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Interviews

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hybrid Energy

By Published: May 2, 2011
AAJ: Charlie Parker once said "Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." How does that statement apply to you?

RM: I always liked that quote. The first time I read it was probably in junior high. I had no idea what it meant. Then I understood there was this glamorization of Charlie Parker and his drug addiction. I've never dabbled in any of the hardcore stuff, but there was once a little part of me that thought "Maybe that's what you have to do. Maybe that's what 'livin' it' means." But to look back now at almost 40 years-old, what "livin' it" meant for me was trying to figure out who I am and realizing I'm not white and not black and that I'm something else. The question was: What does that "something else" mean? How does that fit into this country and the rest of the world? How do you stake a claim for yourself and your people? I think anytime one of us does something non-traditional, we're making it easier for someone else to do that. When I see a restaurant review in Time Out New York and see it was written by an Indian or Indian-American, I'm totally thrilled by that. I'm like "Go, dude!" If I look through gallery listings in New York and see an Indian artist, I'm going to go. Even if the stuff looks like crap, I'll go. [laughs] I know that South Asians come to my shows and they're obviously into the music, but they're also thrilled by the occurrence of the event of one of their own performing.

AAJ: Is there a spiritual component to your music?

RM: It's not religion-based, but when I'm really into it, I feel connected to something that is almost otherworldly. I can't describe it very well, but there's something that happens even when I'm alone if I'm playing something that's very special. There's also that amazing thing that happens when the band and audience are all kind of in tune somehow—some sort of resonance takes place that's actually more important than the music itself. So, to that degree, I'm spiritual. I was raised Hindu, but then we were left to our own devices come high school. There are a lot of great teachings on Hinduism, but ultimately, all religions talk about being a good person. That's something I make a conscious effort to be. I know I've gone through periods of being kind of a dick and I regret those. I know why that was happening. Certain things were forcing that. Surrounding myself with good people is as important as surrounding myself with good musicians now. I feel like I'm finally at a place where I really respect everyone I'm playing with as a person. There was a time when I was okay with playing with someone who was an asshole if he played really well. I have no patience for that anymore. As I inferred earlier, the music becomes secondary when everything else is in tune and it's those experiences I'm after.

Selected Discography

MSG, Tasty! (Plus Loin Music, 2011)

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Bunky Green, Apex (Pi Recordings, 2010)

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman, Dual Identity (Clean Feed, 2010)

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Indo-Pak Coalition, Apti (Innova, 2008)

Rudresh Mahanthappa/Kadri Gopalnath, Kinsmen (Pi Recordings, 2008)

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Codebook (Pi Recordings, 2006)

Vijay Iyer/ Rudresh Mahanthappa, Raw Materials (Savoy Jazz, 2006)

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mother Tongue (Pi Recordings, 2004)

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Black Water (Red Giant Records, 2002)

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Yatra (RM, 1997)

Photo Credits
Page 2: John Rogers

Pages 5, 9: Cees van de Ven

All Others: Courtesy of Rudresh Mahanthappa


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