New York born Kavita Shah is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and French. Music, singing and other languages were really common for her as a baby. Kavita’s mother would speak often to her in Gujarati, while her father and she would sing songs in Gujariti, Hindi, English and one in French. Kavita studied Spanish in school, but what really made it a more fulfilling practice was being able to travel to Ecuador to spend time with a family there when she was 16, making the language a more lived experience. Having that exposure has provided an opportunity to develop “a sonic palette for sound,” she says.

From the age of 10 to 18, Kavita sang with the Professional Young Peoples Chorus of New York City, where she was exposed to music and sang in more than 20 languages. “Often music was the first way to have an introduction to another place, another culture,” Kavita says. The Chorus “really valued authenticity, so if we were singing Brahms, we would have someone come in and really work with us on perfecting our German and getting the right pronunciation.”

Kavita studied college level Spanish, and was into AP classes and literature. She majored in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, but she was not interested in the existing theoretical European classical music classes that were available. She was more interested in spanish literature, especially Latin American literature. Since it was a very small department, Kavita was able to take advantage of a more intimate learning experience, as she was able to get to know her professors and teachers and go to their houses.

Kavita got into Brazilian music in high school and learned a lot about the music and Spanish and Portuguese through the music. “Because of my major, I had to study Portuguese,” she says. “But the moment I went to Portuguese, I kind of abandoned the whole Latin American world. It was like a fish to water. Something’s very special to me with Portuguese. Singing in Portuguese feels very natural to me. It’s like finding a piece of myself.” Kavita had a formative life experience when she lived in northeastern Brazil and Bahia when she was 20. First, she was immersed in the language. Second, she was in a city that was predominantly Black.

Kavita Shah’s freshman release was Visions (Inner Circle Music, 2014), which was co-produced by guitarist Lionel Loueke. It was an excellent introductory document of the varying soundscapes Kavita was presenting at that time. She included compositions by Joni Mitchell, Wayne Shorter, MIA and Stevie Wonder, and she featured an introduction to her most recent release by recording her interpretation of “Sodade,” which was made popular by the phenomenal vocalist Cesaria Evora. Visions featured many exceptionally talented musicians, including bassist Linda May Han Oh, kora player Ycouba Sissoko and saxophonist/flutist Steve Wilson.

Kavita’s most recent recording is Cape Verdean Blues (Folkalist Records, 2023). This release “was like going out on the side and doing something different and doing something that was research based on one place,” she says. This release featured master acoustic guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Bau (Évora's longtime musical director) and vocalist Fantcha, whom Kavita met when she recorded Visions. “Fantcha was also a sort of right-hand person to Cesaria Evora,” Kavita says. “Fatcha and Cesaria were incredibly close. She’s the person who knew Cesaria best. She was kind of like an unofficial daughter to her.” The title was to recognize Horace Silver, who was of Cape Verdean heritage, the Cape Verdean community along the Northeast and to acknowledge Kavita’s connection to jazz.

The Mezzrow sets were “a kind of like homecoming – transitioning back to my next project, which is a project of original Jazz with my quintet that will come out next year,” says Kavita. She looks at this gig “as a time to check in and go back to some of the repertoire from Vision, take a second to honor the 10 years of my professional career, revisiting some of those songs and also playing some new compositions and new songs that will be on the new album.” Kavita also wanted to note that the new release “will be a sequel to Visions. It’s actually like India, Africa and Brazil all in the same pod again. It will be like coming back home and to home base.”

Photo Credit: Joe Wuerfel

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