Listen past the end of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s third album, Mother Tongue: Do You Speak Indian? (Pi), and you’ll hear the alto saxophonist and composer say the following: “No, I don’t speak Indian. There isn’t such a language. I speak English. My parents speak Kannada, which is a language spoken in the state of Karnataka, in the south of India. There are many different languages in India….”
You’ll also hear a jumble of other voices-all fellow Indian-Americans speaking a version of the same statement, in their own mother tongues. They are telling us that India does not possess a singular culture, nor do Indian immigrants and their children carry a singular history. But Mahanthappa isn’t simply venting about ignorance and ethnocentrism; he’s highlighting the inherent music of speech itself. He wrote most of the pieces on Mother Tongue using melodic material derived from these very speech recordings.