Rajna Swaminathan is an accomplished mrudangam (South Indian percussion) artist, a protégé of mrudangam maestro Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Rajna is one of only a handful of women who play the mrudangam professionally. She has performed with several renowned Indian classical musicians, most notably mentor and vocalist T.M. Krishna. Rajna has performed in several prestigious venues and festivals, including the Smithsonian (D.C.), Kennedy Center (D.C.), Asia Society (NYC), Lincoln Center (NYC), Walker Art Center (MN), Music Academy (Chennai), Shanmukhananda Hall (Mumbai) 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.
Since 2011, she has been studying and collaborating with eminent musicians in New York's jazz and creative music scene, including Vijay Iyer, Steve Coleman, Miles Okazaki, and Amir ElSaffar. Culling from her experience incorporating experimental and polyrhythmic methods from creative music into her artistic practice, Rajna formed the ensemble RAJAS, which collectively explores new textural and improvisational horizons at the nexus of multiple musical perspectives. The ensemble has performed at prominent venues such as the Lincoln Center Atrium, The Jazz Gallery, The Met Breuer, and Alwan for the Arts. The various configurations of the RAJAS frequently feature the following artists: Miles Okazaki, Stephan Crump, Anjna Swaminathan, Maria Grand, Amir ElSaffar, Aakash Mittal, Rafiq Bhatia, Arun Ramamurthy, Ganavya Doraiswamy, Guy Mintus, and Roopa Mahadevan.
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 Mythili Prakash. Rajna has worked with playwright/actress Anu Yadav, scoring her solo show, Meena's Dream (in collaboration with Anjna Swaminathan and Sam McCormally). The soundtrack to this production was released as an album, The Worry Machine (2015). Rajna's most recent collaborative project with Anu is called Storytellers, and combines music performed by RAJAS with potent spoken narratives dealing with the experience of racism, sexism, colonial trauma, and diasporic identity.
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