Rita Sahai is a rare Hindustani vocalist residing in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States. Ritaji’s uniqueness comes from her being simultaneously a soulful performer, a brilliant and prolific composer and a venerated music teacher. She is a senior disciple of Sangeet Samrat Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Saheb, and is the only vocalist and composer to carry forward the heritage of the Seni Allaudin Gharana. She has served as an ambassador of India’s rich musical heritage over the three decades that she has been in the United States.
Ritaji tours extensively and has performed live as well as on TV and radio in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and India. She has published several CDs and DVDs, one of which, Rangamallika, was considered for a Grammy nomination. She has recently published Geetamberdhara, a book of her two Hindustani choir compositions Vasundhara – Ode to Mother Earth and Navagraha Utsav – Celestial Celebration. She has collaborated on musical projects with world renowned American choreographers and musicians, projects in which she embraces innovation while maintaining the authenticity of Hindustani music.
Born in Allahabad India, Ritaji began her musical training at the age of nine. Her first guru was Pandit Rama Shankar Mishra, himself a disciple of Pandit Balwantrai Bhatt or Bhavrang, noted composer and music teacher of the Benares Gharana. After coming to the United States Ritaji continued her musical journey under the world renowned sarod maestro late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan where she trained in the Seni Allaudin Gharana style known for its creativity and purity of ragas. Impressed by her talent and passion towards music, Khan Sahib gave her the title “Gayan Alankar” (Jewel of Music).
Her music reveals a theme of emotional depth, healing and harmony. Rita Sahai, though inspired by the romance of the Benares Gharana and the rhythmic complexity of the Seni Alauddin Gharana, strives for additional melodic and emotional depth. Through sound she aims to heal and bring harmony to individuals, communities, the environment and the planet. Her choir composition Vasundhara was dedicated to Mother Earth and the notion of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) and was performed by forty-five singers and ten musicians. She followed this by her choir composition Navagraha Utsav which honors the influences of the nine planets (or nava grahas) to create celestial harmony.
Ritaji conducts classes all over the Bay Area, from Sacramento and Berkeley to Fremont and San Jose. Her students come from varied cultural and musical backgrounds. Through workshops and lectures she has also reached out to the larger non-Indian community and educated them in the intricacies of Hindustani music. Ritaji’s Western students discover a universal appeal and depth of emotion when singing classical ragas, and for her Indian-American students, Ritaji’s classes are a way of reconnecting to the music and culture of their mother country.
Rita Sahai is a faculty member at UC Davis, in the department of Ethnomusicology, and is director of two choir groups – the UC Davis Hindustani Ensemble and the Vasundhara Choir. Rita has also taught music at Ali Akbar College of Music, San Jose State University, Mills College and UC Berkeley as well as a course on creative world music at San Francisco State University.
In March, 2013 Rita Sahai was inducted into The Alameda County 2013 Women’s Hall of Fame, the first Indian to receive such an honor, and was publicly recognized for her contributions to Culture and Art. Her personal vision is to bring healing, peace and harmony through the universal language of music.