Alexandre Jurain and Sukanta Bose connect music with the soul

Indo-French duo Azarak who connected over a 300-year-old musical instrument Esraj will perform in Hyderabad this weekend

Updated - February 03, 2023 02:32 pm IST

Published - February 03, 2023 01:41 pm IST

Alexandre Jurain and Sukanta Bose

Alexandre Jurain and Sukanta Bose | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Indo-French musician duo Alexandre Jurain and Sukanta Bose who perform as Azarak, are happy to be in Hyderabad. Prior to their concert accompanied by Ustad Md Najmuddin Quadri on the tabla, they recall, “When we performed here in 2019, we had a nice audience that was receptive to our music. We are glad to be back.”

Azarak is an imaginary world, says Alexandre. Sharing how Azarak came to be, he says, “I met Sukanta two decades ago at Santiniketan when I began to learn the esraj. She used to sing folk and Rabindra Sangeet.” Then they became companions in music. Sukanta suggested they blend their traditions in western and Indian classical music. The fusion came naturally and after Alexandre began playing the esraj, they began touring as Azarak. His compositions reflect a world that has a bit of both western and Indian classical strains.

Now the duo lives in the small picturesque village of Eourres in France which enriches the music they make. “It is a serene, beautiful place surrounded by mountains. With many musicians and artists, it is known for its alternative lifestyles; these factors add to the musical quotient,” says Sukanta.

Their concerts turn the spotlight on the little- known esraj, a 300-year-old bowed stringed instrument that looks like a blend of sarangi and sitar. While its base resembles sarangi, its strings and neck are like sitar.

“Esraj is a rare instrument in India but in France, nobody knows it,” says Alexandre. Sukanta adds, “The uniqueness of the esraj is that it can be a solo instrument and not only an accompanying instrument.”

Alexandre Jurain

Alexandre Jurain | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

With 30 and 300 concerts in India and France, their concert pieces change with the audience. When Alexandre collaborates with a tabla artiste for an audience aware of Indian music, he plays Hindustani classical music. In France, where “it is tough to find such people,” he plays his own compositions, a blend of western and Indian classical notes. With many disciples across the world, Alex teaches esraj in France and during his travels to Santiniketan. Shahana Banerjee, Anne Taupin, and Anthony Guillaume from France are a few of his disciples. 

Azarak has evolved over the two decades they have been performing. They evolved more on Dhrupad music style, vocals and also on the harmonisation of two voices as in western classical music. “Since he knows my voice range, he is clear about what I can sing; I practice less so he pulls me up a lot,” laughs Sukanta, who will be presenting a few pieces composed by Alexandre.

Among their many collaborations, one project that kept them busy in the last three years is their work with storyteller Anne Taupin who presents Indian stories across France. They chose Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, a story Sukanta had grown up with. With Alex’s background music, the one-hour musical had the tanpura, harmonium and esraj. “People from the audience told us the narrative felt like a journey to India,” smiles Sukanta. They are also working on a project to present Rabindranath Tagore in collaboration with tabla player Ciro Montanari.

Sukanta Bose

Sukanta Bose | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Azarak’s concert in Hyderabad is part of The ZenBowls Project- curated Khānā & Kalā, a series of concerts/art events followed by a curated meal and conversations on February 3. Alexandre also performs with folk singer Dasari Kondappa on the burra veena on February 4 at the State Art Gallery. Alexandre anticipates: I need to be focussed on his folk music and create melodies that we don’t use in classical music.”

Concerts in Pune (February 19), Mumbai (February 23), Delhi (March 10) and Jaipur (March 18) follow.

A concert by Azarak accompanied by Md. Najmuddin Quadri on tabla will be held on February 3; 7 30 pm at ZenBowls Café, Puppalguda Main Road, Manikonda. Tickets 945.

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