Indian musicians are working on getting a Grammy nod, even tweaking their sound to include global elements

On November 15, many Indian musicians and industry personalities waited with bated breath as the nominations to the 65th annual Grammy Awards for 2023 were announced. In the end, sitar exponent Anoushka Shankar, members of the Berklee Indian Ensemble, and two-time winner Ricky Kej made the coveted cut.

Shankar received two nominations: for ‘Between Us’, with conductor Jules Buckley, the Metropole Orkest and percussionist/ ‘hang’ player Manu Delago in the Best Global Music Album category. And ‘Udhero Na’, her collaboration with US-based Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab, is in competition for Best Global Music Performance. The Berklee Indian Ensemble is also in contention for Best Global Music Album for its debut record ‘Shuruaat’. “I’m over the moon that my live album Between Us is nominated, and I get to share the nominations with such amazing artistes,” wrote Shankar on social media. “I am also grateful to Arooj Aftab for having me solo on her gorgeous song ‘Udhero Na’.”

Plus, Ricky Kej, who won the Best New Age Album for ‘Divine Tides’ at the last Grammys, has been shortlisted along with drummer Stewart Copeland, mix engineer Eric Schilling and mix producer Herbert Waltl in the Best Immersive Album category. The award is given to albums with best Surround Sound, and ‘Divine Tides’ was released with a fresh mix using Sony 360 RA technology earlier this year.

Naturally, all three musicians are excited. Admitting he never anticipated this nomination, Kej says, “When we won last year, it was for a specific genre. We created a new Immersive Mix later and released it within the eligibility period. Here, we are pitted against people from different genres, including Christina Aguilera and The Chainsmokers.”

For its part, Berklee Indian Ensemble’s ‘Shuruaat’ featuring 98 musicians from 39 countries, has been led by Berklee India Exchange artistic director Annette Philip. “It feels quite surreal to be nominated on our debut, and to add to our joy, the announcement was made by John Legend,” says Philip. “We have used different styles like Sufi, folk and classical to a global sound that incorporates, progressive rock, jazz, gospel and choral elements. We have incorporated Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and scat syllables.”

India at the Grammys

Over the years, Indian artistes have mainly submitted entries in the Best Global Music (earlier called World Music), Best New Age (renamed as Best New Age, Ambient Or Chant Album) and Best Children’s Album.

Industry observers feel that many Indian musicians are consciously working on getting a Grammy nomination, and some of them have even tweaked their sound to include more global or new age elements. Atul Churamani, managing director of Turnkey Music & Publishing says, “What used to be a dream has now become a reality. It all started when the 2008 album ‘Miles From India’, produced by Bob Belden, featuring Louiz Banks and other Indian musicians, was nominated at the Grammys. Though there had been many winners and nominations before, that development opened up expectations.”

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of Indians submitting entries. But Kej says, “The difference is that during the past few years, more musicians are announcing their applications on social media. Given the times we are in, even to submit an album and be shortlisted is a big achievement. A Grammy nomination or win would mean a lot to some musicians. What’s important, of course, is to create music with a strong Indian flavour, something that distinguishes us from others. At our classical and traditional shows abroad, we see a mixed audience including many westerners. This is different from a Bollywood show where the audience primarily consists of the Indian diaspora.”

According to Berklee Indian Ensemble’s Philip, the interest shown in Indian culture isn’t restricted to music alone. She elaborates, “In the West, there has been more visibility about Indian art, literature and theatre. And within music, there is more awareness about our classical, folk and traditional forms, besides Bollywood.” Interestingly, both Berklee Indian Ensemble and Shankar are nominated in the same category (Best Global Music Album) that includes Angelique Kidjo and Burna Boy.

NARAS voting members

Besides the large number of Indian entries, another noticeable trend is the inclusion of more Indians as NARAS voting members. According to Churamani, while the selection process was more US-centric earlier, the global outreach has increased in recent years. This year, invitations have been sent to Sufi singer Sonam Kalra, tabla players Aditya Kalyanpur and Prodyut Mukherjee, singers Sherise D’Souza and Bipul Chettri, violinist Apoorva Krishna and bassist Raag Sethi. This is besides US-based Indian origin artistes Natania, Subhi, Karan Pandav, Kamini Natarajan and Shruti Kumar. Besides that, Mumbai singer Somesh Mathur was inducted as a Grammy U mentor for 2022. Grammy U is a NARAS-run body for college students pursuing music.

The selection process

This year, songs and albums were eligible if they were released between October 1, 2021, and September 30, 2022. To be considered, an album should contain at least five different tracks with a total playing time of 15 minutes, or a total playing time of 30 minutes with no minimum track amount. Singles had no such requirement.

Recordings were submitted to the Recording Academy, formally known as the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), through its website. A submitted recording had to be available for sale either in physical ‘brick and mortar’ stores or online via digital download, or via a recognised streaming platform. An album must contain greater then 75% of newly recorded material (within five years of the release date) that has not been released prior. This has been increased from 50% last year. After the nomination announcements, Academy members will pick the winners between December 14, 2022, and January 4, 2023 which will be announced on February 5, 2023 at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

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