Many people have asked me about the name 'Joel Veena', wondering if it is the name of an instrument or a person, and I am writing this in way of explanation. In winter of 2016 I started to perform under the pseudonym Joel Veena. It was suggested to me by my musician friends in Delhi to take a stage name because my surname, Eisenkramer, is not so catchy and has always given presenters difficulty in pronouncing it (my father is also a professional musician and performed for some time as Peter Michaels).
The word 'veena' comes from Sanskrit and refers to a plucked stringed instrument, of which there are many varieties and variations throughout history (including the contemporary Saraswati veena in popular use in Carnatic music and the Rudra veena played in Dhrupad music). I decided on Joel Veena as an act of respect for this amazing instrument and music. Rather than changing the name of the Indian slide guitar to reflect my identity and contribution to the music, I thought to change my own name. My deep study of this music and instrument has indeed changed me as a person and altered my destiny so profoundly, I can safely say that many of the great blessings of my life started to come to fruition when I dedicated myself to the earnest study of Hindustani classical music. The name is an acknowledgment that I am transformed: I truly believe that this music has so much to offer us in this modern time and that the Indian slide guitar has a unique role to play. Since the Indian slide guitar is an evolution of the guitar, originally modified from the Hawaiian guitars brought to Calcutta in the 1930s, this instrument is especially accessible and fascinating to a very broad audience of people. While many people in countries outside of India curious to learn Indian classical music find sitar and sarod intimidating, the Indian slide guitar is seen as more familiar. Guitar has become the people's instrument the world over and finding strings and accessories for the instrument is relatively easy to do in countries all over the world.
I mean no disrespect to any of the pioneers of this instrument who wish to call it by another name that credits their innovation; especially Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, whose recordings were the first to inspire me to try and learn this instrument. As a college student in Delhi in 2007, I bought a CD 'Classics for Pleasure' and it led me to seek out and study this music. I don't wish to debate the name of the instrument but merely to clarify the reasons and intention behind my own name.
I continue on this path as a perpetual student and strive to be the best representative of the instrument that I possibly can. I travel regularly from the USA to Kolkata to take taleem from my guru Pt. Alok Lahiri. I promote artists from south Asia in the US and provide a platform for their performance in my locality. I help to connect Indian artists with venues to provide letters of invitation for their tours. I act as a resource for Americans trying to learn Indian classical music in the US, connecting students with teachers in India, arranging for instruments and trying to help western students understand more about the culture of music in India. I help students who cannot afford to import an instrument from India to modify their own guitar so that they can get started and try it out. My performances in the west always have an educational quality to try and increase appreciation and understanding of the music in other countries. My goal in the next 10 years is to create an organization which facilitates the healthy and continuous artistic exchange of Indian classical musicians in the US and in India and south Asia, providing platforms, visa assistance, educational outreach and access to authentic teachers.
I was not born as this person but have been transformed by the music and the instrument. I have dedicated my life to these pursuits and will continue to do so as Joel 'Veena' Eisenkramer. I offer my humble pranam to the great artists who have gone before and wish to be reported as 'present' in the roll call of those who are serving this music with their all in the 21st century.
- Joel 'Veena' Eisenkramer