A Washington, DC artist prepares to launch her debut album

Nistha Raj’s ‘Exit 1’ will release in February.

By Deepak Chitnis

nistha raj
Courtesy of NisthaRaj.com

WASHINGTON, DC: Classical musician Nistha Raj, a Washington, DC-based recording artist, is getting ready to launch her debut solo album early next year.

Her album, entitled “Exit 1,” is not just a simple compilation of Hindustani classical music. Throughout her musical career, Raj has had a knack for combining the sounds of the East and West, melding Indian music with hip-hop beat-boxing and all sorts of other urban sounds to create something entirely new and unique.

Raj’s education in the field of music has lasted 20 years to date, taking her all over the world for both instruction and performances. She has performed at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and has performed at various embassies around the world, including Canada, Columbia, and Poland.

Brought up in Texas, Raj knew from an early age that music was her calling, and she began learning the Indian classical violin at the age of nine. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Houston in 200, majoring in Music and earning Honors as well.

Following her undergraduate studies, she traveled to the small Indian village of Vrindavan to study an ancient form of Indian music called Dhrupad, from the renowned teacher Tarun Krishna Das. In 2005, she became the only American citizen at the time to receive the Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship, allowing her to get formal training in various aspects of Indian music for two years in New Delhi.

She returned to the US in 2007, subsequently earning her Master’s degree in Arts Management from George Mason University in northern Virginia. She also receives sarod training from Prattyush Banerjee, who originally hails from Kolkata.

Although she originally did not think she would ever record an album on her own, the opportunity came about last year, when Raj decided to apply for a grant from the SparkPlug Foundation in New York. To her surprise, she ended up winning, receiving enough money to help fund her while she went about putting together an album. Also helping her out was the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which awarded her the 2012 Artist Fellowship.

Now, she is ready to release her first solo album. “Exit 1” is not a typical Indian album, full of sitar and tabla and Indian flute. Rather, Raj takes elements of Indian classical music and upends them with jazz, piano, and modern drums to keep things fresh.

For example, one song is an update of the classic Bollywood ballad “Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai,” from the film Shor, while another song is an original composition Raj created in collaboration with Indian American jazz saxophonist Aakash Mittal.

“Exit 1” will release on February 26, 2014.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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