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Music Review: Akshara Music Ensemble – ‘Mohana Blues’

Akshara Music Ensemble recently dropped their debut album, In Time, on Blue-Skinned God Records. The highlight of the album is the song “Mohana Blues.”

Based in New York, the ensemble is made up of Bala Skandan (mridangam, konnakkol), Nitin Mitta (tabla), Arun Ramamurthy (violin), Trina Basu (violin), Amali Premawardhana (cello), Jay Gandhi (flute), Max ZT (Hammered Dulcimer), and Dave Eggar (cello).

Skandan formed the ensemble in 2008, bringing together New York’s most talented Indian classical musicians. With a sound amalgamating jazz, folk, Indian classical, and world music, the Akshara Music Ensemble delves into traditional Carnatic ragas and talas flavored with contemporary splashes.

Carnatic music is complex in its elements, revolving around sruti (musical pitch), swara (the sound of each note), raga (melody), and tala (the rhythm).

The album took five years to complete, but was worth the effort as their song “Mohana Blues” won “Best World Traditional Song” at the 13th Annual Independent Music Awards.

“Mohana Blues” opens with emerging mystical tones, followed by a gorgeous violin that begins classically and then flows into a folk raga. As the flute coos and warbles, percussive accents underscore what can only be described as Indian classical rapping.

The tune is measured, delicate, and elegant in mood except when the rapping occurs, which gives the track a declarative modern semblance. The combination of the two flavors, Carnatic and rap, works well, although on the surface the two would seem antithetical and incapable of merging.

“Mohana Blues” is the kind of music that, like coffee, is an acquired taste. It probably won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s definitely worth checking out. At the very least, you will expand your musical horizons.

Follow Akshara Music Ensemble on aksharamusic.com, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About Randall Radic

Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.

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