The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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East-West fusion & a beautiful feel

When the guru-shishya duo of Santanu Bandyopadhyay and Neel Adhikari set out to collaborate on a project aimed at reaching out to a “wider audience”, it was meant to be fusion with a difference. Earth, a collage of East-West vocals set for a winter release, juxtaposes the “melody of Indian classical music with western chords and texture for the first time”.

Santanu, a fifth-generation classical vocalist of the Bishnupur gharana and son of Sangeetacharya Amiya Ranjan Bandyopadhyay, believes the classical artistes’ fraternity itself is largely responsible for alienating today’s youth from the genre. “The stress on rhythm is lost and everyone is striving for too much vocal jugglery, which doesn't always appeal to the young generation,” he says.

Earth uses western chords to embellish Indian ragas. “The chords follow the ragas, but don't essentially violate them,” explains Neel, erstwhile lead vocalist of Krosswindz, who has been learning the ropes of Indian classical repertoire under Santanu for the past five years. Stop The War, a favourite with both student and teacher, is easily the standout track in the album. Santanu excels with his spontaneous response in the form of alaap, sargam and bandish, gliding effortlessly under Neel’s English vocals. “Those are one-shot takes and completely unrehearsed. At any other point of time, my response to the same notes would be quite different,” he says.

Half the album — using the ragas Megh, Jog, Darbari, Malkosh and Bhimpalashi — is improvised, and doesn't follow a structured format. “However, we have remained faithful to the basic grammar of classical music and not taken undue liberties,” stresses Santanu, a great admirer of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan and Tarapada Chakraborty, apart from, "of course, my father”.

“The uniqueness of this collaboration is that both the vocals fuse with and complement each other on the same plane, rather than going forward in a stop-start staccato,” adds Neel, who has been “hugely influenced” by Sting — “a perfect vocalist and an extremely polished musician” — while recording this album. The grooves use a lot of electronica and samplers, with the bass drum the omnipresent thread. The baya is often layered with drums, tal, nal, dhol, snare and even African percussion instruments to give the album “a beautiful feel”. The duo plans to take its vocal fusion act live this winter in the city, and is busy culling “appropriate accompanists”.

Santanu, who hopes this candid concord could trigger a vocal fusion movement and reorient the young generation into Indian classical, is also working on a rock-khayal project to be released early next year. “The base will be pure classical khayal, set to rock rhythm and chords using drums, bass, guitars and keyboard,” he explains.

The classical singer, who has been visiting the US on concert tours for more than a decade now, plans to conduct workshops on East-West vocal fusion there in February next year. Workshop invitations from 25 US universities, like Bloomington, Cornel and Alberta, besides numerous Indian student organisations, have already reached him.

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