Unite Through Symphony

The annual OneBeat exchange program brings together musicians from around the world to build groundbreaking projects and lasting friendships.

By Steve Fox

January 2023

Unite Through Symphony 

Gowri Jayakumar (left), who works under the name Pulpy Shilpy, participated in OneBeat X in October-November 2022, and Sumukh Mysore, who performs under the name Smokey the Ghost, was part of OneBeat 9 in April-May 2022. (Photographs by Alexia Webster and courtesy Sumukh Mysore)

Since 2012, the U.S. Department of States’ OneBeat program has welcomed hundreds of young international musicians to the United States to learn, share and create great music together.

Initiated by the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs the program is produced by Found Sound Nation, an arts nonprofit organization based in New York City. OneBeat was created to help young musicians learn about other cultures and build powerful connections across borders, and languages.

In late 2022, 25 musicians and former OneBeat participants from 15 countries participated in OneBeat X, the creative gathering’s 10th anniversary celebration.

SPAN connected with innovative Indian musicians Gowri Jayakumar, who participated in OneBeat X, and Sumukh Mysore, who was part of OneBeat 9 in April-May 2022, to learn about their experiences.

International inspiration

Jayakumar is a Goa-based curator, music producer and D.J. who works under the name Pulpy Shilpy. She describes her style of music as “raw, sensual, nervous energy.” Mysore, who performs under the name Smokey the Ghost, is a Bengaluru-based rapper who “makes protest music, through and through,” he says.

Both artistes say they were thrilled to join OneBeat’s vibrant and creative community and connect with masterful musicians from different countries and cultures.

OneBeat X took place in October 2022 in Taos, New Mexico for three weeks. Together, the musicians learned about New Mexico’s history and culture, shared stories inspired by the area’s natural environment and built collaborative musical works inspired by these conversations. In partnership with local schools and community organizations, the musicians concluded OneBeat X by sharing their works through public performances, discussions and other events. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, OneBeat X musicians created a half-day public festival, which included art installations and live concerts.

From first meetings to final performances, Jayakumar was deeply inspired by other OneBeat X participants. “It was humbling to be among such incredible artistes, many of whom are masters at their crafts, but ever so generous with their knowledge,” she says. “For the first time in many years, I felt a sense of collective thought, of belonging, of what it means to nourish and empower a community.”

For Mysore, the experience of attending OneBeat 9 in Florida was just as uplifting. “I went in thinking about how many songs I was going to make and how to make my music good, but for the first few days, we mostly just got to know each other,” he says. Even though he felt overwhelmed at the beginning, he soon saw the experience as “a very calming way of changing my mind in a good way,” he says. “Being with everyone at OneBeat focused me very positively, and I did not expect that to happen!”

A lasting impact

Long after the final notes of their OneBeat experiences faded away, Jayakumar and Mysore continued to make its echoes heard around the world.

“Those three weeks were like a much needed escape to fantasy,” says Jayakumar. “It is rewiring my brain, my chemistry, and only time will tell how these epiphanies and experiences will manifest.”

Jayakumar hopes to organize a future OneBeat gathering—or something just as fun, musical and inspiring—in India. “I hope we are instrumental in making that happen soon, and open the floor to ideas, collaborations and funding,” she says.

For Mysore, “community is more important than anything else,” he says. “The United States of America is a mecca for hip-hop, and after being part of OneBeat, I took back knowledge to share with my community of rappers in India.”

“Bengaluru is a start-up city,” he continues, “and I plan to start an accelerator for hip-hop that educates and supports the community. I hope it will help give rise to the next biggest rapper in India.”

For musicians and performers anywhere who want to participate in future OneBeat festivals, Jayakumar has bold advice. “Just apply,” she says. “Be yourself, dream big, document your work and go for it.”

Meet The Artists

Pulpy Shilpy

Pulpy Shilpy began her career as a journalist, but started to pursue music full time after winning a small scholarship to a music school.

“As a songwriter, a lot of the writing I’d done as a business journalist helped,” she says. “I focused on crisp, coherent lyrics–nothing too long, but plenty playful.”

She describes the music she writes as mostly “clear, to the point, and efficient in delivery.” However, for the past few years, “as I’m getting older, I’m gravitating towards ambient, minimal, expansive sonic spaces, as I am keen on getting lost in there, rather than finding my way,” she adds.

Smokey the Ghost

As a “socio-conscious” rapper, Smokey the Ghost uses his music to explore social, cultural and political issues that can be controversial and difficult to talk about.

“I recorded one song called ‘Baldest of the Bald’ that addresses the stigma of losing your hair,” he describes. “In India, going bald means somebody died or something really bad happened, or that you’re never going to be attractive. My song explored the patriarchal pressure that tells men that they should be ashamed of going bald, and that they can’t talk about these things.”

The song got great feedback, he says, “and many men told me that I was saying things that they’d wanted to say for a long time but felt like they couldn’t.” —M.G.

Michael Gallant is a New York City-based writer, musician and entrepreneur.



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