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Rebel with a cause: on Soumik Datta’s protest album on climate change

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How climate change warrior and sarod virtuoso, Soumik Datta, turned his latest EP into a protest album

For a whole year, Soumik Datta was haunted by terrible nightmares. There was no paranormal phantom spectre — but the rapid destruction of our environment that was keeping him awake. The facts are enough to horrify anyone; between July 2018 and July 2019, more than 9,000 sq km of the Amazon rainforest were lost to deforestation, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This has been the highest since 2008. “Trees and forests are the lungs of this planet,” says the 35-year old London-based musician.

His medium of dissenting the climate crisis came about the only way he knows how: with a protest EP titled Jangal (Urdu for jungle that also translates to wasteland).

Drawing from nature

The five-track album that released last week is raw, angry and beseeching all at once, bringing together a heady swirl of world instruments, genres and sonic landscapes.

In ‘Wildfire’, Datta’s frenetic strumming is fuelled by angst at what human greed and ignorance has caused. “There’s definitely screaming and violence in there, very much to do with [forest] fires and tractors chopping down trees. We don’t think of trees becoming a rare species [like animals] but this is what we are facing,” he says. With the title track, Datta experiments with Mian Ki Malhar, a raag associated with torrential monsoons because, “I read that the Amazon will soon stop making its own rain and I found that hard to grapple with.”. Then there is ‘Beasts’ with its stretched-out synth hook. “The EP opens with the beat of the bombo (Latin American drum) which is played in the Amazon. I’ve also used a bamboo resonator from Nagaland and instruments from other regions that are related to the climate crisis.” Rising above the soundscapes of Jangal is Datta’s sarod, made from wood, which he says wouldn’t exist if forests continue to be destroyed.

Rebel with a cause: on Soumik Datta’s protest album on climate change

Chosen by the sarod

When Datta moved to the UK at the age of 11, he accidentally chanced on his grandmother’s sarod in storage. Disoriented by feeling displaced, he felt a kinship with the instrument, a strange sentiment since he’d never connected with Indian classical music.

“The sarod was such a force. In many ways, it chose me and I feel sabotaged … but in a good way. I enjoy the peace that I find when the tanpura goes off and someone just hits the ‘saa’ in perfect tune,” he says. “I also relish when an overdriven guitar screams through the amps and the crowd grows wild. I won’t be able to live without one or the other.” It is no wonder then Datta’s list of collaborators includes Queen Bey and her husband along with names like Talvin Singh, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Joss Stone.

Jangal is available on Apple Music, Spotify and other music streaming platforms

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 6:44:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/rebel-with-a-cause-on-soumik-dattas-protest-album-on-climate-change/article30115849.ece

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