Debashish Bhattacharya transformed the City Recital Hall into an exotic performance space with his modified slide guitars, Tanmoy Bose’s brilliant percussion and Anandi Bhattacharya’s mesmerizing vocals.
Hawaiian guitars were adapted into Indian classical music in the 1960s. Debashish’s teacher and guru, Brij Bhushan Kabra, convinced his father to buy him a Hawaiian guitar by promising to learn to play Indian classical music on it. He modified the guitars and added sympathetic strings to capture the beauty and complexity of Indian music. Debashish Bhattacharya continued this innovation and now travels with a 24 stringed instrument, a 14 stringed instrument and a 4 string lap steel ukulele.
Debashish displays amazing virtuosity on these guitars. They look and appear amazing and immeasurably add to the exoticism of the evening. The vocalist was his sixteen year old daughter, Anandi. This precociously talented singer gave her first radio performance at the age of four, just as her father had performed on All India Radio at the age of four. She captures the ancient sounds of the palaces and bazaars of Indian and complements this with some modern sensibilities. The final member of the trio, playing table, is Tanmoy Bose. His partnership with Debashish Bhattacharya is spectacular and of the highest order. It is inspirational to see and hear such a rare collaboration.
Debashish Bhattacharya explained that he wants to call on the past, present and future in his music. One aspect of this idea is that the drone that would normally accompany a sitar and table that would traditionally be created by a stringed instrument, the tanpura, is supplied by a tanpura app. Anandi fired up her computer at the beginning of the concert and a faultless drone provided backing for the brilliant live musicians.
The concert opened with an evening raga, describing a woman’s longing and anticipation for her beloved to return. She considers how she will make him wait in revenge for her waiting for his return. Anandi’s expressive singing soared as it explored different tempos, rhythms and dynamics.
The Indian trio was joined by Australian slide guitarist Jeff Lang. The rhythms were less complex but the guitar virtuosity was spectacular. The synthesis of Indian raga, some jazz scatting and slide guitar with Indian rhythms was intoxicating.
The final piece featured the electrifying partnership between Debashish and Tanmoy. Rarely have two musicians displayed greater understanding and skill. It was a rare treat.
Debashish Bhattacharya played the City Recital Hall on the 15th January as part of this year’s Sydney Festival.