Photo of Yatrika Shah-Rais by Sheila Masson



  1. GH: Like most of Los Angeles I commute and spend a lot of time in the car listening to the radio. I used to listen exclusively to another public radio station until they changed to an “all talk” format …

    YS-R: … mostly news?

    GH: … mostly news, especially local news. I enjoy listening to the news and being informed about what is going on in LA and the world, but thought what a shame it was that they had cancelled their music programs. Many National Public Radio shows devote considerable space to stories about music and musicians, and Fresh Air’s host Terry Gross consistently devotes shows to music, such as her American Popular Song series. But somehow the absence of music programs seems to replace the kind of meaning that you can only perceive with music with a flow of reportage—a series of facts—and that seems to me to be a great loss. Could you talk about the choice of having music or not on a public radio station?

  2. YS-R: I think that it’s very important to have music, but it is a choice that the general manager and the board of the station make, whether they want it to be all talk or not. It’s one thing to say that India and Pakistan came close to declaring war on one another, or to say that this event is happening between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Bosnia, or the war in Afghanistan.
    Aziz Herawi
    Aziz Herawi
    But if you have no concept about these cultures then you have no sense of a personal connection to what’s going on. You have an experiential thing when you actually hear the music of these cultures because it really talks to you. You understand more about what that culture creates, how that culture communicates, and what their people listen to. It’s almost like sharing a meal. If you don’t have that connection, everything remains in a detached format—you listen to the news, you analyze it, you might even become appalled by it, but you have no idea who these people in the news are. But if you have a direct experience—with Aziz Herawi, for example a musician who is from Afghanistan—and you start enjoying his music, then the next time that they start talking about Afghanistan on the news and you know that people are getting killed there, you think, “It’s people like Herawi who are being killed there and the people who listen to this type of music. I have direct understanding or appreciation of what this is about.” I believe that this kind of understanding brings people closer to one another.

  3. It’s fine to bring us all the news, but to bring music or to bring the literature of a culture—something that speaks more personally to a listener—is just as important as the news. When you feel that you can relate and feel connected to all these cultures then the news takes on a totally new dimension. The reason that I believe that it’s important to play music from different parts of the world is to bring forth this spirit of tolerance and harmony. People’s compassion and tolerance increases. I think that is very important, and for me it’s a mission.

    Yatrika Shah-RaisYatrika Shah-RaisPhotos of Yatrika Shah-Rais by Sheila Masson

  4. I decided that I would do a show after Bush’s talk about the “Axis of Evil ” and the reason that I did that was that when they talk about these countries that these are just names that they’re throwing around. These countries consist of people, a lot of whose people are now living in the United States. They’re people like you and me, people that we encounter in the streets. Some of these people might be our friends. Why does everyone have to equate people with their government? Many people in the world are victims of their government, especially in those countries that don’t have democracy. Why don’t we listen to what they have to say in music, from their point of view and from their words, and listen to the kind of beauty that they can bring to our lives?

  5. GH: I’m glad that you brought up your “Music from the Axis of Evil” show, because I found the title is very ironic. If you look down your play list without knowing the theme of the show, you would think, “What wonderful interesting music—what a lovely collection of things to listen to, all this really interesting music from Korea, Iran, and Iraq.” But, put that title in!

  6. YS-R: You see, when you have that kind of rhetoric and you use it in public, people might not understand—if they haven’t been in touch with any of these cultures—and they might just equate all these people with terrorists. And that’s not the case. Most people in these countries are just trying to scrape out a living and it’s a question of survival. Or they’re people just like you and I, trying to live a life. So, I think this kind of rhetoric is dangerous. I think that we need to try to bring about a kind of balance with something that speaks directly to the soul and to the people. And sensory experience is very important, it’s like eating: you share a meal and break bread with someone and it brings you closer. You enjoy a piece of music from another culture and it brings you closer to the people from that culture. That’s the whole ideal about the Global Village, not only that it may introduce people to different kinds of music, but to try and bring people together through the music.

  7. GH: What do you think about in putting together a set for Global Village? Does it evolve, or do you have something in mind before you begin?

  8. YS-R: You know, I decide first of all what I want to do on a show, and I decide whether I want it to be thematic or whether I just want it to be a free flow thing. It depends on whether I’ve received new releases or not. Sometimes I do a program that’s based just on new releases, because there are so many of them that by the time that you’ve listened to them you’ve filled three hours. On the other hand, if I decide that I want to do a show on the Mediterranean, then the theme is set and I’m going to look for music that fits within this category—music from different parts of that region. If I decide that I just want the program to flow, a lot of times it depends of my mood, in the sense of “What have we not played in a long time?” Sometimes it depends of the feedback from listeners. I had a listener that wrote to me awhile back saying, “You have not played Balinese music in a while.” And I thought, “He’s right. I played it a few months ago, but a few months ago is not enough. Why not have some Balinese music here?” It was not that I didn’t want to play Balinese music; it just happened that the other things took precedence over the Balinese music. So I decide that I will incorporate some Balinese music.

