By Robert Goldberg | January 19, 2023
There are few artists who allow an audience to truly transcend time and space to experience new cultures from the ends of the earth. Experiencing Karavan Sarai is like entering a spiritual expedition by traveling through soundscapes of the Silk Road from Arabia to India and the Balkans to Persia. The brainchild of Narayan Sijan (vocals, Persian sitar, and oud), Karavan Sarai truly puts on a multi-sensory experience with complex world fusion melodies played by Marshall Bodiker (percussion) and David ‘Rook’ Goldflies (bass and electric violin) as well as graceful dancing by Irina Akulenko.
Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Narayan grew up with arts and music in his family and was always influenced to express his creativity, whether it was through painting, sculpting, or music. His musical journey, however, didn’t take off until his travels through the Silk Road regions in Asia and the Middle East where he spent over 14 years in countries like India, Nepal, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Israel, and more. He dove deep into the ways of life and culture in these areas from cooking to hanging out with the Yogis, hiking the Himalayas, playing music with the gypsies, learning classical music with masters, and more. His quest to discover his spirituality and what he believes stems from his Balkan heritage would ultimately lead him to develop a mystical connection to music.
At The Sultan Room, the combination of didgeridoo samples, melodic bass lines, and reverberating sitar encompassed the crowd. The music was reminiscent of 700-year-old songs from India combined with modern electronic compositions creating feelings of both a meditative state and celebrated gathering. As the show continued, you could hear the crowd roar for Irina Akulenko’s inspirational dancing as she balanced a steel tray of candles and roses on her head and thereafter tossed the roses into the crowd–but not forgetting to leave a rose for Narayan.
At the end of the show, Narayan explained the meaning behind Karavan Sarai: “Karavans are groups of travelers and Sarais are travelers’ inns or hubs. I would envision travelers arriving at Sarais after their long journeys and being able to communicate through food, art, and music–bringing many different people and cultures together which is what we try to inspire when we perform.” You can discover a timeless flow of inspiration through their mystical realm of sound in albums like Woven Landscapes, Painted Sands, TORN IN LOVE, and The Moons Within Reach.
On the night of the show after soundcheck, we caught up with Narayan Sijan of Karavan Sarai, where he answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was the first concert you performed?
That’s a tricky one, because there were times where we would all sit around the fire and start to play…so does that count? Does it have to be amplified or not amplified? I would say in India, because that’s where I really musically developed. You can go on the street in India and start to play music and have a crowd of 300 people listening.
How would you describe your music? Either by genre or general vibe.
Middle Eastern to India Silk Road mystical music with original composition. For thousands of years, civilizations have gathered along the Silk Road to share art, ideas, music and more, and the compositions we create are a combination of melodies from many different cultures and countries. You shake it all up, add some other new aspects, musicians, producers and it becomes a growing, living art that we create.
What is your pre-show routine?
Funny enough, I usually don’t speak. So, an interview is rare, but I like to go into a meditative state and try to be still and silent.
What have you recently drawn inspiration from to create your music?
The birds, the ocean, the wind, the rustle of the trees, fire crackling. In my silence, I really hear from nature, so that would be my biggest inspiration.
Do you have anything you want people to take away from your music?
Something that inspires their heart and life to keep spreading that uplifting inspiration to the next person or place they go to progress for a better world.
What’s your dream venue to perform at?
There’s really nothing in particular that comes to mind, but I would say in the middle of the woods on a beautiful stage with 500,000 people listening and dancing. We could create a multisensory experience with a bazaar, dancers, cooking, fire circles and whole multicultural life where others could be playing music as well.
What’s next for you?
We’re going to Egypt next for shows and more music projects, but we have a few more gigs in Brooklyn over the next few weeks. A new project I’m creating is mystical music of the Silk Road with variations of music you might be familiar with like a Christmas song but in a Middle Eastern sound. It’s all very exciting!
📸: shot by Jori Halpern