Musician And Producer Nitish Kulkarni Says Do Not Be Afraid Of World Music Sounds


Nitish Kulkarni fully embraces the concept of world-fusion music on his second album, Listen, which blends traditional ethnic instruments from around the world with modern instrumentation such as synthesizers and electric guitar. “All music is world music to me, ” he says, “and all I ask is for people to listen, as the album title requests, and decide for themselves whether the music sounds good and meaningful to them no matter what instruments are used.”

Nitish Kulkarni (pronounced nuh-teesh kul-car-nee) composed, arranged, produced and engineered the album at the state-of-the-art studio on the prestigious Berklee College of Music’s international upper-graduate campus in Valencia, Spain, where he received his Masters Degree in Music Production, Technology and Innovation. Kulkarni primarily plays keyboards and ethnic hand drums such as the tabla from India and djembe from Africa. Listen, which incorporates some pop and rock elements, also features special guest musicians on a variety of exotic instruments from the Turkish oud to the Australian didgeridoo, and others that span a wide range of time periods from the Baroque contrabass lute called the theorbo to modern inventions such as the glissentar.

More information on Nitish Kulkarni is available at his website (nitishkulkarni dot com). Both of his CDs -- Synesthetic and Listen -- and digital download tracks from those recordings are available at online sales sites such as CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic and many others.

“The goal of this project was to bring an element of ethnomusicology to contemporary music, and vice versa, ” states Kulkarni. “I really want the listener to have a sense of familiarity and oneness with the different cultures across the planet by the time he or she gets to the end of the record.”

To assist with this goal, Kulkarni included four short improvisational interludes (“Listen: Mbira, ” “Listen: Oud, ” “Listen: Erhu” and “Listen: Theorbo”) showcasing some of the more unusual instruments on the album before the listener hears a fully composed tune also featuring that same instrument. “I wanted the listener to hear the instrument by itself first so it would serve as a frame of reference and make their ears more accustomed to the unusual sounds before hearing it in the context of a song, ” Kulkarni explains.

Kulkarni is joined by world-class musicians and singers from many different countries: Taylor Ambrosio Wood (mbira), Johnathan Lee (oud), Robert Cases Marco (theorbo), Arjun Roy and Alex Ortberg (electric guitars), Phillip “Brail” Watson (cello), Jae Hyung Nho (didgeridoo), Julien Osty (glissentar), David Minguillon (Spanish guitar), Kyle Tesalona (violin), Martino Vacca (Uilleann pipes), Gustavo Hernandez (bata drums), Jackson Albert Mann (chromatic harmonica), and Amelia Warren and Debbie Lin (“singing tribal vocalizations or ethnic melismas rather than lyrics”). Also on the album can be heard the sounds of Japanese shakuhachi flute, sitar from India, the Middle Eastern darbuka drum, a South American charango guitar, an Arabic riq tambourine, and various Latin and Asian percussion instruments.

The album begins with “Call To Action, a heralding trumpet piece that slips into “Mapmaker” which Kulkarni describes as containing “contemporary tribal intensity influenced by Middle Eastern modalities and a worldbeat groove.” The tune “When I Go” features the mbira thumb piano and an improvised harmonica part (“ethnic soul” says Kulkarni). “All Around You” features “a lopsided driving beat with Cuban bata drums plus violin, sitar and Japanese flute.” “Speak To Me” spotlights Kulkarni on the tabla drum and Johnathan Lee on oud, a stringed, plucked lute from the Mid-East.

On “Wordless” can be heard an Armenian duduk (double-reed woodwind), a charango, a darbuka drum mixed with a rock drum kit, cello and a flamenco guitar soloing at the end (“a Pan-Global sound spanning all the continents”). “Sense of Touch” is “about making music with your hands, a chance to unleash some rhythmic energy and an homage to groups such as Mickey Hart’s Global Drum Project.” On that tune Kulkarni plays both the tabla and the djembe (a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet-shaped drum from West Africa). “In another Life” features the erhu, a two-stringed bowed spike-fiddle from China (“one of the world’s instruments credited with sounding the most like the human voice”). “Remember When” uses the seldom-seen theorbo, a six-foot-long half-guitar-and-half-harp from 16th century Italy (“I wanted to put that instrument into a modern format”). The album ends with “The Day Before Tomorrow” (“an electronically-motivated groove”) with Kulkarni on djembe and Martino Vacca adding an improvisational Irish-bagpipe solo.

World music sounds are a natural for Nitish Kulkarni, who is an American citizen who was born in Canada to first generation immigrants from Mumbai, India, where Nitish, when he was growing up, spent most of his summers visiting relatives. He got his adolescent schooling in Houston, Texas. When he was only two-years-old, Nitish began banging on toy drums and staging his own make-believe concerts. His parents, who listened to a lot of Indian music, gave Nitish a traditional Indian tabla drum when he was four. He began taking formal tabla lessons at age 10 and was performing in public regularly two years later. At the same time in school he started playing clarinet in both the concert band and marching band, and by the time he was a senior in high school he was the drum major leading as many as 300 musicians in halftime shows on the football field. During his school years he also started playing harmonium (a popular keyboard in India), piano, electronic keyboards and a variety of world percussion instruments. Then Kulkarni attended Indiana University and earned his Bachelors Degree in Organology (the study of musical instruments) and Music Production. He also continued performing live, usually on tabla, including key performances with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Shridhar Phadke, Padmaja Phenany-Joglekar, and the prestigious Jacobs School of Music Concert Orchestra.

From the time he was in 12th grade, Kulkarni was actively recording in his home studio, producing dozens upon dozens of his original compositions which he posted online. He connected with new age musician John Adorney who listened to this early music and got Kulkarni signed to the label Eversound Music which released Kulkarni’s first international album, Synesthetic. The album scored 98/100 from the New Age Music Odyssey website and also won their award for “Best New Age Music Album of the Year.”

Kulkarni’s music draws from many influences. “In my early days my main influence as a composer was Yanni, and by studying him I learned a lot about how he approaches melodies, rhythms and production. But as I moved forward with my music, I began to incorporate many other styles. I love film scores, both from Hollywood and Bollywood, and I have performed many of the latter classics in concert. I admire film composers Hans Zimmer and AR Rahman. I listen to world music and pop music from every country along with ethnic chillout music, Indian classical music, and artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, Owl City, Coldplay and the Bombay Dub Orchestra. Some of the new age musicians who have inspired me would be John Adorney, David Arkenstone and James Asher.”

With Listen, my idea was to marry elements of my studies in ethnomusicology with modern music sensibilities from all the musical styles I enjoy listening to, ” Kulkarni explains. “I wanted to create an album that makes world music accessible to people who don’t normally listen to as much world music as I do, and show just how similar all of us around this tiny planet really are. I also hope to expose new audiences to rare and exotic musical instruments that they may not have heard before. While my primary goal is, of course, to entertain my audience, I also want to challenge them to grow and learn while enjoying these songs.”

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