The cofounder and artistic director of Indian Summer has a new take on "hybridity" two years into the pandemic. This term is often used in connection with performing-arts events that are offered live and online.
“I think there was a lot of excitement about the word hybridity,” Sirish Rao tells the Straight by phone. “Hybridity is a super-exciting state, but sometimes it can feel a bit like quicksand.”
But there’s also a positive side of hybridity that’s definitely not quicksand, he adds. This type of hybridity is linked to the cross-pollination of artistic influences rather than the hassle of putting events on live and online simultaneously.
And for Rao, it’s epitomized by Arooj Aftab, a rising star whom he’s bringing to Vancouver on July 13 as part of the Indian Summer Festival.
The Brooklyn-based Grammy winner was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents and went on to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“She’s grown up listening to Abida Parveen and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan but also listening to Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen,” Rao says. “So you can feel in her voice this inheritance of that kind of incredible soul of someone like Abida Parveen and then her own jazzy singer-songwritery feel.”
Jarrett Martineau, the nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and Dene Sųłiné curator in residence at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, is a longtime collaborator with the Indian Summer Festival. Rao says that Martineau drew his attention to Aftab in late 2020 or early 2021.
“He sent her work, saying, ‘Listen to this new artist who I think is going somewhere.’ And I always call Jarrett the soothsayer,” Rao quips. “I listened to it and it was so beautiful and so gorgeous.”
This was well before Aftab showed up on the playlist of former U.S. president Barack Obama.
It was long in advance of her receiving a 2022 Grammy nomination for best new artist following release of her Vulture Prince album. One of the tracks, “Mohabbat”, captured the 2022 Grammy for best global performance.
A month later, on May 2, Aftab joined President Joe Biden in a celebration of Eid al-Fitr at the White House.
Rao describes Vulture Prince as part experimental electronic, part jazz, and part qawwali music.
He’s especially impressed by her song “Udhero Na”, which, in Aftab’s words, decribes an underrated, unique, and fleeting emotional moment—“when the thought of someone from a very old and ‘passed’ relationship just pops into your head as you go about your present day-to-day”.
Rao mentions that this song also appeals to him because it’s a collaboration with another artist who defies categorization: Anoushka Shankar. She’s another Grammy winner and paragon of hybridity who has appeared at previous Indian Summer Festivals.
For Rao, it’s only fitting that Aftab will perform in the Chan Centre, which has such outstanding acoustics. And he says that her presence in Vancouver will fit into Indian Summer Festival’s 2022 theme of exploring inner and outer climates.
“Arooj very much speaks to our inner climate of our emotions,” Rao states.