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With Shuruaat, the Berklee Indian Ensemble Begins a New Chapter


With Shuruaat, the Berklee Indian Ensemble Begins a New Chapter Berklees in-house Indo-jazz superstars celebrate their first decade and step into the future with their debut album.


John Mirisola

July 21, 2022

The Berklee Indian Ensemble

Image by Mike Ritter

Depending on how you look at it, the road to the Berklee Indian Ensembles first album, Shuruaat (Hindi for beginning), was either impossible, or it was inevitable.

Shuruaat album cover

Design by Nikhil Kaul

On the one hand, there were countless hurdles. Take, for instance, the business challenges of a small academic institute working out an international music publishing deal with Sony Music India, or developing fair revenue-sharing contracts with some hundred collaborators. Then theres the sheer unprecedented trajectory of this homegrown college ensemble evolving organically over 10 years into a YouTube phenomenon, now ready to enter yet another new stage as a professional 11-piece collective.

But on the other hand, theres the music itself, with all its inevitable charisma. Watching any one of those performances that have attracted so many millions of viewers, seeing how skillfully the ensemble flows through styles, collaborators, languages, and moods, balancing immense talent with serious fun, its no great mystery how the group, led by Berklee India Exchange Artistic Director Annette Philip B.M. '09, found the conviction to persevere through those seemingly impossible challenges and arrive at this new beginning.

The main thing that has always pushed us are two questions: what if? and why not? Philip explains. We were constantly told by industry professionals, especially who work in India: This is going to be an uphill task. When we got to the 10-year anniversary [of the ensemble], however, I just felt like, you know what, just because it might be hard is not a good enough reason to not do this, or not even not try.

From a Blank Canvas to a YouTube Phenomenon Those two questions-what if? and why not?-have been with the group from the beginning, when Philip was given a blank canvas to create a new ensemble or academic offering at Berklee. She knew the answer immediately: There were these little pockets of Indian music that were being explored more on a theory side or a composition side, but no performing collective that was exploring Indian music in all of its varied forms. So she founded the Berklee Indian Ensemble as a vocal group in 2011, and over its first few years, the ensemble blossomed into a full band that students returned to term after term.

Part of the groups appeal has always been its inclusive spirit. Its a porous collective, Philip says, a space where no matter what your cultural or musical background is, you are able to bring your perspective and your voice into the music, and thats got to flavor the overall sound.... Right from the beginning, the goal was: yes, it is Indian music, but it is a global Indian sound that we are going to create together.

That was a sound that audiences around the globe-and across the internet-responded to. The groups second-ever YouTube video, 2014s interpretation of A. R. Rahmans Jiya Jale, went viral overnight, and within a week had racked up more than a million views. As of today, the song is approaching 53 million views, and is the most popular video on Berklees YouTube channel. And as the millions of views on subsequent videos have proven, that early success was far from a fluke.

Watch the Berklee Indian Ensembles viral hit Jiya Jale:

A New Beginning Ten years on, much has changed for the ensemble. In 2021, the group, which had organically developed a core lineup of 11 musicians-some of whom had been playing with the ensemble since its inception-transitioned from an academic offering to Berklees first professional touring outfit. The ensemble will now focus on raising the schools global profile through its own performances, workshops, and outreach. Meanwhile, students will have access to the ensembles spiritual successor, the South Asian Ensemble, which they can participate in without needing to square the demands of a full-time touring band with the rigors of a Berklee education.

Shuruaat, which collects 10 of the groups most memorable YouTube performances into a cohesive musical journey, is a monument to what the ensemble managed to accomplish through its first decade. Featuring four original compositions alongside covers and collaborations with legends including tabla master Zakir Hussain '19H, singers Shankar Mahadevan and Vijay Prakash, and Bollywood icon Shreya Ghoshal, it really is a full spectrum of what the ensemble has created as a team, as a family, over the last 10, 11 years, says Philip. It includes 98 musicians from 39 countries. And this 98 is only a glimpse-a small glimpse-into the almost 500 people whove been part of the ensemble over the years.

We want our students and our alumni to know that they have rights, and they have to be treated correctly, no matter who their collaborator is.

- Annette Philip, Artistic Director, Berklee India Exchange

The album also marks a milestone in ethical music business practices. We have set up Berklees first-and probably one of the worlds first-equitable, just revenue sharing systems, Philip explains. Weve talked to many music supervisors, music rights activists, etc..., to find a really fair way for everyone who is part of the album-not just the performers, but also the producers, arrangers, and any engineers who are not already paid as a work-for-hire-to share in the albums continued success through a prorated revenue share. For life. Its a radical model that Philip says she hopes sets a precedent for the rest of the music industry. We want our students and our alumni to know that they have rights, and they have to be treated correctly, no matter who their collaborator is.

Ultimately, these thoughtf
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