ListN Up: Ganavya Doraiswamy (June 25, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Ganavya Doraiswamy is a student of life. Today, she writes to you from Umbertide, Italy, from a castle called Civitella Ranieri. More information at

Hi, my name is Ganavya. Every single person I’ve met — and every person they’ve met — has influenced my music. But today, I’m going to share with you a few sounds that I hold in the inner medicine cabinet of my heart: sounds that I play inside myself when I’m struggling. I hope these songs and the songmakers behind them bring you the peace that they have brought me over time. I hope to one day know what songs you have in your inner cabinet, the songs you play inside to soothe yourself, to pray, to heal. Thanks–enjoy!

Random Encounter by N. Visalam

I recently stumbled upon this clip of my aunt singing with someone she met on the street. “Let’s go together, let’s sing together,” athai sings in this video in Tamil. Long ago, I told my parents I was sick of having to sing for every single visitor, as if I was a monkey with a key in my back. They gently pointed me to the model of my aunt, who would sing with and for anyone who asked. I learned something about everything that day. Years later, Sister-Friend-Teacher once told me, “Your gift doesn’t belong to just you.”

What this sound-elixir is useful for: Remembering that music is not about showing someone how much you have conquered humanness (virtuosity? mastery?) — it is about being human together (love).

Ganga Mai by N. Bindhumalini

Bindhu Akka, my cousin-sister (daughter of athai), sings with our nephew Krsna (grandson of athai). I am obligated to tell you that Krsna has grown both a considerable beard and fan following since this video, recorded in a most familiar bedroom in Chennai. When I was filming for the latest Peter Sellars work, I was humming this song during the long recording days. The sound designer, the gentle Shahrokh Yadegari, immediately recognized the song. “Are you sure?” I asked. It’s a rare Garwhali song from the foothills of Himalayas. “Yes,” he said, “I recorded it when I visited the Himalayas. It’s the kind of song that easily stays with you.” So I share it with you, hoping that it stay with you, too.

What this sound-elixir useful for: If you’re homesick for a place that may not exist anymore — perhaps a place that has never existed — or a place that you have only heard of, but heard of so much it has become familiar (as vocalist/composer Eden Girma once thought out loud)? Hear this, and a spirit-river will form in your heart between your longing and this place, and a spirit-boat will appear to take you there.

Formwela 4 by Esperanza Spalding feat. Corey King

Formwela 4 is available at In the words of Esperanza Spalding, this is for “the articulation of needs streaming oxygenation through your ancestral vessel/vein of infinite life. For tuning oneself to expect and receive attunement when speaking intimately to the heart’s un-articulated needs. Use to remind oneself that loving and self-giving are not individual undertakings; that even in the most intimate circumstances, ancestors and earth’s support forces are in attendance, for the honoring of their beauty via the truth of how you really are, and what you really need.”

What this sound-elixer useful for: Being able to say something to someone that you really love, but you’re struggling to reveal something important to.

Vermont Counterpoint by Steve Reich, performed by Claire Chase

In my inner sound-medicine cabinet, this song sits in between the caffeine pills and magnesium, a balance between work and nourishment. It is the feeling of a morning run, a lung full of air, of the intricacy of a spider web making itself known to us through the drops of dew it carries — and how that is the image of the entire multiverse (Indra’s net! Ha). The understanding that without you all, I am nothing. It is Claire, who, like my aunt, is someone I will never stop learning from.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Re-orienting/re-committing towards our own capacities for kindness, focus, gentleness, common sense, courage, and anti-selfish truth. Also, great for a morning run to greet the dew.

Telilit by Fatou Seidi Ghali (Les Filles de Illighadad)

Ah. So where does this song sit in the medicine cabinet that lives in my heart? It is the ointment that I offer to a bruised heart that misses the profundity and simplicity of the pilgrimage path, of walking together towards a temple with loved ones. Misses swaying gently in rhythm with sisters, with friends, with innumerable selves. The ever-present invitation to find a temple in your heart and those around you, in the present moment. The temple we are ever-walking towards becomes a state of mind. Somedays you are in the temple, somedays you are trying to find it.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Giving the body beautiful, predictable shapes to trace so that the mind can rest from calculating for a moment. No speech, no thought. Just gentle, swaying movement.

Warbé by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté

There are certain songs you’ve played so many times, you can hear it note for note — moment for moment — in your heart, with absolute clarity. You no longer need a physical object to act as a mediator. This song has made it to that place in my heart.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Recovering from motion sickness (spiritual and literal: when something is moving at a gut-churning and eye-turning pace).

Plastic Bag by Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd

I’ve asked myself what it is about this particular recording that I keep finding solace in despite an ever-changing world, but the truth is, I don’t know. The notes played and words spoken here seem like beams of listening, as if each sound is witnessing a part of you that you are too tired, too wary, or not equipped to describe. May it bring you the peace it brought me.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Remembering how it feels like to be completely understood, or be seen by a benevolent being who earnestly wishes to understand. (If you are like me, you struggle to sleep because of some kind of hypervigilant state. I find that armor is finally set down when you do not feel alone, when you are being held lovingly by someone larger than you. It feels safe enough to rest. So in this way, it can help the insomniac, too.)

Thaniavarthanam by Rajna Swaminathan

What are the myths you grew up with? I was told the story of Shiva playing a cosmic double-headed drum, birthing the universe. Sometimes, when I hear Rajna play the mrudangam, the story of this cosmic drum sings in every cell of my body. Rajna and I met (collided?) at the insistence of Prashant Bhargava about six years ago, and since then have discovered how many times we crossed paths as children but did not yet recognize each other.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Honoring the child in every single one of us, who already knew the art of creating universes with a single sound.

1/1  by Brian Eno

At around 1:11, you’ll hear a water-in-brook-like fall from a major third to (what I hear) as the tonal center of the piece. This was the first time I knew I could sing the songs taught to me across the oceans with this strange, beautiful large instrument that was summoning the sound of crystals into the air — that with the right piano player, neither of us would have to pretend. For about a year, I played it every day during my brief stint in a desk job, slowly memorizing the entire piece. I was tickled to realize it was about 20 minutes long, I thought it was about 5. It has a way with time, this piece.

What this sound-elixir useful for: Waiting lounges, when you wish for the space between yourself and the next anticipated event to contract (waiting for the airplane to take off, doctor’s offices, the space between lunch and 5pm when at a desk, when waiting for news, both good and bad).


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