Rajna Swaminathan is an accomplished artist in the field of South Indian classical percussion – mrudangam. She is a disciple and protégé of mrudangam maestro Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Rajna is one of only a handful of female mrudangam artists in the world. She has performed with several renowned Indian classical musicians and dancers, touring widely in North America and India. Rajna has performed in several prestigious venues and festivals, including the Smithsonian (D.C.), Kennedy Center (D.C.), Asia Society (New York), Walker Art Center (MN), American Dance Festival (NC), Krannert Center (IL), Lied Center (KS), Music Academy (Chennai), Shanmukhananda Hall (Mumbai), Edinburgh Fringe Festival (U.K.), and The Esplanade (Singapore). Rajna also regularly gives workshops on the South Indian rhythmic perspective, most notably at the Banff International Jazz and Creative Music Workshop, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and the KOSA International Percussion Camp. Rajna holds degrees in Anthropology and French from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is currently pursuing a PhD in music at Harvard University.
Rajna has also studied classical piano for some years. As a result of her hybrid upbringing in South Indian and Western musical systems, Rajna has developed a penchant for intercultural and crossover work. In 2012, she received a research grant from the University of Maryland (College Park) to conduct intensive fieldwork in the creative jazz scene in New York, composing and innovating new rhythmic frameworks for the mrudangam and exploring issues of hybrid identity, appropriation, and cross-cultural exchange in improvised music. Over the past three years, she has been collaborating and performing with distinguished artists in the New York jazz scene, including pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Steve Coleman.
Rajna's most recent engagement as a composer and bandleader is RAJAS, a project that brings together an ensemble of contemporary musicians in the Indian classical and creative music idioms to experiment and explore new directions for composition and improvisation, reformulating the vocabulary that stems from this deep-rooted tradition.
Rajna is active as a composer-performer for dance and theatre works. Most notably, she has toured widely with the acclaimed Ragamala Dance (Minneapolis) as well as with Ragamala's celebrated co-artistic director and principal dancer Aparna Ramaswamy in her solo work. Rajna has also been commissioned, in collaboration with her sister Anjna Swaminathan, to compose music for playwright Anu Yadav.
Rajna is co-artistic director of Rhythm Fantasies, Inc. - a non-profit organization that strives to promote South Indian classical music and dance in a space that encourages education and enrichment through innovation and cross-cultural collaboration.
Photos: Jaimie Milner