The Set List

S1 E5 | FULL EPISODE

Rudresh Mahanthappa Indo-Pak Coalition

Come to the foot of the stage with live performances, exclusive back-stage access and in-depth artist interviews with The Set List. In this episode we hear New York-based jazz alto-saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa lead the Indo-Pak Coalition in an energetic evening with agile and playful nods to the group’s roots told through the music. Get the best seat in the house with ALL ARTS.

AIRED: February 27, 2019 | 0:56:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

[ Feedback ]

[ Instruments tuning ]

My name is Rudresh Mahanthappa.

I'm an alto saxophonist and composer

based in Montclair, New Jersey.

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I'm leading a group tonight called the Indo-Pak Coalition,

and that's a trio with Dan Weiss playing tabla and drum set

and Rez Abbasi playing electric guitar

and myself playing saxophone.

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We released an album in 2008 that was very acoustic

and very much, you know, has kind of the sonic presence

of an Indian classical record maybe.

But we've grown a lot since then.

We've done a lot of gigs in the interim,

and here we are, nine years later.

The band has much more of a electric

sort of rock sort of energy, and so it's really fun.

So we're going to be playing music from the new album,

which is called "Agrima."

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You know, the question of identity,

as far as the music goes,

is to create something that's seamless

and actually defies genre.

And I'm Indian-American.

I'm 100% Indian, 100% American,

and 100% neither and both all at the same time,

and I think that comes through the music.

I'm a child of the '80s.

I grew up with Twisted Sister and AC/DC,

and, I mean, I was listening to Charlie Parker

long before I was listening to Indian music.

And I think it's taken a long time

for people, you know, to realize that.

So, engaging with Indian music

was something that happened later,

kind of borne out of a confusion

of trying to understand where I am

and how I fit into, you know, the broader American landscape.

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So, you know, everyone plays recorder in elementary school.

I actually went home and told my mom

I wanted private recorder lessons,

so I was playing -- you know, studying Baroque recorder

in second and third grade.

And my older brother said that the guys in the jazz band

looked like they were having more fun.

And he said that the baritone saxophone

oftentimes sits on the floor, especially if you're smaller,

and will shake the whole room.

And my mom has all this kitschy kind of souvenirs

from all over the world from her travels,

and Wedgwood china sets and stuff,

and so the idea of all of that shaking, you know,

to a fourth grader was very intriguing.

So that's why I chose to play saxophone.

So there's not really, like, some sort of brilliant,

"I heard the sound, and my life was changed."

No. It was really coming out of mischief.

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[ Cheers and applause ]

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I think the most influential person for me

was my first saxophone teacher

who I studied with from fourth grade until I went to college.

Just his overall view of what music could be was very wide.

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And what he passed along to me, among other things

that was very important was just that there weren't any genres

that were wrong or, you know, incorrect or bad, you know --

that music that's played well, that's played with integrity,

that's played with honesty is great regardless of genre.

So I grew up thinking of music as this larger continuum,

you know?

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[ Cheers and applause ]

Thank you so much. We are the Indo-Pak Coalition.

The first tune we played is called "Snap,"

and this last one is called "Showcase,"

and we're going to continue with the title track, "Agrima."

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[ Cheers and applause ]

I mean, we like genre. Humans like genre.

Humans like boxes. They like, you know --

And we all have to have a shorthand for classification.

I mean, if someone asked me what kind of music I play,

I'm not going to, you know, essentially say

everything I just said to you, you know?

I'd say, "Oh, jazz," you know, and that's fine.

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I think what's a problem is not perceiving jazz

as a living art form

and as a museum music, as your grandfather's music,

as that stuff that's playing in the background of the restaurant

while you're trying to eat,

as something that happens in a glass box

up by Lincoln Center, up by Columbus Circle, you know?

Like, you know, there are ways

in which this music is being transmitted

that aren't necessarily speaking to,

you know, just the current state of affairs, you know?

And it's important to note, also,

that a lot of the great jazz that has happened

has a historical context, has a social context.

It was written in response to something that was going on.

It's not like this music just came out of a box, so...

And I think the important music

that's kind of moving this art form forward

is doing the same thing.

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-Yeah! -Yes!

[ Cheers and applause ]

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Well, the thing I hope the most is that audiences don't come in

with any preconceptions of what it is they're going to hear

or what it is that they want to hear

or that there's something that they're grafting upon the music

before we've even played.

I think that's the biggest problem,

especially when we talk about ethnicity and identity,

you know, when people come

wanting to hear something Indian,

and they're either -- They either project Indianness,

or, as Vijay and I would say, "Indianity" onto it,

or they're disappointed that it wasn't Indian enough, you know?

I think that's one thing that I struggle with.

But more than anything, I just --

I hope that people's, you know, hearts and minds and souls

are open to the energy and the beauty

and that they can just enjoy the moment.

And don't project anything --

Don't project an expectation onto it,

because if you don't project an expectation,

you will definitely have a fulfilling experience.

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We thank you so much.

You're listening to Rez Abbasi on guitar,

Dan Weiss on drums.

My name is Rudresh Mahanthappa. This is an alto saxophone.

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