Sitarist Dr. Amie Maciszewski, is an award-winning artist and educator, who visited Lahore recently from Dallas, Texas, as a cultural ambassador with the support from the U.S. Consulate in Lahore for a series of performances. Audiences have described Amieâ€™s classical sitar/tabla and Indo-jazz fusion ensemble performances as â€œstunningâ€ and â€œamazing.â€ Amie tells Afshan Shafi and Kamil Chima about how her music deviates from more conventional forms and of the ways in which her musical creativity has progressed
Which influences have shaped the way your music has progressed and your choice of genre?
I was a baby-boomer and growing up in rural New Mexico fell in love with the Beatles. When they collaborated with Ravi Shankar thatâ€™s when I knew Hindustani music was the one for me. I was fascinated by that sound, but opportunities to hear live music were few and far between for me then so records were the way to listen to music. I came across Wonder Wall Music, which was the soundtrack of a British Film. They had Bismillah Khan, Ustaad Ashish Khan on that record too. Itâ€™s clear that Western Music has never been my cup of tea and I have also been touched by other forms of Eastern artistry too for example, Tagoreâ€™s writing has always been an influence.
Please elaborate on the Indo-jazz fusion element of your performances.
I have always liked Jazz, and would have loved to incorporate Jazz much earlier in my music as well. I also have always wanted to play the saxophone too. Yan Garbarik is an inspiration in this respect, he brought Fateh Ali Khan to record with him and their improvisational kinds of music gelled together very well. I wanted to explore this aspect in my music too.
Tell us more about the term ethnomusicology and your study in this regard.
This is a problematic term because musicology in the West has been exclusive to the study of Western classical music through notation and text, mainly in analyzing composition, though that has changed now. First they called it comparative musicology, but always in terms identifiable to western music and culture. My PhD dissertation had a strong anthropology component and was on gender in Hindustani music, I discovered that musical instruments are gendered in South Asia where you see women associated with certain instruments. My study also dealt with the role of tawaaifs (sex-workers) in this regard.
What do you feel has been a career (creative) defining moment for you?
My late guru Shantiniketan was immensely important to me as a musician and also my Girja Devi, vocal guru. Other experiences have also shaped my vision. I used to go to Kolkata and would stay in these really cheap places; I would go to China Town and stay at this Tibetan guest house where there was a kotha (brothel) there and I could see the tawaifs (sex-workers) performing through the windows, a small publishing company owned those buildings; that memory just stayed with me because I was inspired by the story of the tawaif and of thumri. A satrangi player then took me to one of those red light compounds. This has given me an interest in those kinds of songs; I prefer their romanticism and soulfulness more than mere musical virtuosity.
Please tell us more about your role in creating soundtracks for several independent films.
Iâ€™m so steeped in Hindustani music that I am steeped in russ (one of the melodic modes used in traditional South Asian music genres, such as Indian classical music and qawwali) there are nine navaras (musical notations particular to Indian classical music). You take those russ and use the mood of the film and match it with a segment of a raag that goes with that sound. I have also incorporated a Bengali folk song for a film on the freedom fighters of Bengal, so itâ€™s a process of research as well as creativity.
Are you aware of any Pakistani musicians, if so, which ones would you love to collaborate with?
There are many that I like. Ones that I revere are Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Roshan Ara Begum, NFAK, Sanam Marvi; Fareed Ayez Abu Mohammad; Arieb Azhar, Iiked Reshma too and Mai Dhai.
What are your future projects?
Well the long term plans are to make a CD from my sound cloud collection and in the near future I will also visit Islamabad to perform at the FACE Mela.
What is the purpose of your visit to Pakistan?
One of the represntatives of the U.S. Consulate said we would like to have you come. First I asked, â€œWhy me? Iâ€™m not a representative of American culture.â€ But she said you have a lot of familiarity with the Subcontinent and the Consulate thought that this could work as a tiny step toward Indo-Pak peace since I am so well acquainted with India as well. Itâ€™s been a pleasure, thus far!
Amieâ€™s training includes both formal academic and traditional immersion training in India (B.Mus., M.Mus., sitar performance and mentorship under the late sitarist Professor Suresh Misra in Santiniketan, West Bengal) and the U.S. (Ph.D. ethnomusicology, UTexas at Austin), as well as ongoing traditional study with two legendary gurus: Grammy-nominated sarode Maestro Aashish Khan and vocal diva Padmabhushan Girija Devi. Passionate about womenâ€™s rights and creativity, she has published numerous articles in journals and books and co-produced and directed four films, documenting her research with socially marginalized musicians in India, which have been screened at festivals and conferences in North America, India, and Europe. She has received multiple awards for her scholarship as an ethnomusicologist (including for her documentary films), as well as musical performance, outreach, and education.
Deeply committed to sharing North Indian music culture, Amie has traveled three continents completing artist residencies, hosting recitals, and conducting all-ages workshops on the music of South Asia, particularly Hindustani music, as well as on world fusion music. Chronicle Polls, seamlessly blends traditional Indian melodies with jazz/world grooves, creating an ever-evolving boundary defying sound. Amieâ€™s musical credits include four CDs (two Hindustani classical sitar and two with her Sangeet Millennium Ensemble), as well as sound tracks in several independent films (among them Cutting Chai Productionsâ€™ Clay in 2013, Rhituparna Basuâ€™s The Revolutionaries in 2012, the Nobelity Projectâ€™s One Peace at a Time in 2009, Cenozoic Studiosâ€™ Nan Wayne & Masala SXSW Trailers in 2003) and theater productions (notably A Modern-Day Vyasa: Jean-Claude Carriereâ€™s Mahabharata in 2013 and 2014).