Tyagaraja plays acoustic guitar and sings, and Gunjen Mittal employs a mixture of classical and modern Indian dance onstage when they perform, often joined by a wide cross section of Houstonians on everything from sitar to lap steel. This month, they are off as a duo on their second trip to perform in India in as many years.
By time folks are reading this, you’ll be on Indian soil and you’ll have performed a couple of dates after a long preparation. Where will your head be at that point? Do you plan for that part of it?
Tyagaraja: Wow, well… I try my best to completely live in the present moment. Especially going to India, whether I am performing or seeking pilgrimage and silence, I simply concentrate on my breath and allow my feet to feel the rhythm of the earth and be guided toward the path that opens up to us. I do also recognize that this is very special and I respect this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity enough to know what is at stake. It is my responsibility to conjure motivation and make use out of every single second we spend in India and to make use of the support we have received from back home to even get here in the first place. We intend to completely make the most of it. The moments that pass in India are absolutely precious; I have so much unfinished business, so many places to see and rocks left unturned. We are making loads of plans, and still the majority of it will be done once we reach India itself. It’s a total experiment, and to me that’s truly Living…
Gunjen: At that point there’s really no telling where our heads will be. As Tyaga mentioned, we’ll just go wherever the path unfolds for us or wherever we feel drawn to at the moment. Mainly though we’ll be hitting the ground running once we get there, continuing to make contacts and planning for more shows. I do feel that there won’t be much time to stop and reflect much in Mumbai because it’s such an epicenter of Indian pop culture, art, music, film, dance, etc., and we have to keep up! After all, we’ll be in the “Big Apple” of India!
What’s the biggest difference between the audiences over there and anywhere here in the States?
Tyagaraja: India’s audience is hungry for music and art. The people there are also constantly blossoming and flowering with it. India has its own obstacles and struggles just like any place on earth, and at the same time it’s completely booming right now. There is a huge underground indie rock scene; of course hip-hop and dance music is there too. The mass audiences are way more open to experimental and avant-garde music and performance art. That’s where I think we fit in. As diverse and interesting as music is here in the U.S., I feel that the style of show that we share will be more understood by the Indian audience, and hopefully that will help spawn the interest and understanding we need in our U.S. audience.
Gunjen: From my experience in the dance and now music scene, it seems that the U.S. has a lot of catching up to do. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but there’s a cornucopia of music, art and dance artists and events going on outside of the States that Americans aren’t even aware of and they’’re being followed by thousands and millions of people. And the kinds of things going on are far more advanced and/or progressive. Once it reaches its popularity elsewhere, America usually catches on after the fact. On the other hand, I know that Americans (including myself) are also just as hungry for intellectual and progressive art, music or dance and there are a lot of amazing things happening right here in Houston as well. But sometimes we really have to seek it out as opposed to having full and easy access to the arts. Not to mention, our public transportation system (or the lack thereof) doesn’t help in this equation of linking the public to the arts or any other necessary social services for that matter! In many foreign countries the artists have a lot more governmental support to fund huge festivals/events no matter how underground the scene. There’s an appreciation for art that goes beyond the audience or the individual artist, which is integral to its success. Indian audiences also have that sort of access to all kinds of music and dance. There’s an intense underground fusion alternative art and rock scene brewing in India for the past decade or longer that may even be considered a sort of artistic rebellion, which is good for us because we’re all about the Revolution! So the audience is definitely ready for something crazy to come along with some depth and unique individuality to take them on a “Glory Ride” (title of one of Tyagaraja’s songs) because we bare our souls when we perform and we can only hope that they experience that as well.
By Lance Scott Walker
Photography Anthony Rathbun