• Saturday, February 24, 2024

Arts and Culture

Sweet songs to save the night sky

By: Asjad Nazir


Studying Carnatic vocal from the age of five in India started a lifelong connection to music for acclaimed singer Supriya Nagarajan.

The British musician has used that beautiful bond to carve out an interesting career, mixing up memorable live concerts with creating her own meaningful compositions. This has included her recent album Posse of Fireflies, which combines rich Indian classical music with modern contemporary beats and focuses on the core theme of light pollution.

The accomplished album she has composed and sang on shows that great new classical Indian music is being created in the UK and adds to her existing projects that include running arts organisation Manasamitra, live performances, and hosting a show on global radio
station Worldwide FM.

Eastern Eye caught up with the multi-talented music maestro to discuss her career, new album, love for live performance, and inspirations.

What inspired you to create your new album Posse of Fireflies
I wanted to re-imagine my childhood memories of India’s beautiful dark skies in a modern context. After finding out 90 per cent of the world’s population cannot see the Milky Way from their home, I got inspired to dig deeper into our relationship with the skies. The album will hopefully inspire people to turn off lights and screens, and reclaim the night sky from the light pollution that affects many of our towns and cities. It’s all about reconnecting with nature and the natural beauty surrounding us.

Tell us about the album? 
The album mixes traditional south Indian sounds with electronic elements to capture the essence of fireflies that illuminated my long train journeys through India as child. I worked with a group of talented musicians to bring this album to life and can’t thank my collaborators Ben Castle (clarinets and saxes), Duncan Chapman (electronics), Karin de Fleyt (flutes), Lucy Nolan (harp) and Carla Rees (flutes) enough, for their inputs in the project.

Did you learn anything new while creating this album? 
I learnt that beautiful music can be made even remotely and brought together if the vision for the final presentation is clear. I made this album during lockdown and each of us worked on our individual contributions, which were then brought together to form the core of the album.

What is your favourite track on the album? 
Moods of Madhukauns is my favourite. It emulates the bridge between my childhood and my granddaughter’s. My wish is to pass on the closest I can get to capturing the light of my night sky, hoping it may guide her, as it did me, all those years ago.

Do you think music has the power to make a positive change? 
I try to compose all my music with the goal of inspiring positivity, and shining a light on cultures and stories from across the globe. Music has the power to bring people together and make a positive impact on how we connect with and understand others. We truly saw its power during the pandemic, when the arts kept everyone connected at a time we couldn’t physically interact. Posse of Fireflies focuses on reducing light pollution, encouraging people to take time away from their screens and enjoy the night skies once more.

How much does live performance inform your composing? 
Much of my work is based on connecting with audiences through live performances to create a positive influence on those listening. Many of my shows incorporate live responses from audiences, allowing my team to create a bespoke and tailored experience each time. This took off during our 2020 project, The Sound of Tea, a multi-sensory exploration of traditional tea ceremonies.

Tell us about that?
For this performance, we worked with a talented team to develop some tables that allowed the audience to feedback their feelings throughout the performance. It was wonderful to be able to respond to the audiences’ feelings and moods in real time.

What has been your most memorable live performance?
Every performance is enjoyable in its own way but the two that stand out are working and singing with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the Harpa in Reykjavik and Lullaby at the Royal Albert Hall in 2021.

What has been the most memorable musical moment of your career?
My proudest moment was during a performance of Lullaby Sonic Cradle at the Kampii Chapel, Helsinki, when a female audience member came up to me with her young child and told me it was the first time she had felt totally relaxed since giving birth. Making that difference to one person put my work into perspective. The performance was based on soothing lullabies and stories mothers sing to their children. It involved a contemporary musical exploration of night-time sounds interspersed with lullabies from India and audio recordings gathered from local communities.

Do you think that Indian classical music has to combine with contemporary music to survive today?
No, I don’t believe it does. I think Indian classical music has the potential to be very popular in the UK, and something I’ve tried to deliver through my Worldwide FM show. Combining contemporary and classical Indian sounds can help new audiences to discover traditional music that they may not have heard before.

What inspires you? 
The Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti, because of the simplicity of his teachings. He believed in total awareness as being essential for a free mind, which is something I personally resonate with. I try to draw inspiration from all aspects of my life and journey.

What kind of music dominates your own personal playlist? 
I listen to various inspiring genres and artists from Ethiopian jazz to Bjork and beyond. Music is a combination of sounds and seven notes. I believe that every permutation and combination of that is precious and inspiring.

Why should we pick up your new album? 
Posse of Fireflies is a unique auditory experience, inspiring people to look beyond their devices and reconnect with the beauty of our night skies. Combatting light pollution is an important issue. I hope to educate and inspire more people to make positive changes for our environment through this album.

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