Q&A: GRAMMY Nominee Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon Speaks From Her Soul

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon is proving to the world that it is possible to live out your passion, even if it means clearing the path to success a little later in life. As a distinguished leader in the financial sector, and a 2011 GRAMMY nominee for her album, Om Namo Narayanaya: Soul Call (on Soul Chants Music), Tandon has much to revel in. The road to her success has not been easy, but Tandon is not the kind of woman who backs down to a few blockages.

Thirty years ago, Tandon moved from her home in India to New York City with only $24 in her pocket. She landed a job with McKinsey — America’s most prestigious management consulting firm — but had to sleep on the floor of her apartment for the first six months after choosing to use her first paycheck to buy a Martin Guitar and a great hi-fi so she could finally hear her favorite music in stereo.

Throughout her career, Tandon traveled the world for business purposes, but was always drawn to the eclectic sounds of a place. She would seek out local musicians, follow music festivals in the streets and attempt to learn languages through songs.

Even as a child Tandon was infatuated with music, but she knew choosing it as the course of her studies would not be accepted by her family. So it wasn’t until many years later, after reaching the height of her career in finance, that Tandon became in tune with what her soul had been calling out to her all along.

She began rigorous musical training with some of the most prestigious instructors in the world; at one point waking up at 4 a.m. every weekend to drive from New York to Wesleyan for master classes with a Carnatic music professor, returning by 10 a.m. to be home when her daughter awoke.

Reconnecting with her culture through intense study of Indian ragas (melodic modes used in Indian classical music), Tandon created an album composed around a single eight-syllable chant that is over 6,000 years old.

Her growing fan base speaks volumes to the powerful message that she spreads every day in her Facebook postings, and the music that has brought so many together.

In the interview below, Tandon tells The Expeditioner how the quest to “lose herself” has been her greatest accomplishment yet.

The Expeditioner: As a distinguished and prominent leader in the financial sector, you have had the opportunity to travel to many international destinations. Have any of these experiences influenced your music in a particular way?

Tandon: My musical tastes and influences have always been far ranging; I hear music everywhere, in everything, every moment — consciously and unconsciously.

I am influenced by everything from Greek and Middle Eastern musicians like Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, Oom Khatoum, to French musicians like Enrico Macias, to Brazilian artists like Gal Costa, Daniela Mercury, Carnaval sambas, Caetano Veloso and full circle back to classical Indian musicians such as Jasraj, Sahasrabuddhe, MS Subbalakshmi, Vijay Kichlu, T Viswanathan, and of course my master teacher Pandit Girish Wazalwar.

This inevitably influences my music. For example, in track 8 [of Soul Call], I was only hearing guitars and violins. I was thinking of Malaguena and “Hava Nagila” and various other songs as I was composing in this classically rigorous Indian scale.

The Expeditioner: You once said that “music breaks boundaries easier than words.” It is apparent, by simply viewing the comments from your fans on the Soul Chants Facebook page, that your album, entitled Soul Call, has reached an international audience on a very deep level. In what ways do you believe music to be the impetus for change among the international community?

Tandon: Music penetrates your deepest levels in most unconscious ways and all defenses crumble without one even knowing they have. When people can express their own joy through music, they radiate it all around them and the circle of love expands. That is what has happened on our Facebook page. From a trickle a few weeks ago to 32,000 plus fans with such profound expressions of their experiences.

The Expeditioner: What is the most rewarding part of hearing such positive feedback from people all over the world?

Tandon: I feel lucky to be a small part of each person’s journey. I feel tears well up every time I read the hundreds of e-mails from so many people. There has been an outpouring of expressions of people’s open, heartfelt feelings — and to me that is what it is all about. I am grateful for the nomination as it expands my circle of love.

The Expeditioner: Your mother, a talented Carnatic classical musician, inspired a love of music within you as a young child, yet you did not choose to follow this passion until much later in life. What rekindled your fervor for music, and how did you decide to pursue your musical talents?

Tandon: About nine years ago I woke up one day when my daughter was starting high school and realized that, though I had reached many measures of business success, I had not connected with my deepest self, my life’s purpose. I went on a journey going back to who I am. I asked myself: What makes me happy? And it struck me that all of my happiest moments in life go back to music.

I needed to pursue my passion for music and share it with everyone. That began my phase as a music seeker where I sought out extraordinary teachers who would give me a rigorous grounding in classical Hindustani music and I have since worked with Pandit Girish Wazalwar, who is my main Guru. I have also worked with a couple of masters, both in India and New York City, often traveling for a few days at a time to India to learn from them.

The Expeditioner: You will be donating all proceeds of Soul Call to benefit organizations in the fields of community building, arts, and spirituality. What prompted you to want to give back to these specific organizations?

Tandon: Again it is part of the broader vision I have of a circle of love, and I want everyone to hear the music. We have just donated or given at cost the CD to many wonderful organizations that are doing work in the areas connecting people, and helping people heal inside. They are far ranging in their specific causes and objectives, but it has been a wonderful journey.

The Expeditioner: The music on your album is a combination of an eight-syllable chant — Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya — and classical Indian scales. The syllables of the mantra are vibrations used in an ancient Vedic tradition handed down from generation to generation, believed to have deep healing powers. How has connecting with such a powerful form of music helped you to understand different facets of Indian culture?

Tandon: The eight syllable chant is believed to form a protective armor around the body as the cells go through their regeneration processes, and I have composed it in eight ragas or melodic scales.

I had to connect in this my own research on the texts, and combine it with my rigorous grounding in Carnatic (south Indian) and Hindustani (north Indian) classical music. But I also wanted to make it accessible to all across countries and demographics, so I used simple melodies with contemporary arrangements drawn from all my travels in the world. This allows everyone to sing along and have a shared celebration of music.

The Expeditioner: So what’s next for you, besides a possible GRAMMY and steadily growing fan base?

Tandon: I just finished the recording of my new album that has a lot of international musicians which will be released in a few months, and I keep waking up with so many inspirations. I have hundreds of compositions that literally flood my head, and it is very exciting to give them shape as full blown compositions and arrangements.

I also conduct a community choir for the seniors every week and create new compositions for them — pushing new boundaries in Indian classical music and making it joyful and accessible.

The GRAMMY nomination and my recent work have led to several invitations to collaborate, and I am excited to pursue my brand of global music.

Where now? What next? I live by a two-line quotation from a Sufi mystic named Kabir: “When I was there, the divine was missing; When I left, the divine took over.” My quest is to lose myself.

By Maria Russo


About the Author

Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA Today.com, People.com and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.

When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).

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