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What’s that song and Who wrote it?

by:  Sarah Schnebly at 04/27/2017

Working front of house at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, I am able to witness the honest reactions audiences have to a show as they chat with dates and friends during intermissions and when they linger in the theatre after the final bow. Recently, in the intermission bustle of folks dashing to the restroom and queuing for a glass of red wine, I have been hearing audience members absently whistling or humming Saraswathi Jones’ song “Mother Tongue,” the catchy tune that closes act one of The Who & the What.

In the Huntington’s latest show, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar, Zarina wrestles with the confluence of personal identity, familial pressure, contemporary American culture, and a 1400 year old religion. The disparate and often competing influences are echoed in the powerful, energetic and at times haunting music that carries the play from scene to scene. Just as Zarina channels the various influences of her life into her book, Saraswathi Jones allows her multicultural experience to inform her art. Drawing from the soundscape of traditional South Asian music, the songwriter (and versatile musician) infuses these elements into an American rock aesthetic, creating a genre of music that she classifies as postcolonial pop. Many of the songs featured in The Who & the What, can be found on Saraswathi Jones’ LP Lingua Franca, including “Mother Tongue” as well as “Jedi Mind Trix” and “Senseless.” Others are from the Boston-based band that she fronts entitled Awaaz Do including “Choli Ke Picche” and “Kite Fight.” (The Huntington's "Audience Reviews" video features the song“Choli Ke Picche” in the background.)

Several songs, however, are original compositions written by the members of Awaaz Do specifically for The Who & the What. The band received a grant from Club Passim’s Iguana Music Fund to record these original songs, which will appear on their next album. Still humming along to a song from the show that isn’t one of the songs linked above? Sign up for Awaaz Do’s mailing list and be one of the first to know about their forthcoming album!

Like any element of live theatre, the final compositions that the audience hears can never be fully attributed to a single person, but are the product of the combined efforts of many artists. This aural collage of cultures, histories, and experiences is created by layering the sounds of individual instruments – played by a medley of musicians. Below are pictures taken by Saraswathi Jones during the recording process, which documents their process and illuminates how a variety of individual contributions – when expertly woven together – created the vibrant musical palette heard throughout The Who & the What.

Saraswathi Jones #1

Saraswathi Jones #2

Saraswathi Jones #3  Saraswathi Jones #5
 Saraswathi Jones #6  Saraswathi Jones #7
Saraswathi Jones #4

All of the individual artists involved in the making of The Who & the What music:
Neel Agrawal (percussion), Saraswathi Jones (vocals, guitar, percussion), Shahjehan Khan (guitar, vocals), Azhan PH (bass), Ariel Rejman (drums), Jagdeep Singh (guitar), Michael Dwan Singh (production, beats, synths, oud, tabta, sarangi), Manaav Thakore (bass), Leilani Roser (drums), Sapan Modi (dhol, rhythm guitar), Bunty Singh, Jesse Vengrove, Socheata, and M.L. Dogg (sound design).

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