Nistha Raj | Exit 1

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Exit 1

by Nistha Raj

This debut album is a laboratory for Indian Classical music pushing ancient melodies in new directions by intersecting genres and combining non-traditional elements such as human beatboxing, saxophone, guitar and piano with violin and tabla.
Genre: World: Indian Classical
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Shivranjani (feat. Christylez Bacon & Wytold)
5:45 $1.22
2. Jayanthi (feat. Aakash Mittal & Debu Nayak)
7:35 $1.22
3. Ek Pyar Nagma Hai (feat. Ethan Foote & The Fourth Stream)
7:13 $1.22
4. The River (feat. Rangashree Varadarajan, Behzad Habibzai & Ajay Ravichandran)
8:43 $1.22
5. Bhairavi Beatbox (feat. Christylez Bacon)
6:52 $1.22
6. From China to India (feat. Xue Anqi & Debu Nayak)
7:10 $1.22
7. Ajde Jano (feat. Duff Davis & Debu Nayak)
5:39 $1.22
8. Gravity (Charukeshi Alap)
6:13 $1.22
9. Alibi (Charukeshi Jor Jhala)
7:37 $1.22
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Recent reviews of Exit 1:
“When you think of Indian classical music, you probably don’t expect to hear beat box, or strains of jazz, and even rock. But that’s exactly what Nistha Raj is all about. The violinist is mixing classical Hindustani music with modern sounds to bring it to a new generation of music lovers. ” NPR Tell Me More

Listen to the full in studio performance and interview with Michele Martin of NPR’s Tell Me More here:

“Exit 1″ is number 1 of the Top Ten World Music Albums in February 2014 (SoundRoots World Music & Global Culture)

”Those old bin dividers are useless in the face of what Nistha Raj has done on her album Exit 1. Which, by the way, is something you should listen to just to confound your parents. Raj and her friends aren’t some kind of musical gimmick; they’re really talented musicians who have made something gloriously fresh-sounding.” – Scott Stevens, Soundroots World Music & Global Culture

“For a debut album this impressively balances the traditional and the modern worlds, and makes you want to follow Raj down this exit lane from the main highway.” - Graham Reid, Elsewehere

“The tune fuses a lulling classical North Indian melody with Wytold’s electric cello and the racing beatboxing and spoons of hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon, who fills the tabla role.” - Christopher Porter, Washington City Paper

“The edgy, innovative, and clearly awe-inspiring tunes are Indian fusion at its best. Nistha knocks this one into another dimension and it definitely ‘beats’ the competition.” - Matthew Forss, Inside World Music

“Her first album, it’s the kind of session that’s bursting with a lifetime of music welling up waiting for release that finally explodes in all directions quite delightfully. A great addition to any world beat collection, you can enjoy this as an armchair traveler but don’t expect your butt to be welded to that chair.”
– Midwest Record Entertainment Reviews, Views and News

“On her debut CD, Exit 1, violinist Nistha Raj has created an attractive sonic mashup. Mightily influenced by traditional Hindustani rhythmic cycles, the recording also features bewitching breakbeats, a Serbian folk song, Tibetan music, ragas and artful violin playing.
- John Stevenson ejazzNews

India Without Borders: Nistha Raj Takes Exit 1

The violin begins to play a raga. At the pause, just when the tabla should enter, a beatboxer begins a rhythm and worlds collide. The music takes on fresh colors and barriers crumble. This is the sound of Nistha Raj and what she’s created on her inventive solo debut album, Exit 1 (releasing February 26th, 2014).

For many years she studied Western and Hindustani (North Indian) classical music. But, she emphasizes, Exit 1 “is not a classical album. It’s rooted in Hindustani music, but it’s a crossover.” How could it be anything else when her performing palette ranges from the demands of the tradition to playing with jazz trio The Fourth Stream, rock band NRIs or working with Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon?

“This album is the first stop on my musical journey,” Raj explains. “Thats why I called it Exit 1. Music is and has always been a journey for me and sometimes I don’t know where the music will lead me but that excites me. This is my first album and it documents all the different collaborations so far on my journey.”

Raised in Texas, Indian-American Raj began studying violin when she was nine, graduating with a B.A. in music with honors from the University of Houston. She enjoyed playing the Western classical tradition but something was impelling her to India, to study the music that lay deep inside herself. With a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations she traveled there, staying for more than three years as she learned and immersed herself in Hindustani classical music. But in spite of her desire, it wasn’t easy.

