(Global Heart | Esther Haasnoot) Samir Bodhi offers a roadmap to peace in an album meant for tumultuous times.
“Stairway To Nirvana covers the whole feeling of going through the stages of life, from mournful to joyful, and eventually reaching enlightenment.”
A musical roadmap to peace in troubled times
Samir Bodhi (aka Samir Chatterjee)
“A resident of Southern California for several decades, Indian born musical visionary and tenured professor ‘s multi-faceted life and career reflects the classic immigrant experience of thriving in the pursuit of his creative and academic dreams. While building his resume as an internationally recognized scientist and scholar, under his real name Samir Chatterjee, he applied his virtuosic talents as a guitarist, composer, producer and recording engineer to a multitude of projects involving legendary Indian musicians – including several for his wife, Madhumita Chatterjee, a renowned Bollywood singer”.
“In 2019, long before COVID-19 upended our world and sparked anxiety about the future like never before, Samir’s sorrow and concern for his adopted home country inspired Samir to reach out to a cadre of top Indian based musicians and collaborators to realize his vision for Stairway To Nirvana, his debut album as a new age artist/producer under his own name. Fusing Eastern (Indian) classical music and instruments with modern Western music, Bodhi and his ensemble create a melodically, rhythmically and harmonically transcendent album that offers a musical roadmap to peace in these troubled times”.
An interview with musical visionary Samir Bodhi about his new album “Stairway to Nirvana.”
Esther Haasnoot: You were born in Calcutta, India, and emigrated to Southern California, U.S.A., where you have lived for many years now. Your resume is impressive. You are an internationally recognized scholar and scientist and simultaneously applied versatile artistic talents as a guitarist, producer, composer, and recording engineer to a wide range of projects with legendary Indian musicians – including several for your wife, Madhumita Chatterjee, a renowned Bollywood singer. How do you find is a nice balance between pursuing your academic and creative dreams?
Samir Bodhi: I am indeed very busy with my teaching and research activities at the University. I am working with doctoral students at a graduate program where there is a constant desire to solve societal problems. That leads to critical thinking and I have tried to create an environment which fosters innovation and out of the box thinking. This same kind of thinking also permeates in my music creation projects. In fact music is the balance that keeps me sane and gives me the energy to move forward. When I am composing or working with great musicians across the globe, I push towards original and unique musical ideas. So in many ways my academic life and musician life overlaps.
Esther Haasnoot: You also created a transcendent new album called “Stairway to Nirvana” that offers a musical roadmap to peace in these troubled times. Tell us a bit more about your new artistic project, like the inspiration behind the musical roadmap you created.
Samir Bodhi: This was back in May or June of 2019, when I was very disturbed with the kind of racism and anti-immigration sentiments in the USA. The hatred spewed by white supremacists and the black lives matter movement got me into thinking why people of different colors cannot get along. At the same time I have always felt that this is a nation of immigrants. So I started thinking of a musical project which at its core would bring people together through harmony and spread peace. I wanted to create music that would calm people, give everyone a moment to pause and think that at the end of the day we are all one mankind under God. So I got together with my musician team and started working with them on tracks that kept my Indian roots and yet transcended into the western new age world. That’s how this album emerged. At that time I had no idea that we will enter into a pandemic in 2020. On hindsight, the album is a perfect answer to the world we live in today. We are all going through a tumultuous times but peace is the answer. There is always light at the end of tunnel (Nirvana) if we are ready to embrace it.
Esther Haasnoot: Your new album splendidly fusing East Indian classical music and instruments with modern Western music. It’s a very warm-sounding album. How would you describe your music?
Samir Bodhi: I would describe it as New Age music with heavy emphasis on Indian classical and a little bit of western jazz. At times you will feel meditative while at other times you might also hear lounge music. Sarod and eastern flute are two of my favorite indian classical instruments that I have used a lot in this album. I am a guitarist, so of course there is heavy use of guitar in many tracks.
Esther Haasnoot: Let’s go on a musical journey together; Stairway To Nirvana covers the whole feeling of going through the stages of life, from mournful to joyful, and eventually reaching enlightenment. The title and each track on your new album, “Stairway to Nirvana,” reflects one aspect we need to go through to achieve a sense of nirvana. Can you tell us something about the elements we need to through?
