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
classically-trained sarod playersthat 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
"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
"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."
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
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."