String story

Sitar exponent and composer Purbayan Chatterjee talks about his musical journey.

Published: 30th August 2017 11:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th August 2017 11:03 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: He believes in blending and balancing  genres, but the core of Purbayan Chatterjee’s music is essentially classical. A scion of the much-revered Maihar gharana, his sitar strokes take you to the heights of tonal wizardry, a world so soulful and inventive.

“You should never doubt the greatness of your musical heritage,” says the celebrated sitarist, who is in Kerala for a concert organised by SPICMACY.  

 His tryst with music started at the age of three and within a couple of years he picked up the sitar, forging an everlasting bond with the instrument. But it was a recording of Nikhil Banerjee that sealed his musical destiny.

“After listening to that all I wanted in my life was to play like him. Later my dad took me to a few legends like Zakir Hussain, Ajoy Chakrabarty and Ali Akbar Khan. All these people kind of convinced me to pursue my passion and that’s how it started,” he says.

A child prodigy and the recipient of President’s Award at 15, Purbayan says he also had a strong fascination for tabla, “but Indian instruments are very difficult to master and in one lifetime you can’t excel in many.”

Known for alloying Indian classical with global genres, he thinks an early exposure to world music was integral in shaping the musician he is today.

“It makes you a much more diverse kind of musician,” he says. He has associated with some big names in the world music scene and considers each collaboration a learning process. “Music is all about spontaneous response. If you are working with artists from your own country like Shankar Mahadevan or Zakir Hussain, they push you and drive you to become the best version of you. And when it comes to international icons, that external tradition gives you a greater insight about your own music. Music is ultimately about self realisation and every collaboration is part of that process,” he says.  

Despite his global collaborations, it’s his strong classical roots that define Purbayan’s music. ”That’s where I started my journey from, but the destination is not in your control as there are many other forces at work. But I always give the highest priority to classical,” he says. He proudly talks about his Maihar legacy, one of the most influential gharanas which boasts of a string of masters including Ravi Shankar. “It’s a very interesting gharana where tradition and innovation go hand in hand. It’s where drupad and khayal blends and new idioms originate,” he says.    

Shastriya Syndicate, his crossover project, presented Indian classical music in the band format for the first time. “I wanted to bring the excitement and chemistry of a band within the parameters of classical. It was one of the most successful albums and we continue to perform even today,” he says.

With some acclaimed albums like Lehar and Stringstruck to his credit, ask Purbayan whether it was an attempt to make classical more mainstream and he says, “classical music in India is already mainstream. Here almost all sorts of music stem from classical. All playback singers in India are basically classical musicians with more exposure to other forms.”  

Married to playback singer Gayatri, he calls Carnatic the most scientific art form with an amazing tal tradition. He also finds the Kerala music scene quite sound and interesting. “In Kerala you have a very cultured and artistically-inclined audience. At the same time I think there should be more focused activity in the area of classical music,” he adds.


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