  9. Primarily what I try to do is to make sure that the music within one set flows, that they are not jarring when they follow one another. It doesn’t have to be in the same key, it doesn’t have to be the same rhythm. But it’s got to give you a feeling that you are actually on a journey. And if you are dreaming with that journey, that you are not jolted rudely out of your dream. That is what I try to observe, sometimes more successfully than others. You know, we all have our days! [laughs]
    Yatrika Shah-RaisYatrika Shah-RaisYatrika Shah-RaisPhotos of Yatrika Shah-Rais by Sheila Masson

  10. GH: Do you go out and search through record stores when you are doing a show like the Mediterranean idea that you just talked about? I assume that people send you things.

  11. YS-R: I get lots of stuff from labels. I get lots of stuff from the artists themselves—they mail them to me. Some things come to KPFK directly and I borrow them.

  12. I do go and research. For example, for the Korean music in the “Axis of Evil” show, I thought, “I don’t get any Korean music from anyone. Nobody’s sending me anything.” So I went and bought some. I even went on the Internet and looked at what was available, whether there was a really long roster. I did not just want to be pop music, because, in my opinion, if you are just playing Western music and putting foreign lyrics on it, it’s not really World music anymore. It’s somewhere in between. The Western element is so strong, that it’s diluted your culture. So when I play world music, if it has Western elements and fusion elements—jazz, classical, hip-hop, whatever—I still want the roots of the originating culture to be very, very present. Sometimes it’s very hard to find because either what is being recorded in other parts of the world is not being released in America, or you have to go to specialized records stores. There is some Indian music that I can never find in regular stores: I have go to Pioneer Boulevard in Cerritos and go to Raga Record Store and go through their stuff and see whether I can find it there. At other times I may have to go on the Internet and search. For Turkish music, a lot of times, I order it through the Turkish Music Club because I can’t find it here.

  13. GH: It sounds like a very active process.

  14. YS-R: Yes. You have to be active, or otherwise you just end up playing what’s commercially promoted. And that’s a danger—we have a lot of unheard voices that deserve to be heard.

  15. GH: We all have a musical “comfort zone” that we tend to stay in, and we usually end up at the point where you say to yourself, “I want to listen to something new, but I’m not sure what to listen to.” I have a friend who is just turning forty and she told me, “I’ve been listening to 1970s rock for as long as I can remember, and I need something new now.” [laughs] I told her, “You need to listen to some world music.” She liked the suggestion, but it can be a really confusing world to try and enter.

  16. YS-R: It can be very confusing. What’s happening in world music right now is that the boundaries are just completely dissolving. There is so much fusion of not just two cultures together—East and West or African and Western—but of all sorts of cultures coming together. And not only cross-cultural, but cross-genre: so we get crossover classical, crossover jazz, and crossover pop and rock where elements of different cultures are brought into it. Because of this it can become very confusing, especially if you don’t know where to start and you’re a beginner.
    Ravi Shankar
    Ravi Shankar
    You ask, “Which one do I buy?” I do get a lot of emails from people who write, “I want to start listening to Indian music. Could you please, at least, give me ten titles that I can start with?” And there are some “musts” that you have to have. You cannot listen to Indian music and ignore Ravi Shankar, because he was the first person—really, the primary person—who brought Indian music to the West. So you have at least to start with the most important basics. If you want to create a library, you have to have with some vintage …

  17. GH: … “classics” …

    YS-R: … “classics,” even if they are very old. You have to have those, and you have to understand those. Then you can start exploring from there and experimenting with other stuff.

  18. So, yes, it can be very confusing, especially when you don’t know what to choose. But, really one of the best ways is to tune in to the Global Village, and that way you get to sample a little bit of all this music. And not just to tune in once and then go and buy something: try to tune in for a few times, or for two or three months and see what you like. You might find a piece that’s nice on recording, but maybe the rest of the recording is not as good! And we only played that nice piece on the air! [laughs] So it’s good to give yourself a little bit of time until your ears become accustomed.

