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Arushi Jain, Sheherazaad, and Piu will blend classical vocal forms with out-of-the-box compositions at Indian Summer Festival

Arushi Jain by Zara Saraon
Arushi Jain creates Indian classical music with a modular synthesizer. Photo by Zara Saraon.

Arushi Jain is not your usual Indian classical musician. First off, she primarily relies on electronic tools, notably a modular synthesizer, rather than a sitar or bansuri. And her haunting vocals on tracks like “My People Have Deep Roots” seem to reach out to the universe.

Yet she insisted to Composer Magazine In 2021 that her otherworldly music is still “very much based on Indian classical”. She added that even after moving from Delhi to the Bay Area of California, she still listens to Hindustani classical music every day.

On Thursday (July 11), Jain will perform at Performance Works as part of the Indian Summer Festival. Known as the “Modular Princess”, Jain’s new album, Delight, “emanates iridescence through a diversity of electronic and acoustic textures”, according to Pitchfork.

Arushi Jain performs “My People Have Deep Roots” at Phoenix Central Park.

Jain creates original melodic soundscapes

In the summer of 2020, Jain recorded the outdoor fundraising video Boiler Room: Wild City in support the NAACP Legal Defence. As part of the Streaming from Isolation series, Jain sang amid an utterly original melodic soundscape.

“I don’t expect everyone to love my music but I want as many people as possible to hear it,” Jain says on the Ableton.com blog.

The concert at Performance Works is curated by Vancouver experimental musician Jarrett Martineau. He has also programmed performances that evening by Indo-American folk-pop vocalist Sheherazaad and B.C.-based vocalist Piu.

Sheherazaad was raised in the Bay Area and now spends much of her time in Brooklyn. She includes Hindi and Urdu on her 2024 debut album Qasr, which translates into “castle” or “fortress”.

According to her write-up on Bandcamp, the album “was engendered during a time of family estrangement, grief over a lost elder, and the racial polarisation of her country as she knew it”. Moreover, she describes Qasr as a “monument” that addresses “the real strains of displacement, the push and pull of diaspora, and the depravity of erasure and forgotten roots”.

“It was maddening” Sheherazaad says, “that the music of my origins didn’t yet exist. So, I knew I would have to make it.”

Watch the video for Sheherazaad’s “Mashoor”.

Sheherezaad loves namesake’s storytelling

Grammy winner Arooj Aftab produced Qasr.

Sheherazaad’s namesake is Scheherazade, the storyteller and a major character in The One Thousand and One Nights collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. The singer declares on her website that Scheherazade “has been a favourite and beloved character of mine since childhood for her ferocious storytelling idea that sales lives”.

“Also, in Hindi and Urdu, Sheherazaad translates to ‘Free City’,” Sheherazaad says. “I love the idea of a person, especially a woman, being a kind of ‘city’ entity in and of themselves. In the South Asian context, this idea of ‘sheher’ (city) is more visceral with metropolises historically being centres for innovation, forward-thinking, and more social mobility for women specifically.”

Piu sings before Arushi Jain
Piu incorporates Raga into her compositions. Photo by Rita Taylor

The opening act at Performance Works, Piu, has been studying Indian classical music for most of her life. She’s passionate about exploratory electronic fusion and incorporates Raga into her songwriting.

Piu, who was born in India, has already put out several singles and plans to release her debut album this year. According to the Indian Summer website, it “promises a fusion of cultural sounds and personal narratives, continuing her exploration of new musical territories”.

Indian Summer Festival and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival are co-presenting Arushi Jain, Sheherazaad, and Piu, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday (July 11) at Performance Works on Granville Island. For tickets and more information, visit the Indian Summer Festival website.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.