CHENNAI:The days are usually long and sultry in the city. The Eduardo Michelin Auditorium at Alliance Francaise just about begins to fill up and people seemed to have come for respite, some from a long day and others from the monotony in contemporary music. The stage is set. A classical guitar, a bass guitar and tablas take their spots on stage. Soon enough, the air is filled with a confluence of sounds — ranging from old melodies of Europe to odes to love and rain emanating from soils of Bengal. Essences of Mozart and Tagore make their way across the room as Santanu Datta, Pierre-Antoine Lasnier and Subhasis Bhattacharya from the Santanu Datta Trio make the evening their own.
Tracing his interest in Indian classical music to his mother, Santanu’s tryst with music has been laced with academic prowess. A of IIT, he moved to Paris where he spent five years learning the nuances of western classical music. “What I am doing now is not fusion. I am looking at ways to combine Hindustani classical with western classical, to make the tiny details come together,” says the classical guitarist and singer.
We sense the hesitation to associate with the word ‘fusion’, a sentiment shared by various performers across the city. “Everyone throws this term around. What we’re doing here is focussing on the core concepts of different musical cultures. If you’re playing a raga, you need to maintain the melodic movement and at the same time try to find a way and harmonise it as well. It’s a technical task and it isn’t just about superimposing different music. It’s about finding a way to make everything work correctly and independently,” he grins.
Having been associated with Pierre for quite a while, Santanu was introduced to Subhasis, thereby paving the way for a unique musical association. “We have three people from different backgrounds — jazz, western classical and Indian classical. So I thought it would be interesting to see these cultures come together,” he adds.
This however turned out to be the biggest challenge in the process of mixing styles, as Santanu says. “In western classical music, you can have a little rubato and a nice melody with a liberal tempo, which isn’t exactly acceptable in Indian classical. In jazz, you play in the moment; you go along with the harmony. I don’t work that way. My harmony is fixed, bass is fixed. So we had a lot to figure out. We needed to see how much each of us could be liberal and just how much and when exactly we could improvise without ruining our styles,”he elaborates.
A sociology project brought Pierre-Antoine Lasnier to Kolkata four years ago, a move that he calls life changing. Having begun training in western classical music at the age of 5, Pierre became curious about jazz when he turned 14. Currently learning Hindustani classical music under Debashish Bhattacharya, the bassist says, “Before coming to India, I had a very sketchy idea about Indian music. Coming here has opened me to this culture and it has brought me fresh perspectives. It opens some doors you never thought existed.”
While Santanu seems excited by the prospects of teaching a few lessons on contemporary classical music, Pierre is clear about staying away from the tutor’s seat. “To teach a subject, knowing the subject isn’t enough, you need to have the skill and propensity to be a good tutor. In that sense, I don’t think I make the cut,” he says and Santanu adds, “One of the duties of being in this business is to pass on your craft. It’s a skill that needs to go across generations. And to tell it well, you need to know yourself and your art and teaching helps fine tune that knowledge, not just for the student but for the tutor as well. In my opinion, it’s a mandate for musicians.”
Besides being busy with their tour with Alliance Francaise and other independent projects, Santanu promises an album in the coming months as well as a tour to Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a plan that’s still on the drawing board. We wonder how hard it is to stay original and stand out from the crowd in the country’s musical space, to which Pierre responds, “If you’re true to yourself, your history and your music, originality isn’t difficult. But that is tough; it’s easy to get swayed in the process.”
As they take to the stage, Pierre sums up the constant process of creating music saying, “When a non-music oriented person asks what this whole ‘finding one’s sound’ is about, we equate it to happiness. It’s not a goal or an ambition, but a journey.”
(The writer is a freelance journalist)