India to Indiana: Everything Is Everywhere from Carrie Newcomer
But what happens when you take that midwestern voice, that thirst for spiritual inquiry, the reflective nature of a writer and musician, and add in an unexpected month of teaching, touring, music making and experiencing the vast country that is India?
Everything is Everywhere, Newcomer’s latest album, is one result. On it, Newcomer brings in the gifts of master sarod players Amjad, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan along with her Indiana based musical friends Gary Walters on piano and Jim Brock on percussion. What these artists create together are songs which are distinctly in Newcomer’s artistic voice but with added colors and dimensions of what she learned and experienced in India.
The title track begins by evoking the sounds and tastes of a sunset on the Arabian sea and the colors of India, and moves to the sounds and sights and corn and beans of a farmer’s market in Indiana and a comforting bowl of soup shared with a friend, drawing these vivid journeys together with the reflection that
There is still so much work to do
Armloads of sorrow yes this is true
But I take heart when I despair
Miracles are everywhere
That interest in being in the moment comes through in a song called May We Be Released, which might be a prayer, might be an anthem, could be a comment on daily life, in India and in Indiana. As with all the songs on this album, the words are clearly Newcomer’s vision, set in melody and rhythm that both honor and extend her ideas. The sarod is a stringed instrument from India capable of great emotional depth and resonance, to which the Khans bring centuries of family immersion in playing classical Indian music and thinking about the connections among music and spirit. That is a shared connection that made it seem right to follow up an afternoon of sharing music in India with a deeper collaboration as Newcomer began to write the songs which would come out of her time in the country.
Not that she went to India seeking inspiration for a new album: Newcomer was in the midst of finishing up work on Before and After and scheduling tour dates to support it when the call came from a family friend inviting her to be a artist in residence during a week focusing on peace and justice at an international school in New Delhi. Then, the American Center learned of her invitation and started talking with Newcomer about visiting other places in India as a cultural ambassador in a program sponsored by the US State Department. All of this was coming up in a short window of time around which she had intense work planned “but I thought, I’m not going to say No! I’m not going to India! I’ll make this work,” Newcomer says. She had a question for the officials, too. “I have to say my first thought was: do you know what I do? This is
the state department, right? and I’m an activist folk singer type...” As it turned out the people at the American Center and the American Embassy in India did know. “The answer came back, and it was beautiful,” Newcomer recalls. “They said, we’re looking for music that builds bridges. There’s plenty enough walls out there, we’re looking for music that builds bridges, and your music does that.”
So she went, for what would prove an intense and moving month. “During the day, I’d be visiting schools and community service organizations, sometimes two and three in a day, and then in the evening give concerts,” she said. “And they sent me all over the place! I was in Kolkata, I was in Delhi, I was in Bengal, I was in the central part, I was in the very south, I was in Chennai, I was in Mumbai. India is a huge country, and just like the United States, different parts all have different foods, customs, dress, politics. It was an amazing experience. It was a life changing experience, and one I think I’ll be processing for a long time.”
Newcomer brought with her her own songs of family, the search for peace, reflection on the spiritual in the everyday, “and I found when I sang about those things, about grief, about family, about love, that the thread pulled through. The thread of connection pulled through. I have a song called Geodes, about Indiana rocks. It’s also about finding the shining heart of things, and that connected.” She also found listening to be part of her work.
“I’d go into these situations asking asking myself how can I serve? What am I here to give? and sometimes it was just to bear witness. They need to be heard, they need me to hear them and take that hearing and seeing them on, “ she said. She recalled a time when she’d been to a home for women and girls who were making new lives after difficult circumstances. “They sang songs to me in Hindi, and then they sang We Shall Overcome to me in Hindi and I sang it back to them in English, and we sang together. And I cried! I think I wept so much they were probably saying what is it with this American woman, she weeps, she sings, she weeps --”
Newcomer says, laughing. “But I think part of the work of the artist is to bear witness, too.”
That is part of what is going on in Everything Is Everywhere as well. With the music on it, from the vivid images in the title track to a song about forgiveness inspired by a poem from American poet Mary Oliver to an Indian raga from the Khans to consideration of love, hope and mystery wrapped in images of the everyday in I Believe, what Newcomer offers is an unfolding, a celebration, and a different way of seeing things in the world that connect us, across language and country and time and faith. Music that builds bridges, indeed.
You can hear excerpts from the music on Everything is Everywhere at Carrie Newcomer’s web site.
You may also listen to excerpts from the songs on Everything is Everywhere at Amazon.
Proceeds from Everything Is Everywhere will go to benefit the Interfaith Hunger Initiative, a program which works to end childhood hunger in Indiana and overseas.
photograph of Carrie Newcomer by Kerry Dexter and is copyrighted. thank you for respecting this
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