(November 17, 2023) During the famous Chatth puja of Bihar and Jharkhand, a devotional Chatth song that America’s Christine Ghezzo sang seven years ago continues to go viral, with people sharing it among friends and families during the festival season. The singer had received the lyrics from a friend, who suggested she try singing it, even helping her with the pronunciations. “It was just between friends and he put it on Facebook. Within hours of his posting it, the following morning I woke up to messages and notifications. I couldn’t believe how quickly it had become popular,” says Christine in an interview with Global Indian. Happy with the love and appreciation she has received from the Bihar-Jharkhand community, she adds, “I am very grateful to them for making me a part of their Chatth Puja celebrations.” Since then she has sung few more Chatth songs garnering popularity.
Christine Ghezzo’s association with Indian music began even before she was born. Her parents, who had moved to New York City as refugees, were both musicians who happened to listen to a lot of Indian classical music, even when Christine was in her mother’s womb. Christine’s baby shower, which was hosted by an Indian family, was filled Indian music. Today, Christine is an accomplished singer, who can sing in more than 15 languages. is so deeply attached to India she refers to it as a ‘past life connection’.
The Florida based singer is the disciple of Pandit Radharaman Kirtane who is the senior disciple of Sangeet Martand, Pandit Jasraj. Christne has been learning Indian classical music for close to 18 years now and quite often performs bhajans and kirtans and other devotional chanting at temples, yoga studios and house concerts in her region. She has a kirtan group called Bhav.
Music and languages in the environment
Speaking from St. Petersburg, Florida, the singer says, “My parents loved music from around the world including India. So, it was a part of my upbringing, and that’s how I picked an inclination towards this form of expression.” Both her parents have been professors of music. While her mother focused on history and research, Christine’s father was the director of the music composition department at New York University for 35 years. He was also a pianist and used to perform devotional songs in many languages internationally. Christine would travel with her father and in the process, began her own career as a performing artist from a young age.
“We all have different talents in different directions. My personal talent is sound and that is how I have been able to process different languages,” says the singer, who grew up in Queens in New York City, where her Romanian father and Hungarian mother settled down as refugees. The sheer volume of immigrants in Queens meant Christine grew up listening to a “fusion of languages,” developing quite an ear for them in the process. She went on to do an undergraduate degree in creative writing and music and earning a Master’s in ethnomusicology.
In 2011, Christine’s father passed away. Until that point, she had focused mainly on European devotional music but begun her training in Indian Classical music as well. “I remember, there was one piece in Raag Bageshree that I sang while my father accompanied me on the piano,” she says. After his passing, she moved to Florida with her husband, Ron Weiss. Now, Christine is even looking at putting European and Indian devotional music together to come up with a new genre.
The spiritual awakening
Eighteen years ago, in an Indian restaurant, Christine heard virtuoso Subha Mudgal for the first time. “I was having lunch there and they were playing Subha Mudgal’s Mathura Nagarpati Kahe Tum Gokul Jao, the soundtrack from the film Raincoat and something completely shifted in me. It was like a spiritual awakening hearing that piece of hers.”
Mesmerized, she asked the restaurant staff about the singer. They directed her to a shop across the road, saying, it had “lots of resources” for her. The shop sold a little bit of everything, from Indian CDs and DVDs to puja items and Ayurvedic herbs. Christine asked if she could be put in touch with a guru and was handed a business card. “That card belonged to my first teacher of Indian music, Poornima Desai of Shikhshayatan Institute in New York,” she says, and her journey began.
Shortly after, Christine came to India, where she travelled to places like Delhi, Varanasi, Agra and Jaipur.
I absolutely loved Varanasi, it was like being in another dimension. It was then that I started to feel the real spiritual connection. Music always carries the spiritual imprint with it and I had not experienced it until I went to Varanasi.
Strong connection with India
With a deep fascination for the country, Varanasi and Kolkata feel like home to Christine. Over the time she even became a devotee of Goddess Kali and sings Shyama Sangeet, a genre of Bengali devotional songs dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali who is also known as Shyama.
“I have been studying Indian classical music for many years but there is still so much to learn,” she says. Her current guru, Pandit Radharaman Kirtane in Florida has been her teacher for last eight years. Born and raised in Mumbai, Pandit Kirtane has had his own influence on her and Christine can now sing in Marathi, along with Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali and Bhojpuri.
I have become very familiar with different regions and languages of India and the richness of musical tradition of each region. It’s incredible. I probably need 200 life times to learn what I would like to from the rich legacy.
Woman of many talents
Last time that the singer was in India was three years ago, when she was invited to Silchar to perform a concert. Since she is also a professional photographer the programme entailed holding photography workshops in her month-long stay.
Christine has been receiving many invitations to come to India but owing to her fragile respiratory system, severe asthma and bronchitis, her pulmonologist restricts her travel to the country. “I feel so connected to India that I would have loved to even live there, if not for my health issues” she says. “But I am very connected to the people there through my circle of friends. Thankfully, in this digital era it is easy to stay connected.”
Christine works with her husband’s construction consulting firm and the couple also share a love for photography, often exhibiting their images together. The couple’s photography group was recently invited to the only museum in the state of Florida to exhibit their work, which was a huge honour for them.
Apart from all this, Christine is also a gifted cook. “I was probably the mother of 10 children in my past life and that is why I cook in huge quantities,” laughs the singer, who loves inviting her friends over to eat food cooked with organic vegetables freshly plucked from her garden. As far as Indian food is concerned, she likes anything that is fried, crispy and salty. Medu vada, batata vada and masala vada are few of the things that tops her list.
The vegan singer, photographer and chef loves all lentil-based recipes, and is good at cooking chole. The extraordinary baker loves nature walks and staying connected to the roots of both Indian and European cultures.