A resident of Southern California for several decades, Indian born musical visionary and tenured professor Samir Bodhi's multi-faceted life and career reflects the classic immigrant experience of thriving in the pursuit of his creative and academic dreams. While building his resume as an internationally recognized scientist and scholar, under his real name Samir Chatterjee, he applied his virtuosic talents as a guitarist, composer, producer and recording engineer to a multitude of projects involving legendary Indian musicians – including several for his wife, Madhumita Chatterjee, a renowned Bollywood singer.
In 2019, long before COVID-19 upended our world and sparked anxiety about the future like never before, Samir's sorrow and concern for his adopted home country inspired Samir to reach out to a cadre of top Indian based musicians and collaborators to realize his vision for Stairway To Nirvana, his debut album as a new age artist/producer under his own name. Fusing Eastern (Indian) classical music and instruments with modern Western music, Bodhi and his ensemble create a melodically, rhythmically and harmonically transcendent album that offers a musical roadmap to peace in these troubled times.
"I conceived of this album around June last year," says Samir. "I'm a naturalized citizen and love America, and was dismayed at the anti-immigrant rhetoric that had become part of our political discourse. I was sad to see a world full of racism, hatred, bigotry and misogyny. We were all witnessing a world where the politics of hate based on race or color, and narcissism, had become rampant. More than ever before, the world needed peace, and I've found after many years as a composer and producer, that music is the way to impart this and connect people beyond their many differences."
"My initial vision was to compose and produce tracks that would create a journey full of the peace, harmony and tranquility on towards the notion of transcending beyond this life into Nirvana," he adds. "I could never imagine that 2020 would be a pandemic year which would so intensely highlight the need for peace and force us to reflect on our life values. The timing now couldn't be more perfect to release Stairway to Nirvana. We believe that we are all the same, one humanity under God, and we sincerely hope that through this music we can bring peace and harmony to our planet and its citizens on every continent."
The original working title of the project "Samir & Friends" reflects the seamlessness and intense creative synergy the producer creates with his featured musical cohorts, whose names may be as yet unfamiliar to American music fans but who are all huge creative contributors to India's diverse musical culture. Guitarist/arranger Sanjoy Das (Bapi) is a leading session and live guitarist in Bollywood. Flutist Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of flute maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, has toured with legendary table virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain. Sarod master and composer Rajeeb Chakraborty is a renowned musician, educationist, composer and conductor. Sarangi player Pankaj Mishra has performed as a solo artist and accompanist throughout India, and toured abroad accompanying everyone from Pt. Kumar Bose to Pt. Andindya Chatterjee.
Stairway to Nirvana also features two renowned lead vocalists, his wife Madhumita Chatterjee, a popular Bollywood star who has sung with legends (Anup Jalota, Kumar Sanu) and in 2019 earned the WFF Signature Series award in Hollywood; and Pt. Suvodeep Mukherjee, a specialist in north Indian classical and raag-based songs who has toured the world and released 40 albums to date. Samir also engages the talents of lyricist Rajiv Dutta, a popular Bollywood songwriter who is one of the most sought-after wordsmiths in Kolkata and Mumbai. The collection's mixer Biswadeep Chatterjee is an award-winning sound designer, sound editor and audio mixer who is a four-time National Film Award winner for Best Audiography.
In an age even before the pandemic when so many choose to work with musicians in other countries via digital file sharing, Samir's commitment to a live in the studio album marked by organic energy and authenticity led him to travel to his homeland for sessions in early January 2020, just under the wire pre-lockdown. Helming sessions with different lineups (based on the instrumental needs of the tracks) at Studio Vibrations in Calcutta and LM Studios in Mumbai (over 2,000 km apart!), Samir and his crew immersed in a spirited yet relaxed atmosphere full of spicy conversations (musical and otherwise), Darjeeling tea and biscuits and a spread of Indian food.
On the second day of recording in Calcutta, local civil unrest led to a government mandated shutdown – so Samir left early for the studio and stayed the whole day. "It's such a great feeling being in the studio surrounded by all of these incredibly creative artists," he says. "When we're working or socializing, we can almost forget all the hustling and bustling outside. It's a serene feeling, very much like the Nirvana we are sharing musically on the album."
