Ragas to Rock: Translating Musical Traditions

The Challenge:

How does an artist create something new out of things that are familiar?

Share your traditional songs and create new musical works based on your traditions.

The Opportunity:

Get your music featured on the Musical Exchange album!

Put the spotlight on your music!  Respond to the challenge, connect with the project's lead artists, and upload your music for a chance to be featured on the album The Musical Exchange Songbook. More info


Meet the Artists:

Vocalists Samita Sinha and Julia Ulehla explore the performance and reinterpretation of traditional American songs and north Indian classical compositions through their artistic collaborations, joined by guitarist Aram Bajakian.

Check Out Their Music:

How To Participate:

"I want you all to think about a song that you really know well, a song you know in your bones. The first step is to choose a traditional song that you want to work with, to re-make into your own version."

-Samita Sinha

  1. Watch the project videos for ideas and inspiration.
  2. Choose your song, select a song you know well, or use the same material that the artists use in their work.
  3. Record and share a video of yourself performing your song in its traditional form.
  4. Create a new musical work that is based on the song you have chosen, or reinterpret that song in another way.
  5. Record and upload your new work, you can post as many new versions as you want!

Post your media, comments, and questions in the comments area below.


Project Updates:


You need to be a member of Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange to add comments!

Comment by Sneh Ratna Choudhary on November 1, 2011 at 5:59am
i finally managed to upload my video...here is the link http://musicalexchange.carnegiehall.org/video/hum-honge-kamyab
Comment by Carnegie Hall on October 20, 2011 at 9:10pm
We've posted a new song, "O Death", and new performance footage of "Between," here and here. We shot this on location in Brooklyn a few weeks ago in an awesome space. Check it out!
Comment by Carnegie Hall on October 14, 2011 at 12:22pm
Check out the new duet, called "Between," from Samita and Julia.
Comment by Christopher Amos on October 10, 2011 at 12:25am
Looking for the video?  Two Birds now has its own page.  Check out the three versions of the song or experiment with layering using the videos. (A new piece from Samita and Julia is coming soon, so we needed to make room and streamline this page!)
Comment by Christopher Amos on October 9, 2011 at 11:21pm
Check out the first posts for our collaboration on "We Shall Overcome" / "Hum Honge Kamyab" and experiment with layering the parts by starting the video players at different time intervals or using the volume controls to mix the audio levels.
Comment by Christopher Amos on October 9, 2011 at 9:50pm
This weekend on NPR blog: Who will write the 21st-century version of We Shall Overcome? http://ning.it/ozaYCr
Comment by Julia Ulehla on October 5, 2011 at 12:03pm
Thanks Chris! I can't wait to hear your videos everyone!
Comment by Christopher Amos on October 4, 2011 at 11:58pm
It was great chatting with everyone this morning. We have posted a page for our new collaboration on "We Shall Overcome" / "Hum Honge Kamyab": http://musicalexchange.carnegiehall.org/page/weshallovercome We can't wait to hear what you come up with!
Comment by Samita Sinha on October 4, 2011 at 8:26am

hi rajiv, great question. i would recommend starting with the version of 'two birds' where aram emulates the tanpura sound.  in this version, there is no fixed rhythm, and it would be beautiful if you maybe explored the different sounds you can make on the tabla alongside this track.  you can see that we have taken traditional material and changed it into something very different, that still somehow has the essence of raag todi inside of it, but in a very different way.  in the same way, perhaps you could add strikes and sounds of the tabla to our work, so that you keep, but also extend, the essence of your instrument.  


to break it down to a process:

1. i would begin by exploring the many sounds you can make on the tabla.  using both traditional technique, but also exploring what happens when you use your hands differently from usual.  or play parts of the instrument that don't usually get played, even!

2. play the track (two birds, where aram emulates tanpura) on your computer several times, and play your tabla alongside of it-- exploring sound, and maybe going into a rhythmic phrase for a few measures at appropriate times, that coming back into sound.


3.  record this experiment and share it with us, and we'll keep guiding you!


hope this helps.

Comment by Christopher Amos on October 3, 2011 at 10:48am
Rajiv Bhatt left an interesting question for Jon, and I wanted to share it here, as well, so our artists have the opportunity to respond: "Would be great if you could guide as to how a rhythmic layer could be added to Smita's track?"
Comment by Samita Sinha on September 30, 2011 at 11:46am

just tuning into your exchange here, julia and rajiv, and i am excited to see what this yields!  glad your are involved, rajiv, hope to see you at our next live chat.

Comment by Rajiv Bhatt on September 30, 2011 at 8:13am

Hi Julia!


I agree with your thoughts and quite like the way you went about reinterpreting Pathiya/Raag Todi. I am sure you and Samita would have gone through a series of reinterpretations of Pathiya/Raag Todi to come to the version that's put up, and you may still continue to improvise on the same, since the process can be unending!


Traditional compositions do hold deep secrets, which musicians over the years have attempted to explore and interpret based on their own imaginations. For instances, there are traditional Indian rhythmic compositions which are reinterpretated to depict the playful and joyous festival of colors (holi), or bursting of fire crackers, or running of a deer, or a conversation between a male and a female etc. To my mind, reinterpretation is influenced by several factors, including an artists musical maturity, understanding of different musical genre, cultures and value systems, human relationships etc.


Let me think of a piece on reinterpretation of Indian Rhythm,and see if I can upload.


Best wishes,

Comment by Julia Ulehla on September 29, 2011 at 4:14pm

Hi Rajiv!

I am glad that you are getting involved with our project. Yes, definitely it would be of interest if you did a piece on reinterpretation of Indian rhythms. And as for your question, I have a few ideas to share: for me, traditional materials often seem to hold deep secrets to be discovered by the interpreter/performer. It seems there are a few ways to reinterpret/revitalize traditional materials...and sometimes the secrets are at the heart of that reinterpretation and sometimes they aren't. At times, the reinterpretations are quite systematic, or conceptual...almost putting the original through a series of different filters. When we did the reinterpretations of Pathiya and rag todi, I would say a spirit of exploration, discovery and play guided our work and experiments. Samita and I have experimented with other reinterpretations of traditional materials from a place which seeks to follow what I could call the hidden life of the song, in a way that is less concerned with invention and novelty. Any other thoughts?


Comment by Christopher Amos on September 29, 2011 at 1:47pm
Hi, Everyone.  I've posted a summary of the first live chat in this project.  I hope you all can join us on Tuesday, October 4, 10:30 A.M. in New York (find the time in your city) for the second live chat with the artists: Samita, Julia, and Aram.
Comment by Rajiv Bhatt on September 26, 2011 at 3:16am
So often we see/hear Indian classical music stalwarts redefine and reinterpret traditional compositions. Example, Tabla maestero Ustad Zakir Hussain has so wonderfully redefined so many traditional rhythmic composition.

Analysing this reinterpretation process is a novel idea.

Congratulations to Samita, Julia and Aram!

Would a piece on reinterpretation of some Indian rhythms be of interest to this Project? I could try to play and upload some.

A question which may be worth asking is: What leads to musical reinterpretation - structured process or intuition?


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