How to Re-Discover Your Desi Roots in New York



Arun Ramamurthy plays Carnatic music surrounded by the Manhattan skyline.

Arun Ramamurthy plays Carnatic music surrounded by the Manhattan skyline.


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 Drive East – Ghungroos,  Dhols and Nayakas

Immigrants often cry for the moon – for the lost rhythms and movements of a disappeared homeland, for loved, remembered sounds and tastes. Well, this summer season, a full golden moon is coming right into their embrace in the shape of Drive East, a unique festival of the arts which brings music and dance from across India into their New York neighborhood.

It’s not only immigrants who hanker for the arts festivals of Chennai or Mumbai but also the second generation of Indians, of South Asians, as well as Americans who are drawn by the siren song of Indian dance and music.

While slowly the arts of India have infiltrated the US, some dance traditions are rarer than others. When did you last see dancers perform Sattriya, the 600-year-old dance from the Vaishnavite monasteries of Northeast India, live in New York?

Last year was the debut year of Drive East and received critical acclaim from NYC art critics and the media.

As Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times, “Drive East at La MaMa — accurately subtitled a Journey Through South Asian Music and Dance — is an extraordinary feat, covering more ground than many other festivals…I hope this festival recurs in years to come.”

Indeed, all the diverse arts of India are highlighted at this year’s festival once again at La MaMa and it’s going to be one hot sizzling Indian summer! The wonderful thing is there’s something for everyone so it’s really like a thali feast for the family.

Here’s a list of tips on what to see and how best to maximize the effects of India in your backyard.


Navatman Dance Company

Navatman Dance Company brings the flavors of Chennai to New York


Top Ten Tips to get your India-fix – without going to India!

1. One Festival, Two Festivals, Three Festivals

Drive East is the only festival of its kind to comprise a concert series, a residency and  children’s summer camp. This year, the concert series features over 50 local and international artists through 25 concerts, with many of the major music and dance styles of India represented, with the addition of 2 Rare Arts of India programs.

2. 50 artists, 25 concerts, One Week

You expect to see this gathering of  noted artists in the arts festivals in India but for New York, 50 South Asian artists in 25 concerts in one short week is something of a record. Thirteen artists are flying in from Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Assam, and Kerala to participate in the festival, while 10 are flying in from around North America, including Canada

 3. Big Names and Emerging Artists

New York is a great place to  see established artistes like Dakshina Vaidyanathan, Ramya Ramnarayan , Krishna Bhatt, Mashkoor Ali Khan at close quarters along with  popular up-and-coming artistes like  the Navatman Music Collective, Rajas, Harsha Nagarajan, Nivedha Ramalingam, and Simran Godhwani

4. Getting to Know the Unknown

While Kathak, Bharat Natyam and Odissi are well-known to most art lovers, this is a chance to experience the lesser known dances of the East such as Sattriya and Mohiniattam  in the Rare Arts of India series. Sattriya Dance Company  is a Philadelphia-based dance company with a mission to promote Sattriya, the 600-year-old dance from the Vaishnavite monasteries of Northeast India.  Sattriya is a living art form, preserved and practiced by celibate monks in the river island of Majuli. This dance was not accessible to women for centuries. In 2000, the Indian Government recognized Sattriya as one of the country’s major dance forms.  The dancers performing for Drive East are Madhusmita Bora, Prerona Bhuyan and Anita Sharma.


  A Lost Art – Sattriya Dance Company



5.  A Chance to See New Works

The Drive East Artists’ Residency will be performing their new works at the weekend Brunch Performance Series with artistes like Roopa Mahadevan and Dakshina Vaidyanathan. The Residency brings artists together to collaborate on new work, an uncommon practice in classical Indian performing arts.


Dakshina Vaidyanathan

Dakshina Vaidyanathan


6. Instrumental Collaborations

The idea of the Navatman Music Collective was initially to create a Carnatic Choir but it soon became apparent that there was potential a wealth of different genres of music to meet in a common celebration.This year, the Collective is under the Artistic Direction of Roopa Mahadevan and has already performed as part of WKCR’s Ragas Live, at Make Music New York, and at the Navatman Dance Season. Drive East will be their first official full public performance.


7. Many Diverse Styles & Discounts too

It is a celebration of many art forms and the variety even within the styles such as Dakshina Vaidyanathan’s Tanjore style vs. Ramya Ramnarayan’s Vazhuvoor style,  and the exploration of fusion and experimental groups including Rajas and Afrika Meets India.  Navatman has developed recommendations (and discount packages) for viewers who would like to either discover the nuances within the one genre, or who would perhaps want to explore different performances within a category, such as New Artists. You can find this list HERE


Rajna Swaminathan of Rajas

Drive East – Rajna Swaminathan of Rajas


8. Summer Camp for Kids

Why should adults have all the fun? The festival includes an extension to Navatman’s kids’ classes through a summer camp. What better time than the summer for the young to explore South Asian dance and music and make it a part of their lifestyle? A golden summer’s experiences last forever.

9. A New Arts Mobile App! 

In the same way that oral tradition was transferred to text, Navatman is  now taking the new generation into mobility and in the long run, interactivity. A beta version of the arts app is set for release end-2014, and will be the only mobile app in the current marketplace that will serve as an exhaustive supplementary learning tool across various classical Indian music and dance genres.

Drive East – A Journey through South Asian Dance and Music


10. Passion Inc.

Navatman is founded on passion, passion for South Asian classical dance and music, and creating a home for it in New York City and its surrounding neighborhoods. This innovative organization is known for its curation, team culture and its business model, and in less than four years,  it has emerged as the go-to center for classical Indian performing arts right here in the heart of New York.  In 2013, Navatman received a Certificate of Recognition from the New York State Senate for its contributions to the traditional South Asian Arts field.

As Drive East with its juggernaut of artistic surprises comes into New York, one realizes there’s nothing quite as exciting as discovering something new. When you’re jaded, when you feel you’ve seen it all, along comes a breath of culture to resuscitate your curiosity.

Don’t forget to involve your children in your summer concert plans – this is when they will form their passions and their devotions to the arts. Long after the violins, the sitars and the tablas have been silenced, their rhythms will remain with you and your family, enhancing the memories of summer.

Click here for more details about Drive East


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