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- Published 14.06.11
|Bonnie Chakraborty with wife Usri Banerjee|
He has rocked out with Krosswindz, put roots music on the map through folk platform Oikyotaan and sang playback for A.R. Rahman. This time, singer/composer/arranger Bonnie Chakraborty has come up with Tagore Unbound — a Rabindrasangeet album from Asha Audio featuring his wife Usri Banerjee and, in a first-of-its-kind turn so far, a song by Ustad Rashid Khan. A t2 chat...
A flood of Tagore tribute albums are coming out this year to mark his 150th birth anniversary. Some claim to be experimental; others are “different”. How would you describe your sound?
The sound of Tagore Unbound is as promiscuous as music can be. I have incorporated African, Chinese, Irish and Scottish folk music, flamenco, tango and Latin pop, traditional Japanese and Persian music, electronica and 2-step, dub and of course, Indian and Western classical music and Baul music. The idea was to slip in between each of these genres and create a soundscape, which has never been attempted before with Rabindrasangeet. As we were creating this album, I decided to try and establish a foundation out of whatever influences have driven me till date. The idea was to never take away from the high spiritual and esoteric content of Tagore. I could possibly best describe this sound as contemporary trans-global fusion. Fusion, because I don’t know any other form which has dabbled in so many different genres. That’s the reason this album is being called Tagore Unbound, Robi Thakurer Gaan, and not Rabindrasangeet.
Why Rabindrasangeet? Was it because your wife, Usri Banerjee, is so rooted in the genre?
Usri was the driving force behind this project. She has trained in Rabindrasangeet under Abhirup Guhathakurta for 15 years; she comes from a family where everyone knows their music and art really well. This album, though, happened accidentally. In Mumbai, while arranging a few Rabindrasangeet songs for Usri, I was amazed at the possibilities in arranging a Tagore melody, simply because it was obvious that Tagore was a global musician; he knew it all — from dhrupad to flamenco to Irish folk to Southeast Asian folk melodies. It is only when you sit to harmonically arrange a song, you understand where the influence comes from.
Tell us how the album idea evolved, right down to Hiran Mitra’s inimitable cover art...
This project originated from my curiosity to arrange Tagore in a brand new way. Also, that I knew nothing about Rabindrasangeet drove me to the attempt. It was a challenge. Besides Usri, my father-in-law, Ardhendu Banerjee, with his knowledge of Indian classical, Tagore and folk music, selected the most uncommon songs and sat with us right till the end to fine-tune all aspects of singing and song selection. The one sung by Ustad Rashid Khan can be classified as a khyamta or a thumri, it belongs to the Indian classical genre. There are eight songs on the album. Aesthetically, I wanted the album to have an international sound and that’s the reason I got it mixed and mastered in Mumbai by my friend Aditya Trivedi.
For the cover art, I was sure from the first day that I wanted a hand-drawn image of Rabindranath in a fakiri outfit, with an ektara. Hiran Mitra was my natural choice. I really like what he has done for us, right since Poth Geche Benke to the Moheen albums.
How did Ustad Rashid Khan get involved?
I would personally like to thank my friend, (director) Kaushik Ganguly, for requesting Khansaab to sing for this project. Actually Khansaab had done a track for Kaushik’s next venture, Rong Milanti, for which I have scored two songs. So, for Tagore Unbound, we decided to request Khansaab to sing Tabo premosudharoshe. He has rendered it in a way that will surely make everyone in Calcutta sit up and take notice. Being what it is, the song uses tabla, tanpura, sarod, harmonium and flute, along with Khansaab singing. It is a classic.
Are there plans to showcase the music live?
Yes. Recently, we performed a show where we slipped in Sukotaara with the other Oikyotaan songs. It worked fine, but I personally would like to do bigger things with this project. I will be working with the Oikyotaan team for Tagore Unbound and more musicians from Chennai, especially on the string section.
It’s been a while since Oikyotaan’s debut album. Is a follow-up on its way?
Oikyotaan is up for a release this year with an Indian label. It’s been a while, since we have been performing, archiving and documenting folk music. The Oikyotaan line-up has changed; it is a platform and not a band. We keep working with new musicians and new concepts. This year, I am looking forward to the release of Tagore Unbound (already available in stores), Rong Milanti and of course Oikyotaan. Besides, there will be lots of new songs in my voice for Bengali as well as Hindi films.
What is happening on the playback end?
My last hit was Aali re saali re from No One Killed Jessica; Amit Trivedi is a revelation for Mumbai! Upcoming projects in playback include Iti Mrinalini (with Debojyoti Mishra as music director), Oboshesh (with Prabuddha Banerjee as music director) and Aparajito (with Shantanu Moitra). I am enjoying this journey as a singer/ composer and arranger in Mumbai and Calcutta and I refuse to be pigeon-holed by Bollywood or any other industry. For me, the mantra is to reinvent myself every day and be as versatile as possible as a musician. Nothing else matters. I am still learning something new with every step of my life.