By Soumik Datta
Last year when I learned that my guru, Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta was no more, I spent the day listening to his recording and lessons recorded on old cassettes.
A majestic sarod player and dedicated teacher, he hasn’t gone away, he lives in our hands and hearts as we play his music and I imagine him delighting souls in realms beyond us with his music.
Music has always meant something more to me. I remember the joy, the freedom I felt by placing my fingers on the strings of my sarod. As a student in Harrow, I would duck rugby games and my housemaster gave me space to practise my sarod. I played the sarod with the annual Shakespeare productions and kept winning the strings award every year till the judges asked me not to come back!
After studying composition at Trinity, I set up my company and designed the electronic sarod, so I could stand and play my instrument. A lot of music and travel and festivals followed. But something was missing.
Ten years later I was back in India searching for the voices we don’t hear, people we don’t see, musicians who are free, who sing and play as a way of life, wonderful traditions of folk and classical threatening to die out as the world moves on. There, on the edges of the modern world, deep in the heartland I find them, talk to them and play with them. These are the unsung heroes, their voices resonate through paddy fields and under banyan trees, timeless, impenetrable. What will survive? Tradition or modernity, music or noise. So I made this journey tuning to the people, their beliefs and the one language that unites them – music.
The Tuning 2 You Project was a 6 part TV series (for Channel 4) made with my brother Souvid Datta, on lost traditions of music in India. I collaborated with unexplored musical traditions like the music of Nagaland or the Portuguese singers in Goa, the Bauls of Bengal hinterlands and the folk musicians of Karnataka. It was a discovery of India project for me and staggering to find the rich tapestry of traditional music in every corner of the country.
Earlier this year, I presented the three part Rhythms of India for BBC 4 and made a second tour of India exploring the rapidly evolving musicscape in the classical, folk and popular world, from the ancient Dhrupad singers to young rappers and hip hop artists who write the new urban, political lingo.
Rhythms of India will release in Asia in November 2019.
This summer I had outings in Glastonbury and the BBC proms where I played new compositions. I enjoy connecting with other genres and art forms so recent work has ranged from collaborations with the choreographer Sirdi Larbi, legendary Carnatic musician Aruna Sairam, creating a new score for Satyajit Ray’s fantasy film Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen; it’s called King of Ghosts. The arts have to play a part in social transformation, it’s not a bubble we work in.
Now I am designing Hope Notes, a project which explores the connect between music and mental health and raises awareness about this. My new album will release in November and I am shooting the music video now.
In the middle of this widening spool, it is very special to have a sit down classical concert, where I return to the centre, my core music and find a soul connect. I am playing for Uttaran – a concert presented by Baithak UK at the Bhavan Centre on Friday, September 27, at 7 pm with talented musicians Chiranjeeb Chakraborty (vocals) and Gurdain Rayatt (tabla).