In around 1929 legendry Hawaiian musician Tau Moe was a visitor to Calcutta. He brought with him a Hawaiian steel guitar which was lapped up by the Indians the instrument becoming a surprise cult hit spawning a trend for steel guitar found during the 1940s Somehow or other one such guitar found its way into the Bhattacharya household as a young boy Debashish started to play the guitar that lay in the house. Being from a musical family Debashish was also learning the Sitar and classical vocal too. However he stuck to the guitar and thought about different styles and continued to research techniques for playing better raag music much later in 2004 Debashish finally met the man who had unwittingly changed the course of his life when he was introduced to Tau Moe in Hawaii. Tau Moe passed away the same year at the age of 95.
Coming back to 1960s Calcutta raag music was never really attempted on the slide guitar the way it was performed in traditional instruments like surbahar sitar and sarod. However songs of Tagore Nazrul, Rajanikanta DL Roy and other typically Bengalli songs influenced Hawaiien guitar music. At the same time modern songs composed by the composers trained in western music used the Hawaiian guitar as a melody playing instrument. This was prevalent in film music in Calcutta and Bombay too.
Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra’s album of raag music on Hawaiian guitar in 1958 marked a new beginning eight years later a four year old Debashish first recorded a classical raag recital with Ustad Keramatullah Khan at the all India Radio Calcutta for Sishamahal. Meanwhile Pt. Brij Bhushan Kabra’s efforts helped inclusion of the Guitar as a classical instrument in India. Oblivious of this Debashish was also playing alaap, vistaar gets gamaks and lightning speed toons at part with traditional instruments with improvised techniques all that he heard at home and at Calcutta’s famous night long concerts.
Over the years the city of Calcutta has had a profound impact on one of its sons arguably the greatest contemporary innovator of Indian traditional music and certainly one of its most gifted performers Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. This influence plus traces of a wider ancient Indian history with elements of Sufism and the origins of the Romani of Hindustan as well as Debashish’s own set of inspirations drawn from years of traveling and performing around the world and collaborating with musicians from diverse backgrounds has resulted in this his latest opus and his most personal release to date.
On the world stage listeners and festival goers from Africa to Asia. Europe and the USA have been transfixed by the magic of his artistry. He has garnered a fan club of leading guitarists some of whom he has played with such as John McLaughlin (as part of Remember Shakti Featuring Zakir Hussain). Bob Brozman and Martin Simpson other master musician collaborators include Liu Fang Takashi Hiryasu and Rene Lacalle.
Calcutta Chronicles Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey is musical journey through the centuries of guitar playing in India. Using three unique guitars that BBC award winner Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya designed himself each beautiful raga explores influences ranging from Gypsy to Sufi with deep sensitivity and free flowing movement between past and present tradition and innovation.
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