“There was not a lot of support from my family to go to India to study music because it was never considered a viable career. And as a woman it was not easy to live there and be taken seriously. So the music is really my blood, sweat and tears. It’s so important to me that I play this music. It’s what resonates most deeply with me .”

Yet for all she loves it, Nistha Raj understands that classical music -of all kinds- is in a slow decline. Back in the US she began working with a human beatboxer – a daring combination that opened up an entirely new audience for her music.

“People relate to beats and seeing us together crossing so many boundaries. While everyone knows the violin, most don’t know it in Indian music. Presenting it this way makes it accessible to anybody, to all ages.”

Most of the nine tracks on Exit 1 have deep roots in Hindustani music featuring well known tabla maestro Debu Nayak. Many are Raj’s arrangements of classical pieces. But she slashes through the rules, sometimes adding cello or guitar and piano to complement the sound of her five-string violin, bringing a new energy and perspective to ancient melodies. The track that sits closest to her heart, though, is a take on the famous Bollywood song, “Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai” featuring The Fourth Stream and Ethan Foote. Originally sung by the legendary Lata Mangeshkar in the 1972 movie Shor, it’s “a song I grew up listening to with my mother. It’s part of my childhood. I wanted something that was a tribute to her. She didn’t play an instrument but she was my first teacher, she introduced me to such good music.”

Raj kept the melody, but brought in upright bass, piano and drums to change the mood of the track, and added “a little Indian classical in my solos. After my mother passed I couldn’t listen to it. When I hear it now it makes me happy.”

On “The River”, based on Raag Kalavati, featuring Rangashree Varadarjan on Carnatic violin, she showcases the similarities and differences between the Carnatic (South Indian) and Hindustani traditions, first using mrindangam played by Ajay Ravichandran (a clay-headed double drum) for percussion, then giving a twist to the North Indian take by bringing in the Latin cajón, played by Behzad Habibzai, behind the violin to add a touch of flamenco. "Shivranjani", the opening track, incorporates the sounds of Wytold on the cello and Christylez Bacon on vocal percussions and spoons creating an unexpected but unified sound. Both are long time collaborators of Raj's.

“Jayanthi,” offers an original that Raj composed with sax player Aakash Mittal after they studied under the same teacher in India, Prattyush Banerjee, and is accompanied by Debu Nayak on tabla. “Aakash is a jazz musician and there’s a lot of similarity between that and Indian classical music, a lot of improvisation based on a melody within a rhythmic cycle. Though there are rules on how to improvise in both traditions, in jazz you are not limited by notess, in hidustani music, you have to stay within the notes of the raga. My solos are very traditional and his embody that jazz contrast. So we come together but stay apart.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about Exit 1 is that Nistha Raj waited so long to make an album. Like all musicians, she’d long considered recording an album, but it never seemed to be a priority. She was too busy making music to take the time to record it. Then, on a whim, she applied for a grant from the Sparkplug Foundation in New York. In June 2012, when she was awarded the grant, “it took several months to work out the ideas. With the musicians spread everywhere, scheduling the sessions with everyone was the biggest challenge.”

She wanted to be sure every track was different, illustrating all the facets of her music. But still, and always, with Indian classical music at its core.

“That’s where my heart is,” Raj says.

The CD release concert, featuring Raj with some of the musicians who played on Exit 1 (including Debu Nayak, Christylez Bacon, Wytold, Ajay Ravichandran, Behzad Habibzai, The Fourth Stream, and Ethan Foote) takes place at the Mansion at Strathmore in Washington D.C. (where Raj is an artist-in-residence) on February 26, 2014.

Current Strathmore Artist in Residence, Nistha Raj has been regarded as “stunningly skilled in western and eastern classical music” by the Washington City Paper. Nistha is emerging as a fresh voice in creative and world music. Her recently self-released debut album, “Exit 1”, funded by the Sparkplug Foundation, has been described as “edgy, innovative, and clearly awe-inspiring…Indian fusion at its best” (Inside World Music). A versatile musician, Nistha pursues new horizons by melding tradition with contemporary innovation – lending her talents to the Jazz trio The Fourth Stream, collaborations with Grammy nominated hip hop artist Christylez Bacon and six-string electric cellist Wytold; and recording on rock band NRI’s album. A distinguished performer and teacher in the Washington, DC community, Nistha has performed at the United Nations, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the American Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. Nistha is a recipient of multiple grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, including the 2012 Artist Fellowship.

“Her keen musicianship and talent has been highly appreciated and lauded by the audiences”
-Virander Paul, Minister of Press, Information & Culture,
Embassy of India



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