Flash Review: Ami Dang & Roshni Samlal

By Priya Florence Dadlani

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Photo by Nicki Ishmael

Seeing Ami Dang, a South Asian-American vocalist, sitarist, composer, and producer, and Roshni Samlal, a Trinidadian tabla player, during my first visit to National Sawdust was fitting for me as someone passionate about connecting with my own South Asian and Indo-Caribbean roots through art. However, it has always been a struggle to accomplish this due to the violence of colonization and assimilation, the trauma of remembering, and the way time pushes us farther away from our ancestors. The ethereal and powerful nature of both performances acted as a portal: They led me to a place I’d never actually been, yet one that felt so familiar. 

Photo by Nicki Ishmael

I may have been sitting in the balcony surrounded by others in a venue that felt and sounded like a booming, light-filled spaceship, but there was a level of intimacy that made me feel as though the tabla, sitar, synth, and vocals were telling a unique story just for me. During Dang’s performance, a specific section had a snare and bass drum backbeat underneath the melodies from her voice and sitar that reminded me of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” or Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky.” I was struck by how layered the sounds were and how Dang tied together her upbringing in Baltimore, MD and her South Asian ancestry. It reminded me that threads of our varied identities don’t need to be separate, but can weave together and create an experimental sound to tell our stories.

Photo by Nicki Ishmael

Though from different diasporas—Dang from a Sikh upbringing and Samlal from a Trinidadian one—their works seamlessly complimented each other and were like therapy to me. My own ancestors were indentured laborers who were taken from India to work in the Caribbean on British plantations, and this has always made it more complicated for me to connect with my South Asian roots or other South Asian groups. But both artists evoked an ancient energy carrying an entire world and history within them; they were modern-day bards telling stories of the past and future. I deeply appreciated the acknowledgment Dang made of her own mental health struggles and the ways her new single “Sensations” reflects and embodies her darkest emotions and desires. The track reminded me of the spine-chilling and persuasive voices we can hear in our heads as we’re experiencing downward spirals. I believe it’s so important for us as artists to be real about what we are carrying with us to break myths of perfectionism that keep us isolated. 

Walking out of the venue into the brisk autumn air, I was in a peaceful and dream-like state. It was similar to the feeling I have when I wake up in the morning after just having a vivid dream that I could have sworn was reality. I try to remember exactly what the dream entailed, and for some reason it has slipped away. All I’m left with is a feeling of generational knowledge, cosmic connectivity, and the futuristic vibrations of the tabla and sitar still in me.

This article is a part of our Flash Review series, which is dedicated to capturing the specific embodied experience of a performance in National Sawdust's space. Live performance can often feel fleeting or ephemeral, but we hope these reviews allow you to return to that moment and enable you to listen deeper. What did you miss the first time around? How can you better appreciate the music through someone else's lens? More than anything, our Flash Reviews are an invitation to remember together. If you've ever been moved by a performance in our space, we hope you'll consider writing about it for us. Email boxoffice@nationalsawdust.org for more info.

Priya Florence Dadlani (all pronouns) is an Indo-Caribbean, queer cultural worker from Silver Spring, MD. Dedicated to liberation from the oppressive boxes white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy work overtime to keep us in, Priya's work is rooted in constantly standing on the edge of transformation, believing in the possibility of a new world. Their toolbox consists of political education, zine making, strategy, and storytelling. Priya currently resides in Brooklyn, NY where she organizes with SPICY, a collective she founded led by and for queer people of color working at the intersection of art, justice, and cultural archival. In addition, they are the Communications Associate at Third Wave Fund, a member of the Jahajee Sisters grassroots action team, and a member of Media Sutra to support the dreams of Black and brown creative entrepreneurs. You can follow her on social media at @priya.florence.