Ila Paliwal: Navaratna

December 12, 2016


True Colors

Listening Post 77. No one leaves a Holi Festival gathering looking the way they did on arrival. The highlight of the spring rite celebrating the triumph of good over evil is friends, family and strangers throwing colored powder and water on one another. The many-hued observance is a centerpiece of Navaratna (Nine Gems), Ila Paliwal’s album devoted to India’s multicultural festival calendar—nine holiday-named compositions based on classical ragas and a mix of traditional and western instruments, plus Paliwal’s majestic crystalline voice. “I will throw color on you,” she sings (in Hindi) in Holi, “I will turn your brown complexion into red/By rubbing powder on both your cheeks” (video 1). Diversity is a theme even in songs about particularistic holidays, like Eid, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan: “Drink the juice of togetherness/This is the moment of embrace, tie the knot of peace,” Paliwal proclaims (video 2), in a song composed by A.R. Rahman, who is also the album’s executive producer. Diwali honors the festival of lights, a Hindu holy day also observed by Sikhs and Jains—and including elements reminiscent of Christmas and Hanukkah; “The lamps are lit in every home today,” the lyrics say, “Every door is adorned with flowers/Every courtyard decorated with rangoli patterns” (video 3). Also on Navaratna’s holiday palette are Pongol, a harvest festival featuring overflowing pots of rice; Baisakhi, a Punjabi observance with special meaning for Sikhs and Buddhists; and Christmas, which incorporates echoes of Joy to the World. Paliwal, who grew up in Agra and today lives in America, also practices color consistency: The red-and-gold dress she wore on entering Carnegie Hall to launch her stunning album was still red and gold when she came out. (Padmasheel Productions)





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