  19. GH: I like the play lists that the Global Village posts on their website so listeners can look up on the Internet what was played on the show. Sometimes the sets flow so beautifully from one song to another, that you’ve listened to four songs and have had a lovely experience, but you can’t quantify it. So it’s nice to be able to go look them up and say, “Between 11:30 and 11:50 I listened to these songs, and I think it was the third one that I really liked.”

  20. YS-R: And even sometimes, because you may have heard three pieces between 11:30 and 11:50, I still get emails from people who describe the music to find out what the recording was. You know—“It had a trumpet in it, and had male vocals, and it had a tabla in there: who was that?” And I think, “Okay, I know what you’re talking about: it’s this.” Sometimes I get calls from people saying, “A year ago you played … ” And I say, “You know, I can refer you to the online play lists, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what I played a year ago or at what time.” It could have been a number of things.

  21. GH: I wonder if you could comment on the fact that Global Village is on five days a week, but with five different hosts rather than one person.

  22. YS-R: Well, you know that Global Village was the brainchild of Betto Arcos, who used to be KPFK’s music director. He is currently Operations Director at KPFK, but has kept his program as the Monday host of Global Village. The reason that he decided that it would be nice to have five different hosts was that it would bring in different musical angles, and that the show would not be biased. And every person has his or her pet peeves—you know? Or they have their own slant on music: they bring in diversity. So, what is nice about having five hosts is that if you want to get a lot of Brazilian music you can listen to Sergio Mielniczenko on Friday, or if you want a lot of Latin music, you can definitely get it from Betto’s show on a Monday. If you want classical music, you definitely can get it on John Schneider’s show—that’s a Thursday show. It was important to create some balance. I may play a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern music, and things like that, and then maybe the next day, the person who tuned in to my show may want to have a break. They may not want to hear that sort of music all the time. It’s such a breath of fresh air to have John Schneider come and do his show on Thursdays. And then from John have Sergio bring you a little piece of Brazil and happiness on Fridays.

  23. GH: I’ve been struck by the dialogic qualities that the various shows have with each other. I notice that more than one host has played Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Journeys album.

  24. YS-R: The piece that I played … most of those pieces have been commissioned by Yo-Yo Ma from all these different musicians that are now representatives of the old Silk Road.
    Kayhan Kalhor
    Kayhan Kalhor
    It went all the way to Italy, so that’s why there’s even an Italian piece in that album. But that piece that I played [Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur] was from Iran by Kayhan Kalhor, who’s a kemancheh player—the spike fiddle. And Yo-Yo Ma is playing on that piece as well—he was playing the cello. But the music was Iranian, and composed by Kayhan Kalhor.

  25. GH: It was interesting to me that music from that CD was played on your show, but also on …

    YS-R: … Betto’s show. He played it yesterday. He played the Italian piece yesterday. [Renaissance composer Fillippo Azzaiolo’s Chi passa per’sta strada]

    GH: I thought that is was interesting to observe what the different hosts on the Global Village were picking and choosing from this one album. It was like a conversation: “This is my favorite track.” “No, this is my favorite track!”

  26. YS-R: Yes! Sometimes we end up having the same favorite track. And sometimes it’s very different. I don’t mind playing gentle music: I don’t mind playing the long Raag. Betto will inevitably go to the rhythmic part, because that’s the kind of element that he brings to his show—the rhythmic, the more upbeat. For me, it can sometimes be the upbeat element, and at other times, many other times, it can be the more introspective. I like that introspective mood. I also think that it’s the morning and a lot of people might be at work, and maybe they can’t listen if the music starts disturbing everybody else around them.

  27. GH: What do you bring to your musical choices on the Global Village as the only woman host? You mentioned that Betto Arcos wanted a woman’s voice on the air.

  28. YS-R: I think … well, the fact that I’ve done shows on women in world music. I don’t think that any of the other hosts have devoted three hours to women in world music, so I think that’s one aspect of it. The other thing is … I don’t know … maybe a more introspective sensibility. Maybe the yin part comes in a little more in the type of music that I choose. I can’t really say. It’s for the listener to say, “This is a woman programming, and this is a man programming.” But I think that my desire to give a voice to female musicians from different parts of world comes from the fact that I myself am a woman and look at it from that perspective. The music scene is still dominated by men, in every aspect, although there are a lot of women in music. When you look at all the albums that are coming out, and the percentage of how many are from male performers and how many are female … it’s still dominated by men. That’s fine, as long as women get their voice and are getting it out there. To me, good music is good music. It doesn’t have a gender. But a lot of times women bring certain things, certain lyrics that come from a different angle which is really interesting.
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“Hello Cleveland!”


Yatrika Shah-Rais

Review Essay