and the concert have motivated me to maintain the momentum and I have started creating the framework of my next project. I am writing lyrics and composing some of the songs. I feel that this creative process has kept me sane during these unusually challenging times and I am very thankful for that.

What is your message to budding artists who wish to make it big on the global stage?

The music field, like any other career, is not a straight line. There are peaks and valleys and that’s why resilience is an extremely important trait one should have. Believe in yourself and work hard but also work smarter. Learn the business of music. It is very important to learn from different people but avoid copying other people. Try and develop your own unique voice and style.


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