Carrie Newcomer's Indian project


Carrie Newcomer has always had an adventurous


It's evident in her perceptive folk music and

collaborations with everyone from Quaker theologian Phillip Gulley

to environmental writer Scott Russell Sanders. Then there's her

work leading songwriting workshops and serving as a cultural

ambassador for the American Embassy in India.

It's that last role that's facilitated her

15th album, Everything is Everywhere, a collaboration with

the famed Khan family of Indian classical musicians. It's a

project even Newcomer admits is unusual for her.

"It's very singular," she recently said by

phone from Delhi, India, while on her second visit to the country as

a cultural ambassador.

The idea came about in 2009, when Newcomer was

invited to be an artist-in-residence at the American Embassy School

in Delhi. There's a section of the American Embassy called the

American Center, which brings cultural events like music, art and

literature from the United States.

"It's not so much for expatriates,"

Newcomer said. "It's really to bring a variety of American

culture to India."

The Southern Indiana-based singer spent a month

traveling all over the country, playing concerts at night and

performing community service during the day. Mostly she worked with

young residents, leading workshops on songwriting and creative

writing. That's something Newcomer had done for years, though

never internationally. She described the experience as wonderful and


"I really fell in love with India when I was

here," Newcomer said. "I've had the opportunity to meet

wonderful musicians while I was here."

That includes the Khans, a family of

classically-trained sarod players

that includes Amjad Ali Khan and

his sons Amaan and Ayaan. As Newcomer describes it, if the sitar is

the violin of the Indian classical world, the sarod is the cello.

"It still has those beautiful, resonating

strings and that drone we associate with the sitar, but it's

lower," she said.

In an email exchange, Ayaan says the sarod has

become one of India's most popular musical instruments.

"It has reached out to

diverse and mainstream listeners all across the globe," he wrote.

"Post the sitar boom, the sarod has managed to carve out a special

niche in the hearts of music lovers."

Newcomer met the Khans in their home, where they

have a studio. One thing led to another, and they began to play

music together.

"It was just a beautiful experience,"

Newcomer said. "We were both so touched by one another's music,

and touched by the spirit that was contained in the music."

Like Newcomer, the Khans have facilitated plenty

of interfaith dialogue (Amjad is Muslim while his wife Subhalakshmi

is Hindu).

"There's a spiritual current in my work,"

said Newcomer, a practicing Quaker. "They really appreciated that.

We felt like we had a common well that our music was pulling from."

There were other factors that drew the Khans to


"(She has) one of the

most appealing voices we ever heard," Ayaan wrote. "The lyrics

also were truly a connecting thread between what was to become

Everything is Everywhere."

Transcending barriers

There was enough of a kinship that the next time

the Khans were in the United States, they recorded with Newcomer at

Bloomington's Airtime Studios. Newcomer wrote a collection of songs

specifically for the collaboration, working from notes she kept

while in India.

"I came home with notebooks filled with

images," Newcomer said. "It was such a busy schedule and so much

happened in that month that it was hard to process it all. I didn't

have time to write about it, but I did have time to write little

reflections and images."

Newcomer was keenly aware of the cultural

differences while in India. But she also noticed the similarities.

"When I started singing songs for

Indian audiences, what I found is if you're singing a song about

love or family, or grief or struggle, or particularly about hope,

it's recognizable everywhere immediately," she said. "I was

touched encountering that beautiful thread that pulls between us as


Both sides went into the project having little

idea of what to expect.

"We were all stepping out into uncharted

territory," Newcomer said. "I don't know if a collaboration

like this has ever happened."

Ayaan isn't aware of another one. His family

has worked with Western artists before, including Derek Trucks, but

no one of the folk persuasion like Newcomer.

"It is very rare for [performers such as us]

to record an entire album together as opposed to recording just a

track," Ayaan wrote. "In this case, it was the meeting of minds,

hearts, spirituality and the common goal that music transcends all


For Ayaan Everything is Everywhere is an opportunity to

expand the creative boundaries of his native music.


a very fanatic audience that would like Indian music [to be as it's

always been]," he wrote. "But now it's time to give new

meanings and dimension to Indian music and even offer [new] music

forms. Respect tradition and not convention. As they say 'everything

is everywhere.'"

Proceeds from the album, which

will be released Nov. 1 on Available Light Records, benefit the

Interfaith Hunger Initiative. Based in Indy, the organization unites

a number of spiritual traditions with the common goal of helping the


"It's all coming together to alleviate hunger in children and

families," Newcomer said. "Here in Indiana, but also abroad.

It's very much in keeping with the spirit of this work."


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