The title and vibe of each track on Stairway to Nirvana reflects one aspect of what Samir and his ensemble believe the world needs to work through these troubled times and achieve an enduring sense of Nirvana in the here and now. Composed by and featuring the sarod of Rajeeb Chakraborty, "Tranquility" flows like a lush, sensually swaying film score, artfully blending symphonic synth strings, a lead guitar melody, flute and subtle tabla textures. "OM," written by Samir and Shuvodeep Mukherjee, is based on the universally recognized breathing chant and sacred sound and spiritual symbol in Indian religions that signifies the essence of ultimate reality and consciousness. It features a deep, seductive groove (enhanced by a tanpura drone), a lush acoustic guitar melody followed by a swirl of flute and guitar, wordless vocal swells and ultimately, the beautiful lead vocal of Pt. Suvodeep Mukherjee, singing Rajiv Dutta's words promoting a lasting global peace.
The soulful, atmospheric ballad "Harmony" – penned by Rajeeb Chakraborty and Sanjoy Das – embodies its lofty concept via a fusion of a languid and haunting electric guitar melody, synth washes, hypnotic percussion claps and colorful, jazzy guitar and piano solos. Samir sees this meditative track as the one which most powerfully blends Eastern and Western aesthetics. Mukherjee and Bodhi also co-wrote "Peace," a hypnotic and lyrical, folk rock flavored tune that begins with a synth generated droning sound and showcases the sultry, emotional vocals of Madhumita Chatterjee singing lyrics by Dutta that translate to a call for the world to come together.
At last, and heading to our ultimate spiritual destination, we reach "Nirvana," a mystical piece by Sanjoy Das that starts by blending soothing atmospheres, a mournful cry from the sarangi (Indian wind instrument) and an exotic groove behind the echoes of sarangi and a weeping electric guitar. The song soon accelerates on the wings of hypnotic percussion, a soaring sarangi and intense guitar improvisations. In Samir's eyes, "It covers this whole feeling of going through the stages of life, from mournful to joyful, and eventually reaching enlightenment."
Almost like a superhero representing the best of Indian and American culture, Samir Bodhi embodies a unique dual identity as an innovative musical force and highly celebrated scholar and educator. He emigrated to the U.S in the 80's with an engineering degree and decided to stay after receiving his Master's and PhD in computer science from University of Central Florida. While building his sterling, influential rep in academia – first at Georgia State University in Atlanta, later at Claremont Graduate University and USC – he built upon the pro guitar skills he honed in Calcutta to amass a sparkling resume in that world in both countries as well.
His Indian based accolades include accompanying legends such as Hemant Kumar, Runa Laila, Bani Thakur and Hoimonti Shukla and performing on Calcutta Television with famous artists in many prestigious venues in Calcutta. In the U.S., he performed with Ghazal badshah Jagjit Singh, composed Emotional Eyes, a modern Bengali album for his wife Madhumita, and arranged and recorded the first ever Broadway-style Bengali musical "Sinbad," performed in Los Angeles in 2006.
In addition, Samir created original music score for the 2010 independent Hollywood film "Adios Mi Amigos"; collaborated with Grammy-nominated sarod player Ustad Aashish Khan, Joey Sommerville (band musician for Prince) and Interscope recording artist Marty Cheyka; and accompanied many famous Indian singers (including Suvodeep Mukherjee, who appears on Stairway to Nirvana) at venues in Los Angeles. In 2017, Samir composed four tunes for Madhumita and Kumar Sanu's album Tum Bin: The Musical Experience, which was released to great media fanfare in Mumbai.
Samir's array of achievements in academia include being Professor and Fletcher Jones Chair of Design, Technology & Management at CGU's Center for Information Systems & Technology (CISAT) and serving as an Adjunct Professor of Design and Innovation at the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation (established by music industry legends Iovine and Dr. Dre). Samir is also considered a leading technology designer and scholar in the area of healthcare informatics, design science and networking/cybersecurity. In 2017, he was awarded the Mahtama Gandhi Pravasi Samman by NRI Welfare Society in recognition of Indians who have made their country proud abroad. "I feel I have quite a bit of creativity in me and part of it manifests through my academic research and the other via my musical outlets," Samir says. "Managing projects and producing music are similar in that both are linked to creative problem solving and thinking outside the box. Whether purposeful or accidental, I bring all my scholarly training into my musical projects. As the latest manifestation of this, Stairway to Nirvana is a project that fulfills my vision for creating beautiful music that brings serenity and enlightenment to people of all cultures. I am indebted to my incredible collaborators for blessing me with their tremendous talent and unique ideas. Music has the power to be a great healer of the body, mind and spirit, and beyond providing a meaningful listening experience, I would love this album to serve as a healing agent for people during this challenging time in world history."