Bengali ghatam player helps raise funds for lockdown-hit classical musicians

Somnath Roy  

Somnath Roy, 49, is possibly the only Bengali to play the ghatam, an instrument synonymous with the Carnatic tradition. But then, his life has been about making unusual choices. Mr. Roy was a full-fledged sportsperson until the age of 19 — first as a gymnast and then as a coach for West Bengal’s sub-junior kho-kho team — when he discovered his love for classical music. Today, as an established cine musician who designs rhythm for movies, he is helping raise funds for classical musicians who have been without an income due to the prolonged coronavirus-enforced lockdown.

Looking for more

“Classical musicians are in the field out of passion and not because of money because there is hardly any money. With the [enforcing of the] lockdown, whatever income they made from concerts dried up. We — a group of established artistes — have managed to help about half-a-dozen musicians so far. We are looking for more people who need help,” Mr. Roy, a resident of Howrah, told The Hindu.

“The problem is identifying such people, because self-respect often stands in their way of seeking help. It wasn’t easy finding out musicians who were really hard up — they included people whose kitchens had almost stopped functioning. Now we have come to know of a young tabla player from Asansol who is in need of money,” he said.

“Cine musicians like me are part of an association — there will be some kind of help if a musician is in need. But classical musicians belong to the unorganised sector, they are pretty much left to fend for themselves,” he said.

Online classes

With recording studios shut for the past nearly three months, Mr. Roy himself has been making a living from online classes he gives students, teaching them the concept of tala — or beats. Mr. Roy, however, did not begin his musical journey as a percussionist. After he quit sports at the age of 19, he was learning to play the flute from the flute-maker and -player Nepal Sarkar, who discovered that the pupil had a gift for rhythm and sent him to Bablu Biswas, a classical percussionist. Subsequently, he learned Western drums from Amal Roy and began playing for films.

“In 1996-end, I happened to watch a show of Zakir Hussain’s Shakti group, and was mesmerised when I saw Vikku Vinayakram play the ghatam. I approached [the respected Kolkata-based mridangam player] Pandit S. Sekhar, who taught me the mridangam for a while and then referred me to Suresh Vaidyanathan, a well-known ghatam player living in Chennai. I lived in Chennai — in Mandaveli — for over two years, learning from Mr. Suresh,” said Mr. Roy.

“I continue to learn from Mr. Sekhar and Mr. Suresh even today. You can say I have introduced the ghatam as a Hindustani percussion instrument to audiences here. I have accompanied many artistes — Amjad Ali Khan, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ajoy Chakrabarty. I am absolutely fascinated by the ghatam,” he said.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 10:23:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/bengali-ghatam-player-helps-raise-funds-for-lockdown-hit-classical-musicians/article31842268.ece

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