ListN Up: Nina Shekhar (August 28, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Composer Nina Shekhar explores the intersection of identity, vulnerability, love, and laughter to create bold and intensely personal works. Her music has been performed by leading artists including Eighth Blackbird, International Contemporary Ensemble, ETHEL, and violinist Jennifer Koh, and upcoming projects include works for Albany Symphony, JACK Quartet, 45th Parallel Universe, and Lyris Quartet. She is currently a doctoral student at Princeton University, and through her work as a community facilitator and educator (and previously a chemical engineer), she is broadly redefining what it means to be an artist.

Hello! If we haven’t already met, my name is Nina Shekhar, and thank you so much for checking out my playlist. for As America celebrates the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I feel a hard truth. As an Indian-American, I actually wouldn’t have received the right to vote until 32 years later under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, which granted the right of possible citizenship to Asian-Americans and then had my voting rights more fully protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The fact that we’re not celebrating these other anniversaries is quite telling of how femininity and womanhood have historically been defined by whiteness, cis-identity, heteronormativity,  conventional mental and physical ability, and conformity to the gender binary. Even today, as voter suppression tactics continue to silence voices of black, indigenous, and immigrant communities, our country is clearly still struggling to protect basic rights for all. I chose to feature immigrant voices. These are people who are either immigrants themselves or have come from immigrant families, who through their brave ownership of their cultural identities have redefined what it means to be an American. These are incredible artists who have each had a such special influence on my life, and I hope that getting to hear their voices will have an impact on yours, as well. Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you enjoy!

Checkpoint by Phonodelica (Donia Jarrar) 

Donia is one of the bravest humans I know, and this is the bravest music I’ve ever heard. Using samples she recorded at the Qalandia Checkpoint, including soldier sounds, a refugee children’s choir she was teaching, and echoes of a saxophone on the other side of the checkpoint, she chronicles her dehumanizing experience crossing the West Bank as a Palestinian-American woman. 


“Alléluia” from Suite pou Dantan by Nathalie Joachim, performed by Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet

I love Nathalie dearly, and she has made me feel safe whenever I felt excluded by our very white new music community. This track off her breathtaking album Fanm d’Ayiti is a proud celebration of her Haitian roots in spite of a world that tries so hard to suppress black and brown joy. 

Han by Jung Yoon Wie, performed by Converge String Quartet

Han is a Korean emotional concept describing unresolved anger, grief, regret, and loss of identity due to personal and historical trauma. This stunning, deeply human video made in collaboration with director Toko Shiiki explores the complexity and transgenerational nature of Korean collective identity. 

Bird Flu by M.I.A. 

M.I.A. made me realize that I was cool not in spite of being brown, but because I’m brown. This song off her album Kala is built off of Tamil urumi drum beats and calls out bias against South Asians in the Western music world, singing, “I’m too cool to be a rocker on a label, […] my beats were too evil.” 

Bolghar for quray and symphony orchestra by Adeliia Faizullina, performed by the USC Thornton Symphony and Nina Shekhar 

The entire music world can learn from the unique ways that Adele approaches sound and her openness to talk about her identity as a visually impaired composer-performer. I was honored to perform the quray (a folk instrument similar to the penny whistle) and collaborate with my dear friend on her piece which explores her Tatar heritage. 

To give you form and breath by inti figgis-vizueta, performed by Megan Arns, Hannah Hutchins, and Brianna Trainor

inti’s scores are always so gorgeously notated, and I love how her work subverts traditional composer- performer-audience hierarchies often present in Western classical music. This piece explores creation stories in relation to indigenous identity, using “ground” objects and manipulations of rhythm and time. 

Darshan by Reena Esmail, performed by Vijay Gupta 

Reena and Vijay have both been mentors of mine, deepening my understanding of what it means to be an engaged artist-citizen. “Darshan” translates to “seeing” in Hindi, and this movement in Raag Charukeshi channels differing manifestations of grief. 

“Chasqui” from Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank, performed by Del Sol String Quartet

Our music community is a better, more inclusive place thanks to compassionate leaders like Gabriela Lena Frank who, through her Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, has created a supportive mentorship environment for so many young composers, particularly students of color. She was one of the first people who took a chance on me, and I’m forever grateful. This little gem is fun, full of life, and boldly unapologetic–everything that she is. 

hush by Nina Shekhar 

And here’s a little lullaby from me. Since in-person hugs aren’t allowed right now, I’ll send you off with a musical hug. 


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.