The daughter of the late New York senator, United Nations ambassador and ambassador to India Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Maura Moynihan went to school in India, and speaks fluent Hindi and Urdu—as well as “respectable Tibetan.” Over the years she has manifested her talents as a singer-songwriter, novelist, poet, short story writer, actress, painter and fashion designer—virtually all of it reflecting her continuing interest and passion for all things South Asia.
And so it is with Bombay Superstar, her latest CD—also the title of her forthcoming novel. The album, she says, was inspired by her love for Bollywood song and dance, and “the creative genius that is India.”
“What’s great about Indian civilization and culture is its gift for renewal and adaptation—how it becomes new again and again in every generation,” says Moynihan during Friday night Himalayan Happy Hour in the K2 Lounge at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea.
“Like Indian civilization, I’m always reinventing myself.”
Growing up Moynihan was “profoundly infuenced” by the music and arts, philosophy, literature and especially Hindu mythology of India. But in Bombay Superstar–her third CD release—she starts with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
“The titletrack is about Shah Rukh,” says Moynihan, noting that Khan hails from New Delhi, where she studied at the American International School (“Hindi High!”) during her teen years.
“The lyrics are about heading down to Juhu Beach—the hippie party beach in Bombay,” she says. “I wanted to make a love song to Shah Rukh and to Bollywood, because I admire Shah Rukh, and Bollywood makes better movies: movies about love—and they’re funny!”
But hers are not “silly love songs” by any stretch.
“They have a place, and I adore them,” says Moynihan. “But I’ve always been concerned with bigger things—like China’s occupation of Tibet and Lord Vishnu.”
Of the latter, she notes that “Friend to Everyone” is “a supplication to [Hindu god] Lord Vishnu, The Preserver.”
“There’s something for everyone in Indian gods!” says Moynihan. “I was walking down the street on a terribly cold spring day with an ominous dark cloud in the sky, pondering climate change and the looming crisis that we face on this planet, and started praying to Lord Vishnu to come protect us—now that we need to be rescued. From that the song just came to me.”
It’s an “Avicii-styled dance song,” says Moynihan, who had seen the DJ/producer open for Madonna a couple times.
“Maha Devi Ki Nam,” meanwhile, “is a prayer to Mother Goddess. In my Indian childhood I was told that in the Kaliyuga, only the Mother is awake to hear our prayers—that all the male gods were asleep! The chorus is a chant to the Goddess, and came to me spontaneously at the funeral of a friend who was a great photographer who also loved India.”
Incidentally, Moynihan has a poetry collection entitled Kaliyuga. The title comes from Hindu scriptures and the four stages in the Hindu cosmological cycle ending in the “Iron Age.”
“We’re now living in the Iron Age,” says Moynihan. “It’s an inspiration for ‘Maha Devi Ki Nam’ because only the Mother Goddess is awake in the Kaliyuga.”
The Bombay Superstar track “Translation Lesson” also has a poetry tie-in.
“It’s an homage to Urdu ghazals [poetic expressions] and poetry–which is extremely beautiful, which I studied in high school and college–and the ingenious phraseology of Bollywood songwriters. Ghazals and Hindi film songs are hard to translate, and all these translation things on the Internet do a bad job!”
As for the contemporary sound of Bombay Superstar, Moynihan salutes her Grammy-winning producer Dave Darlington: “Working with him is so exciting, inspiring and pure fun! He pushes and pulls you to get the best songwriting and singing out of you. It’s the reason I keep writing new songs.”
Noting that she has released Bombay Superstar herself, Moynihan explains, “I did it because I love music and love being a singer-songwriter, even if it’s not a nine-to-five paying gig. And why not? Especially since you can self-release in this day and age.”
The same applies to her novel Bombay Superstar, and Moynihan may indeed self-publish it, having previously published a short story collection, Yoga Hotel (also the name of an earlier CD) and a novel Covergirl: Confessions of a Flawed Hedonist with Judith Regan, and a poetry collection, Kaliyuga and Other Poems, via Mandala Publications in Nepal. She also has a songbook of all her lyrics and photo shoots, and she recently self-published an art book, Paintings by Maura Moynihan, through Blurb.com.
“Bombay Superstar is about an American girl from Queens who loves Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest star in Bollywood and thus the most famous person in the world,” says Moynihan. “So she flies to Bombay to try to meet him, and befriends a group of older ex-pats who have come to Bombay for a wedding—and the ‘Month of Parties’ that is the build-up to the wedding.”
Moynihan remains active, too, in publishing The Daniel Patrick Moynihan Newsletter, consisting of articles and speeches by her father that relate to current events, and is working on a documentary about her father, to be called American Visionary–The Life of Daniel Patrick Moynihan—similar to the title of the 2010 book Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary.
“His work is still so relevant,” says Moynihan. “He was a social scientist, and analyzed American life and politics and public policy from his perspective as a Harvard professor. And he was a genius at politics. It’s very important for young people to know who he was.”
So why write a novel, especially when the publishing industry is in free fall?
“I think at this time of chaos and war art is more important–not less important,” concludes Moynihan, invoking an old saying in the Kaliyuga: “It’s better to be a poet or artist than a king or minister or banker.”
“This is not the age for kings,” she adds.
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