Beyond the guitar

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Debashish Bhattacharya enthrals with his customised slide guitar

Debashish Bhattacharya is the epitome of slide guitar playing – a genre he has helped popularise to express the subtleties of Indian classical music. A recent concert at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre in Sydney showcased his virtuosity, alongside his unique style of fingerpicking, and demonstrated how his hybrid instrument is fully capable of exploring uncharted sonic territories.

The line of sight between the audience and the softly- illuminated stage wasn’t lost for a second. As the playing intensified, it felt as though the theatre was under a spell. Music flowed through the fingers of Bhattacharya, each time they came into contact with his slide guitar, and it filled the auditorium to a tickled frenzy. Cadence and crescendo followed, and the performance concluded with an inevitable standing ovation.

Debashish Bhattacharya.Indian Link

Music comes naturally to Kolkata-based Debashish Bhattacharya. A young Debashish took up strumming a full- sized Hawaiian guitar at the age of three. By age four, he made news when he performed on All India Radio (AIR). At twenty, he was the recipient of the President of India award at AIR’s National Music Competition. Having found his purpose in life, Bhattacharya threw himself heart and soul into studying the guitar. At 21, he left home to learn under Brij Bhushan Kabra, considered the pioneer of Indian guitar.

Following in the footsteps of his guru, Bhattacharya embraced the slide guitar as his instrument of artistic expression. Bhattacharya’s masterpiece is the creation of the trinity of slide guitars namely Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi – which are considered an integral contribution to world and Indian classical music. The Sydney audience was overwhelmed with the set list of old and recent compositions. The backing musicians for the concert were Bhattacharya’s friends. Renowned tabla player Bobby Singh stepped in on percussion, Ben Fink played the mandolin, and Naomi Jean and Nick Rheinberger alternated on tanpura duties.

The concert was interspersed with tales of east India narrated by the maestro. Glimpses of his childhood oozed through the stories he told. About his famed 22-stringed Indian slide guitar, he said, “The main purpose of doing this is to try to serve Indian raga music in a better way.” The initial part of the set did not include the tabla.

Debashish Bhattacharya.Indian Link

The drone of the tanpura and Bhattacharya’s free-flow form of raga played on. It was followed by a rendition of ‘Sufi Bhakti’ from his 2008 album, Calcutta Chronicles, tackling a more spirited form in delivery. ‘Gypsi Anandi’ was an intent listen that cajoled the imagination. ‘Raga Bhimpalasi’ gave listeners ample time to meander into meditation.

The Grammy-nominated Bhattacharya has mastered his craft to perfection. His guitar-oriented approach towards Indian classical music has blended in with more contemporary Western styles, and has attracted the attention of collaborators and stalwarts in the music industry worldwide.

Since gaining his renown, he has worked on a number of guitar tours and multicultural projects, most notably with John McLaughlin’s Shakti and a number of projects with slide guitar master Bob Brozman. Bhattacharya feels that music is his faith, which he believes, gives peace and joy to listeners.

“I need your blessings and support to live like a musician, not doing anything else,” he said as the concert neared its end.