The Kennedy Center

Amirtha Kidambi


Amirtha Kidambi is invested in the creation and performance of subversive music, from free improvisation and avant-jazz, to experimental bands and new music. As a bandleader, she is the creative force behind Elder Ones, featuring rising New York stars Matt Nelson (Battle Trance/GRID) on soprano saxophone, Nick Dunston (Tyshawn Sorey Trio/Jeff “Tain” Watts) on bass and Max Jaffe (JOBS/Peter Evans’ Being and Becoming) on drums and electronic sensory percussion. The purposeful compositions are spiritually ecstatic and politically charged, influenced by her native South Indian
Carnatic music, Alice Coltrane and free jazz, classical modernism, harsh noise, metal and punk. Rooted in harmonium (Indian pump organ) and synthesizer lines and drones, Kidambi draws a line from the ancient to the modern in her eclectic band. Elder Ones’ debut album Holy Science released
in 2016 on Northern Spy Records, drew critical praise internationally from such publications as the New York Times, Pitchfork, Wire Magazine, Jazzwise and Music Magazine Japan. Kidambi will premiere her composition Lines of Light in 2018 inspired by Muhal Richard Abrams and Hildegard
von Bingen, with an improvising vocal quintet for Emilie Lesbros (Darius Jones Quartet), Jean-Carla Rodea (Cecilia Lopez), Anais Maviel (William Parker) and Charmaine Lee (Nate Wooley duo).

Kidambi is a key collaborator in Mary Halvorson's latest quintet Code Girl, duo with Darius Jones and his groups Elizabeth-Caroline Unit and Samesoul Maker, Maria Grand’s DiaTribe, duo with electronic musician Lea Bertucci,various groups with the legendary William Parker, Charlie Looker’s experimental folk band Seaven Teares and Pat Spadine’s new music ensemble Ashcan Orchestra. As an improviser, she has played with New York luminaries including Matana Roberts, Tyshawn Sorey, Ingrid Laubrock, Ava Mendoza, Fay Victor, Peter Evans, Ben Vida, Tyondai Braxton and Shahzad Ismaily. Kidambi worked closely with composer Robert Ashley until the end of his life, premiering his final opera CRASH and had the honor of working with Muhal Richard Abrams for the premiere of Dialogue Social. She has performed nationally and internationally in Europe and Asia, with Elder Ones and in
collaborative formations for the Whitney Biennial, Carnegie Hall, Newport Jazz Festival, Berliner Festspiele (Germany), Festival Jazz Jantar (Poland), Borderline Festival (Greece), Bimhuis (Amsterdam) and Music Unlimited (Austria). She has received commissions, awards and residencies from the
Jerome Foundation, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) and the Asian Cultural Council, studying Carnatic music in South India in 2017. She has recorded with visionary artists Mary Halvorson, William Parker, Kassa Overall, Ingrid Laubrock, Catherine Christer Hennix and others.

Sometimes the eye of a storm can draw upon the chaos around it, taking on its energy and consolidating it for use. Something like that is going on in Elder Ones, the quartet led by the vocalist and harmonium player Amirtha Kidambi. She creates drones on the harmonium — an old, air-powered keyboard — and coaxes her bandmates into ripping them apart. Then her voice funnels that energy out in a scorching beam. In its best moments, it’s like a mix of a Cuban sonero’s citrusy cry and a riot grrrl yowl. - New York Times, Giovanni Russonello

…Kidambi takes a holistic approach to singing, which can mean treating every element as unfixed: Words can be opened up, rendered nonspecific. Melody can be repeated and frozen and stuck in place. Markings of rhythm can become utterly abstract, freed from cadence. - New York Times

…a vocalist whose frame of reference includes Hindu devotional music, classical modernism and visionary free jazz. Her delivery of these songs is direct and charged with feeling, even when the lyrics are pointedly abstruse. - NPR (National Public Radio), Nate Chinen

…more than any other member of the group, it’s vocalist Amirtha Kidambi who helps Code Girl feel like a fresh aesthetic zone for the guitarist. The singer’s creative practice is impressive in its range…Elder Ones, a fiery and focused group that Kidambi leads, has an incantatory power that distinguishes it within New York’s improv-noise community. - Pitchfork, Seth Colter Walls

On Elder Ones’ Holy Science:

…an astonishing debut for a composer, and her band. - Pitchfork, Seth Colter Walls

The aggressive and sublime first album by the band Elder Ones, “Holy Science,” is a kind of gauge for how strong and flexible the scene of young musicians in New York’s improvised and experimental music world can be. - New York Times, Ben Ratliff


Upcoming Performances

Video 3/25/2019: Elder Ones

Quartet Elder Ones creates drones on the harmonium—an old, air-powered keyboard—and coaxes their bandmates into ripping them apart.

Amirtha Kidambi