Samir Bodhi: The sequence of tracks in the album was pre-conceived even before we started any composition. Given the situation we were witnessing throughout the world, the first track “Tranquility” meant that it is essential we become calm. Only then we can think of a journey forward. Then I have the “OM” track. This is meditation and the sound of OM takes us back to our primitive roots, all the way back to the beginning of the universe when the Big Bang happened. Once we are calm and focused, we see “Harmony” around us. The word harmony has musical connotations but here I am implying people living together peacefully. What then follows is “Peace”. This track calls for people to come together, forgetting our differences whether that is race, religion or socio-economic. The final track is “Nirvana” which implies the ultimate liberation, freedom from all discriminations and achieving a profound peace of mind and self-realization.
Esther Haasnoot: The Covid-19 pandemic and the following lockdown of many countries led to the temporary closure of many music venues and the cessation of live performances in the public’s presence. How do you experience this? How do you find your way amidst the corona blues and keep, like your album’s first song, your tranquility?
Samir Bodhi: The pandemic and the lockdown have been difficult for everyone and even for me. Live concerts disappeared but digital concerts emerged. We did a few of those but to me it doesn’t feel the same when you cannot interact live with your audience. Now that things are getting better, I am looking for “normal” times to come back and music scene back to its full potential. But throughout this period, it has given me an opportunity to listen to a lot more music and many new project ideas have emerged. Hopefully you will hear some of those in the near future.
Esther Haasnoot: OM, the second song on your album, is a sacred sound and spiritual symbol ॐ in many Indian religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. The OM chant is also used in Yoga and meditation practices. People feel more connected with their Divine selves after meditating and practicing this chant. What means the symbol and sacred sound OM to you?
Samir Bodhi: OM is an auspicious and spiritual symbol in Hinduism. At the same time it is a sacred sound. It signifies the essence of ultimate reality and truth. While growing up in India, I would hear OM being chanted in all religious activities or during reading of sacred scriptures. But the most fascinating aspect of OM to me is that it has also been associated with cosmic sound, if there was a sound that happened at the beginning of the universe, what would it be?
Esther Haasnoot: Harmony is the third song on your album. For some performers in lockdown, online is becoming the new live. Several artists and musical institutions find ways to work from home by live-streaming their performances or events online, to share some musical joy and harmony during these trying times. How do you experience this?
Samir Bodhi: True “digital live” performances suffer from quality issues due to internet bandwidth and computer buffering etc. I prefer the concept of “deferred live” in which you record your live performance but that recording is then streamed at a later time. We have done some of that during the lockdown. The pandemic has given rise to new online outlets and ideas which probably will grow over time as alternate means of reaching out to your fans and generating revenues.
Esther Haasnoot: The song “Peace,” sung by your wife, Madhumita Chatterjee, conveys the message of a hopeful world where everyone can live together in peace and harmony. Do you see music as a way to connect people beyond their many differences?
Samir Bodhi: I truly believe that music knows no barriers and is a universal way of bringing people together. “Peace” track is a call for humanity to unite. It envisions a world where there is only one religion – humanity. Nothing is impossible if we all join our hands together and dream of a united world.
Esther Haasnoot: Heading to our ultimate spiritual destination, we reach “Nirvana.” What means nirvana to you?
Samir Bodhi: The finale track “Nirvana” is very special. Actually, if you look closely at the album cover artwork, you will see a form of spiral staircase heading towards light and at the end there is the “OM” symbol visible. It’s the enlightenment we all desire. We have to go through various stages of life. Nirvana to me is the ultimate liberation, the freedom we want and the ultimate happiness that one can get through self-realization. It is the state of awakening which I hope my music can give.
About Samir Bodhi
A resident of Southern California, Indian-born musical visionary and tenured professor Samir Bodhi’s multi-faceted life and career reflects the classic immigrant experience of thriving in the pursuit of his creative and academic dreams. His accolades include accompanying legends such as Hemant Kumar, Runa Laila, Bani Thakur and Hoimonti Shukla and performing on Calcutta Television with famous artists in many prestigious venues in Calcutta, India. In the US, he performed with Ghazal badshah Jagjit Singh, composed Emotional Eyes, a modern Bengali album for his wife, singer Madhumita Chatterjee, and arranged and recorded the first ever Broadway-style Bengali musical Sinbad, performed in Los Angeles in 2006. Samir created the original music score for the 2010 independent Hollywood film Adios Mi Amigo and collaborated with Grammy-nominated sarod player Ustad Aashish Khan, Joey Sommerville (Prince) and Interscope recording artist Marty Cheyka. His new album, Stairway to Nirvana, can be heard on Echoes Radio, SiriusXMSpa, and is available on his website and most music platforms. For more information or to connect with Samir Bodhi: Website, Spotify, Youtube.
Source: Global Heart