Artists in the Time of Social Distancing: Rudresh Mahanthappa

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1. How would you describe your daily life in the time of self-isolation?
I think that the word "unbalanced" sums it up. My kids are quite young: 7 1/2 and almost 4. In many ways, it has been amazing to spend this much time with them. However, I have had little time to do anything else, including making or even thinking about music. There is hardly ever a moment of silence in our household outside of the time when everyone is asleep!

2. In what way has social distancing affected your daily life?
I definitely feel isolated. I am more accustomed to being around my friends and colleagues as well as my students. It is difficult to feel the positive energy of other human beings while remaining at least 2 metres apart.

3. Can you let us know more about your city under the pandemic?
I live in Northern New Jersey, about 35 minutes from the west side of Manhattan. It is very strange to live in our idyllic, beautiful, and safe suburb knowing that life is quite insane only 17 miles away in NYC.

4. Do you have any upcoming plans in terms of creation or performance?
I have a new album coming out on 19 June, so all of my energy has been focused on promoting the release. I have not been so interested in streaming a live solo performance from my home. However, I am actively exploring software platforms that might possibly allow a group of musicians to play together in real-time. If I am able to get that going, I hope to present some sort of CD release show on Facebook and Instagram. We have tried a few experiments, and I must say that it has been empowering and energising to play music with other human beings after so long.

5. What would you suggest people do during this period to retain a sense of optimism?
For me, I have been very happy to focus on things that are completely unrelated to anything career-oriented. I have mainly been working on house projects. I have always believed that a happy house makes a happy home and a happy home makes a happy family. It seems to be working.
There is a lot of talk out there about using this time to take on massive endeavours, such as writing a novel or composing an opera. You should do that if it truly suits you, but you should not feel pressured to do so or feel unworthy in not pursuing these supposed lofty goals. Perhaps, this is a time for each of us to be honest with ourselves about what we value and what we find to be ultimately important in our lives.

6. How are you staying connected in the time of social distancing?
Zoom, zoom, zoom, and zoom. I actually wonder why we were not doing this more before the pandemic. It has been wonderful to see my entire family all at once on the computer screen since we live far from each across the United States. I hope that we will continue some of these new traditions.

7. Has the pandemic caused any changes to your mind-set as an artist?
I think the pandemic shows us why we do what we do in a sort of transparent way. Some play music because they enjoy the act of playing their instruments. Others place more value on the interaction with other musicians. Some are motivated by the sense of achievement that comes from problem-solving and overcoming technical challenges. For me, the lack of interaction has been disheartening. Right now, I feel like I would be happy to play with anyone! It would be nice to carry that energy forward once we are passed these times.

8. As an artist, what do you consider your mission to be in this period of global unrest?
My new album has virtually no agenda other than to play good music written by great musicians and composers. It has a lot of joy and humour and no social or political agenda or message. My mission: to make people feel good and add some levity to their lives. We already have enough weighing on our minds, souls, and spirits!

9. Is there anything you’d like to say to the HKAF audience?
You were hit by this pandemic first and we followed soon after. You are coming out of this now, and we hope to follow sooner than later. All of us are truly in this together. We very much look forward to seeing you on the other side of this and sharing in the joy of music as we celebrate life with great reverence for those who have perished.

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