ListN Up: Kamala Sankaram (September 25, 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. 

Praised as “strikingly original” (NY Times) and “new voice from whom we will surely be hearing more” (LA Times), Kamala Sankaram is known for her mixing of musical genre and her innovative of technology, including operas featuring live data-mining of the audience, the first opera in VR, and an opera performed live over Zoom. She has written music for the Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, the PROTOTYPE Festival, and Shakespeare Theatre Company, among others. Dr. Sankaram holds a PhD from the New School and is currently a member of the composition faculty at SUNY Purchase.

Hi, I’m Kamala Sanakaram! I went back and forth about what to include on this playlist. To be perfectly honest, with the state of the world being what it is, I have had a lot of trouble focusing. So, the music I’ve been listening to lately has been serving a palliative function of sorts. I must confess that I haven’t been seeking out new sounds of late. I have tended to gravitate towards the pieces I know most intimately, and toward music that matches my mood. And these are some of those pieces. They fall into two overly broad categories: 1) the music I listen to that makes me feel mellow and rather bittersweet, and 2) the music that boosts my spirits and makes me want to dance. Maybe they will do the same for you.

Mellow Picks

Symphony No. 1, “Music on Open Strings” by Gloria Coates, performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

The first time I heard this piece was a revelation. The textures and sounds Coates creates are otherworldly and a unique approach to string writing. She coaxes out soundscapes that could be electronic but are completely acoustic.

Lonely Child by Claude Vivier, performed by Susan Narucki and Asko|Schönberg, conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw

I love the beautiful simplicity of this piece, and how Vivier creates such an idiosyncratic sound world. I find it to be heartbreakingly poignant.

“The Dead Flag Blues” by Godspeed! You Black Emperor

This was one of the first bands I heard that combined strings, guitars, noise, and field recordings. The evocative mood of the opening track from their album F♯ A♯ ∞ is still a go to for those nights that seem a little darker.

Raga Jog performed by Ravi Shankar

From his first album release, Three Ragas, this performance of Raga Jog showcases Shankar’s virtuosity and explosive style of playing while also drawing out beautiful melodic subtleties.

Energetic Picks

“Sanza Nocturne” by Francis Bebey

Bebey was a Cameroonian musician who brought the traditional sound of the sanza (mbira) to the popular makossa style. I love this song for its groove and the plucky tones of the sanza–it makes me instantly happy.

“Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera” (from Teesri Manzil Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by R.D. Burman, performed by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle

The late great R.D. Burman is known for bringing American rock music and Latin rhythms to Bollywood. This song was one of his first breakout hits (performed by the incomparable Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle) and is a pure delight.

Virgenes del Sol by Yma Sumac

Yma was a powerhouse of the late 50s with a huge range and a fearless performance style. She has two versions of this song: a more folk style, and the version on this playlist, which adds chorus and pop sensibility. 

And as a bonus, I’m also including my cover of the song with Bombay Rickey (featuring the chorus of Opera on Tap).

Return to Earth by Meredith Monk, performed by Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble

When I was in college, I was supremely fortunate to have Cynthia Powell as a guest conductor. She had just come off of touring with Meredith Monk’s opera Atlas and taught us the Atlas Suite. I had never heard vocal music like that before, and it fundamentally changed the way I thought about what choral music could be (and about what I could do as a singer). I was lucky to sing the part of one of the Explorers in the Yuval Sharon/LA Phil remount of Atlas last year, and this is one of my favorite pieces (as fun to sing as it is to listen to!) As far as I know, there’s no studio recording of it, so enjoy this live performance.


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.

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