By Cassandra Sotos

have been a full-time professional musician for several years—fortunate to have enough opportunities to keep my head spinning, but still growing both as an artist and as a person. I’ve been blessed to see most of the United States with my violin in hand. I’ve always wanted to tour internationally. (My answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” might have been “international rock star” since 1998, but who’s counting?)

The biggest part of me is still a kid who loves playing the violin and performing more than anything else in the world. I can barely contain my excitement about it, and every new thing I get to do strikes me with disbelief and appreciation.

In December 2017 I received a call that I did not expect. It would put me on an airplane across the Atlantic and beyond.

So where have I been all this time?

Bollywood! I spent four months playing violin on tour for Arijit Singh, touring with him and world musicians all over India and South Africa. With stops in ten cities in both countries, it was the biggest tour to ever hit India!

Singh has been called India’s brightest star and the voice of the generation—and with good reason. He is considered the most successful artist in the history of Indian music and Hindi films, and continues on this path of massive success. He sings Bollywood music—the most popular type of Indian pop music.

To sum it up, I got to play beautiful music with a prolific star for passionately appreciative audiences alongside world-class musicians backed by a dedicated production team while exploring a country completely different than anything I had ever imagined.

“When you ask what you should expect, you will receive a unanimous, resounding response. India is indescribable and you must experience it for yourself, but know one thing for certain—it will change you.”

“Lucky” isn’t the right word. It was a dream—the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

Singh’s fulltime band includes guitars, bass, drums, ethnic strokes (mandolin, bouzouki, and more), keys, vocals, flutes, viola, percussion, and electronics/live triggering. The core band brings much more than exceptional musicianship, skill, and artistry. They operate like a family, dedicated to and appreciative of one another on all levels, personally and professionally.

Singh created a unique experience for his fans by inviting a group of international musicians to collaborate with his band for the 2018 India Tour. It was a once-in-a-lifetime group to be a part of, and I had the honor of being his fiddle player.


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Instrumentation of the international group of musicians—who came from the United States, Germany, Austria, Israel, Spain, the United Kingdom, and India—included didgeridoo, qanun, vibraphone, sitar, bagpipes, flamenco guitar, accordion, handpan, cello, and violin. Singh and his band worked individually with each instrumentalist to create new parts for every featured piece, rearranging cherished songs and mega hits to add new dimensions to the music and highlight musicians from around the world.

Cassandra Sotos tours India and South Africa with Bollywood star Arijit Singh

He spent time with each musician on each song, building upon his vision for the tour while also allowing the strengths and personality of each musician to shine. Rehearsing and making new parts with him one-on-one was an unexpected, beautiful, and memorable experience for me.

I had never really heard or played Bollywood music before the tour. I play country, rock, and pop all the time, so I’m very comfortable learning music in those styles at a moment’s notice since they’re already in my heart and hands. This opportunity came up so quickly that we didn’t have time to exchange music beforehand, so all of my learning was done on the spot—I found out about the tour and within two weeks I was in India.

I was able to acquaint myself with Singh’s hits before agreeing to the tour, but the normal preparation time just wasn’t there. Additionally, since this was a new vision for the tour, a lot of the arrangements hadn’t been created yet. Rehearsals were stressful—it was crunch time. But Bollywood music (especially Singh’s live arrangements) has strong elements of pop and rock so I was able to learn and keep up—in part because the team was so helpful and understanding.

Being in a place so far away and different from home for such a length of time was a new experience for me. People might surround you, but you are still separated from the people you know and your daily routine at home. Not knowing how people will react to you personally and professionally while learning and navigating the cultural differences can be very daunting.

Until you learn to get around on your own, you basically relinquish the control to take care of yourself—something very difficult for me. I have even more respect and appreciation for individuals who leave their home country to live in a new place. Everyone should know what it’s like to be somewhere where you don’t fit in right away.

Cassandra Sotos tours India and South Africa with Bollywood star Arijit Singh

Experiencing the live shows made up for every difficult moment along the way. The way that Singh’s fans so passionately adore him—his songs, performance, and band is a sight to behold. Playing for crowds of people in the tens of thousands singing along with every word, full of happy excitement, is the norm. Our biggest crowd was in Ahmedabad in front of 40,000 people, and it was absolute insanity. I will never forget that night.

In addition to having incredible professional experiences, I had time to explore several areas of India. The project was based in Mumbai, so that is where I spent most of my time exploring, but I was also able to visit several cities and sites throughout the country including Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Darjeeling, and Kerala. I tried every different kind of food I could find from several regions of the country—and yes, it was all amazing.

A special experience for me was performing at the Happy Home & School for the Blind in Mumbai. Magdalena Sas, a cellist with the international group of musicians, lives in Mumbai and volunteers her time as a cello instructor at the school. She graciously invited the world musicians to come take a tour of the facility and a few of us were able to play our instruments for the students. I played American and Canadian fiddle tunes and was able to share my violin with the kids afterward so they could feel the instrument themselves, which was my favorite part of the event.

When telling people that you’ll be traveling to India, you will receive many differing and conflicting reactions. When you ask what you should expect, you will receive a unanimous, resounding response. India is indescribable and you must experience it for yourself, but know one thing for certain—it will change you.

I learned so many things about the world and myself while I was gone. It’s easy to see oneself through a lens of current life, expectations, and circumstances. It’s a telling journey to see where your heart and mind takes you when the comforts, routines, and distractions of your normal life are removed: what simple things bring you joy, where your thoughts roam, what music moves you; how you deal with successes, failures, pressure, and grief; whom you connect with and the sometimes unexpected impact they have on you; understanding your own willingness to appreciate the differences in people and places from the inside out.

I found that in what seems like a world away, no matter what instrument you play or what song you sing, we’re all still trying to say the same things. It was an honor to be invited to join this tour. And  I can’t wait to get back. 


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This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Strings magazine.

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