Debashish Bhattacharya started learning Indian music from his parents before he learned the alphabet. In his childhood he mastered many Indian classical instrumental styles as well as vocal music. As a performer, Debashish gave his first guitar recital at the age of four on the All India Radio, and in a public concert. In his twenties, he evolved a unique style of playing guitar, synthesizing selected features of various other instruments such as the Veena, Sitar, Sarod and Sarangi.
Debashish developed his innovative Hindustani slide guitars after years of research and experience. It consists of three self designed and patented guitars named as Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi. Debashish plays these guitars while sitting cross legged, with the guitar held on the lap and played with a small steel bar, metal picks and a celluloid thumb pick.
Debashish is one of the greatest slide guitarists of the world who has contributed to the guitar world a new standard and style of playing the guitar. For over 30 years he has cut a niche in the world of music. Possessed of a very open musical mind, Debashish is eager to collaborate and truly blend with musicians from any other country.
Certainly is the case with his latest album Beyond the Ragasphere. Debashish blends several elements of classical Indian music with several guest like Jerry Douglas, John McLaughlin, and family members helping with the musical creation. Debashish takes some time to answer some questions with Abstract Logix about the new album.
Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya
Abstract Logix: How did the album come together?
Debashish Bhattacharya: I am collaborating Indian and western Maestros of music since 1993, but never thought of my own collaborative records. Over twenty years there had been so many great artistes whom I’ve played with; could not resist to call them or contact them personally, to have them on my 50th birthday fusion album. It was supposed to be feast of music, music from varied genres, but composed by my experience and exposure to the music beyond the Ragas only ( as you know my 47 years training with Indian Raga Traditional music) I got great enthusiastic responds from these maestros, friends and also some of my disciples. That’s how it started.
Ablx: Was it difficult to organize and control an album when the musicians were spread across the globe?
DB: Oh God! I tell you it took a lots of time…was not at all easy!! Getting them in studio or in on online discussion which was obviously taking weeks then-, skype, dropbox, yousend it; some real time recordings, uploading softwires, internet communications! Man I never expected those!
Ablx: Jerry Douglas is a guest on your album. Was it interesting playing with a slide guitar player of another genre?
I love all the great slide guitarists of the world with true respect. I love his music, and we always have fun on stage. It was awesome having him play great Jerry stuff in my composition. I have some more for him, may be next time.
Ablx: Your daughter provides vocals on the album. How was it working with her on the album?
She didn’t expect so, she was giving her final board exam, and I brought her directly to the studio to sing most of the harmony parts and one solo song and one duet with me. She did it in approximately in four hours, before her mother started calling my mobile, to find when she will be back home for next days exam. You should listen to her singing Rasam Samba and Khamaj Tarana. I can tell she is much more composed and gifted than I was at 15. She sang to clicks and the rest I did later. It was her first such experience of singing. Quite fun.
Ablx: You have played in groups and albums with John McLaughlin, and now he is a guest on your album. What is it about John as a person or musician that makes it so easy for you to musically gel or get along with him?
John McLaughlin is two decades ahead of me. I heard his music 20 years before I came close to him. Music: Legend. Human: Superman. Friend: Solid as gold. But over all he is so down to the earth, funny and loving. All those I see. Beyond the Ragasphere would not have come in my mind without him and Jerry Douglas.
Ablx: Your new album is entitled Beyond the Ragasphere. What exactly is a raga, and how did you expand upon the conventional form?
DB: A Raga is spirit, an art of life, a disciplined practice of time bound melody and rhythm, and an expression of human emotive rasas through which the universal truth and philosophy of mankind can be realized. When all these happen to mankind the ultimate realization of Raga starts moving in different directions, and starts living in different genres. A new genre starts growing Beyond the Ragasphere. Compositions are wide spread and welcoming the artists to add their own thing. Raga goes global how I see it. It is beyond the Ragasphere.
Ablx: You have invented and designed your own, unique lap steel instruments. Did any of them make it on the album?
DB: A Mystical Morning, Kirwani, and JD2 Pillusion use my Chaturangui. Indospaniola and Reflections Remain has Gandharvi. Rasam Samba has Chaturangui and Anandi. Ode to Love has Anandi.
Ablx: How much of the album was recorded on an electric lap steel vs an acoustic slide guitar?
DB: Mine all guitar tracks are 100% Acoustic.
Ablx: How did you start playing lap steel guitar?
DB: The story goes to 1966 when 3 year old Debashish found a lapsteel Hawaiian guitar on the wall of his hall room in the farm house of the village. I invite you to go to the site www.debashishguitar.com for the rest of the story.
Ablx: What tunings do you traditionally employ on your instrument?
D open, D minor open, open G, G minor, B flat major, B minor, D augmented etcs…
Ablx: Who were some of your influences as a lap steel player?
None in early days, until I heard Brij Bhushan Kabra at the age of 21, after I received President of India gold medal. I liked many American dobro and lapsteel hawaiian guitarist. Slide guitar is a inseparable instrument in American music as well as in India. India has forgotten that but Americans haven’t. Hawaiian legend Tau Moe is one of the great inspirations since 1999 onward Tau Moe and his illustrous singer wife Rose Moe, who lived in Kolkata for seven years.
Ablx: Have you ever attempted to play a pedal steel guitar?
No I am already full and need more practice to keep up. I love that instrument though!
Ablx: Will your next album continue to break new ground, blending different musical styles?
DB: If you follow my discography, none of the albums I made are the same. I don’t want to repeat neither in my music or in albums, except the traditional style of Hindustani Raga Music.
Ablx: Thanks you so much for your time. Wish you all the best with this album.