And now, classical is COOL

Purbayan Chatterjee talks about his latest concept and the future of the sitar.

Published - August 28, 2014 08:14 pm IST

Tabla player Anubrata Chatterji, percussionist Gino Banks, vocalist Suchishita Das, flute maestro Rakesh Chaurasia and sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee. Photo: Special Arrangement

Tabla player Anubrata Chatterji, percussionist Gino Banks, vocalist Suchishita Das, flute maestro Rakesh Chaurasia and sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee. Photo: Special Arrangement

Purbayan Chatterjee is one of the brightest sitar scions of the Maihar gharana. His music combines the tone and richness of the Nikhil Banerjee style with his own urbane sensitivity. Some of his acclaimed musical albums include ‘Lehar’, ‘Stringstruck’ and ‘Hemisphere’.

His current endeavour, Classicool, is a movement that proclaims that “classical is cool.” Here are some excerpts from an interview:

How was Classicool conceived?

Classicool was conceived in the course of discussions with a special friend of mine. I realised that very often the intricacy of Indian classical music is lost to an uninitiated audience. I simultaneously thought that a movement should begin towards the revival of this great art form which is part of our national identity. My friend Sangsthita Nandy suggested the tag-line “Classical is cool” and then her brother Sagnik Nandy suggested the name ‘Classicool’. In this day and age, children often take to the guitar or the drum kit because they think it’s ‘cool’.

Classicool retains classical ragas and presents them in a modern soundscape using bass and drums as accompaniment. In approximately 3-5 minutes long capsules, we present original content in a new context. Classicool is just a reminder that classical is the coolest form of music.

Is Classicool a fusion band? How different is it from other fusion ensembles?

Classicool is not a band and there is nothing fusion about it. Classicool is a concept. It is a dialogue between artists. We play pure ragas and talas using a shorter time span and a contemporary soundscape using instruments such as drums and bass. For e.g., I could be playing raga Sri in rupak tala and be accompanied by the drums and the bass and guitar but the raga is performed in all its purity.

Your initiative primarily aimed at reaching out to the youth…

The movement is designed to remind the youth of the great glory of Indian classical music which is “cool” in itself. Indian classical music is an intricate art form and a great level of awareness is required to appreciate its nuances.Classicool is designed as an entry point for those who might not be initiated yet. The ultimate idea is to make them listen to the performance of a Raga in its longer form.

What is the process of composing a piece?

This is not a band. So, we let performers compose their own pieces. Subsequently, they can rehearse with the drummer (Gino Banks) or bass player (Manas Chowdhury) a day before the show or even on the day of the show much like we would do for a classical recital. This is possible because we are operating within the parameters of the raga and the tala and are all trained in that discipline.

At the inaugural concert in Mumbai, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, amongst many others, showed up to extend his support to your endeavour. How important is the validation from your seniors? And what about your detractors?

We felt blessed to have Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia that day. It’s a movement for classical music, therefore the support and approval of seniors is very important. I don't anticipate any criticism. Who can deny the greatness of this art form and the need to make it more accessible for Gen Next?

You have also moved base to Mumbai from Kolkata. Is that to explore options like Classicool and reasons of visibility?

Mumbai offers a national platform for any endeavour in the arts space. I wanted to explore that space and find the opportunity of working with national and international names in Indian music.

What is the future of sitar?

Very, very bright. There are many awesome players out there – Niladri Kumar, Ravi Chary and Anoushka Shankar – just to name a few from my generation. In fact, there are more talented players today than ever. There are ground-breaking projects happening. The sitar is an iconic instrument and it’s going to stay that way.

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