Farah Yasmeen Shaikh Brings Her First Traditional Solo Kathak Performance To The Bay Area
Internationally known Kathak artist Farah Yasmeen Shaikh-who makes her home in the Bay Area, was trained by the late Pandit Chitresh Das and whose performances have been described as "electrifying"-brings her first traditional solo performance to the Bay Area in 5 years this spring. This follows her work in The Parting, a vivid and large ensemble piece depicting the 1947 partitioning of India into three countries by the British, that she choreographed as well as starred in during its dual run in SF and San Jose in early 2018.
Nazaakat aur Taaqat (pronounced Nah-zak-ahat orr Tah-aht) translates to "delicacy or grace ... and strength," hence the title, A Delicate Power. "I wanted a title that showed the breadth of Kathak, says Shaikh. "While filled with subtlety and delicacy on the one hand, it also very, very rigorous on the other. As an art form it has it all: musicality, storytelling, strength, and grace."
Composed of 8 different sections, 5 of which will see their premieres, the solo performance will be accompanied by some of the Bay Area's finest musicians specializing in the classical music of South Asia, including the prodigious violin talents of Raaginder Singh Momi, who will also be working alongside his sister Ragini Kaur Momi, who will play harmonium, as well as his father, Dalbir Singh who will be a guest artist on sitar. Also joining Raaginder on the docket is Nilan Chaudhuri, son of the illustrious tabla master and Guru, Swapan Chaudhuri.
In a 2018 interview the 25-year old Raaginder described himself as "a violinist, composer, sneakerhead, avid basketball fan and once an immigrant. I was born into a family of musicians in Bangkok and moved to California a month before 9/11 happened." The former Bay Area resident currently lives in Los Angeles where he is obtaining his masters at Cal Arts, all while pursuing his musical career, which includes playing on film scores, and the goal of introducing the Indian classical sound into Hip Hop and other genres; he has also played the National Anthem prior to an LA Clippers game.
"Basketball and Hip Hop were the two things that led me into American culture," says Momi. "Basketball itself is poetry in motion. It's something that has flow, finesse, power, and is unpredictable. As I was growing up, I wanted my music to have all of these qualities as well. When I was first drawn to basketball, it was the era of Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and more. What these players embodied was authenticity on and off the court. I try to embody authenticity as well as flow through my music. Whether it's my contemporary or Indian classical music, each style is a culmination of the influences and experiences of my life."
The evening itself will consist of a series of vignettes some of which are invocational, offering gratitude and respect to the divine, as well as short songs, sourced from writings of some of India and Pakistan's greatest poets. One in particular tells the tale of a girl from an affluent family in love with a wandering musician who has nothing. What she doesn't know is that he too is from an affluent family, who turned their back on him when he decided to be a musician. "This story is from the Punjab region, and as far as I know it has never been presented in Kathak," says Shaikh. "But its larger message is about what happens when you attempt to keep people apart. Which is apparently a lesson the world keeps having to learn over and over again, so I am happy to do my part where that is concerned!"
On the Wikipedia page dedicated to Kathak, Shaikh is quoted from a press article as saying she considers Kathak to be "a confluence of Hindu and Muslim cultures," but in reality she sees the form not in religious terms, but rather as what she sees as a "South Asian tradition" that Pakistan lost in the 'divorce' from India in 1947."
While born in the US to Pakistani parents, she travels to Pakistan on average twice a year to teach and perform. "Starting in the late 70s, the arts were struck from the cultural landscape, and since then it has been challenging to reclaim. Arts are geared more toward the elite, but there is a movement to make them available more broadly. And that is something I am very eager to engage with and alongside amazing dancers and musicians in Pakistan. But no doubt, just being an artist in Pakistan means taking a stand, one that feels inherently political."
Approximately 45 students of Noorani Dance ranging in age from 6 to 60-with the majority being between the ages of 10-17-will open the evening accompanied by musicians also aged 10-17. This glimpse into the potential future of Kathak on the West Coast ties into the post show Gala dedicated to raising funds and awareness for Noorani Dance, that though founded by Shakih in 2015, becomes its own 501c3 this year.
What: Noorani Dance Presents Nazaakat aur Taaqat-A Delicate Power
When: Saturday, May 4
Time: 5:30pm performance with Gala to follow
Where: Mexican Heritage Museum,1700 Alum Rock Ave, San Jose, CA 95116
Tickets: Tickets $40-$65 on sale at Nooranidance.com