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Chicago Blues strains above a Ballygunge lane

Singer-songwriter Arinjoy Sarkar is keeping the old-school blues legacy alive in Kolkata with his trio

Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya | Published 19.11.22, 04:34 PM
Arinjoy Sarkar of the Arinjoy Trio at his Garcha Road residence

Arinjoy Sarkar of the Arinjoy Trio at his Garcha Road residence

Amit Datta

The blues originated from the Afro-American music of protest, strife and melancholy post the Civil War. The enslaved people would hum the songs while working in North American colonies. Kolkata based singer-songwriter and guitarist Arinjoy Sarkar may not have faced the survival struggles of black musicians, but he relates to the language of the genre.

Residing inside a quiet lane on Garcha Road in Ballygunge, the 34-year-old imbibes the blues from the dissonance caused by the chorus voices of the hawkers in Gariahat, the families living by the railway tracks and from stories of monotony and misery. “Our city has lots of conflict and struggle. You can get frustrated with your boss at work and vent it out with the blues,” he tells My Kolkata, sitting at his residence in a room with a poster of Led Zeppelin staring from the walls. 

Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and BB King were the torchbearers who promoted the authentic sound before rock music borrowed from the genre.

(L) BB King and Muddy Waters were among the torchbearers who promoted the authentic blues sound

(L) BB King and Muddy Waters were among the torchbearers who promoted the authentic blues sound

Wikimedia Commons

Arinjoy is the only musician in the city who performs the raw blues, closer to the Chicago and Texas style, with the call-and-response flair inspired by Buddy Guy, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan. 

His band, Arinjoy Trio — with Aakash Ganguly on the bass guitar and Sounak Roy on drums — released their self-titled debut album in 2019, and will be coming up with an EP in February 2023 with three songs and one instrumental.

Cold Cold Cold from the first album struck a chord with listeners. It is a Chicago shuffle, and the lyrics are a Blues archetype. “It’s a cliche. It says you have done me wrong, and I am not going to take it,” says Arinjoy, while Nothing Good's Ever Gonna Last has a cathartic ring.

How it happened

Arinjoy went to Don Bosco School in Park Circus. It unlocked his musical prospects, courtesy of school fests from an early age, when he picked up the guitar. Like every beginner, even he had a teacher who would teach him to play iconic Hindi songs. Later, he learnt the Western classical guitar under the guidance of Shyamal Dey before entering the Bangla band sphere with the group Jack Rabbit. 

The idea of a Blues trio occurred to him around 2013-14. Guitar virtuoso Amyt Datta, who has been Arinjoy’s teacher for many years, helped him delve deeper into the ethos of the blues. “Amyt da gave me the starter pack, and then I developed it. He told me how to do it and who to listen to; even when we were listening to Guns N’ Roses or Steve Vai in school, the core element of that was the blues. I always felt connected to the sound. Plus, I used to sing a lot of blues songs in Jack Rabbit, too.

Guitar virtuoso Amyt Datta, who has been Arinjoy's teacher for many years, helped him delve deeper into the ethos of the blues

Guitar virtuoso Amyt Datta, who has been Arinjoy's teacher for many years, helped him delve deeper into the ethos of the blues

TT archives

“It was a daunting task to come up with a Blues trio as I had to sing full-time, and I was the only guitar player, with no other rhythm guitarist. My bandmates and I learnt the nuances of the genre together,” adds Arinjoy, while noodling on his electric guitar.

The trio won the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai in 2018. Since then, Arinjoy has been in the elite company of Ehsaan Noorani, Rudy Wallang of Soulmate and Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues — all renowned blues guitarists from the country. “It was overwhelming, but that dissipated over time, and now we are good friends,” he says. 

Difficult to sustain in India

Arinjoy understands one cannot sustain one’s passion by playing only the blues in India, and there are only a handful of blues musicians. Both his bandmates, Sounak and Aakash, play other genres with different bands, while teaching is Arinjoy's main gig. “Everybody has different projects. Ehsaan and Warren play in the film industry. Teaching guitar is my primary source of income,” says Arinjoy, adding that the musicians should generate more interest in the blues to keep it relevant.

There are not many blues festivals in the country either. “You have Mahindra Blues, and Rudy does one in Shillong. And everyone has their own set of lineups in all-genre festivals like the NH7 Weekender. It will be much easier for a big band like Soulmate or Blackstratblues, which is instrumental rock music with blues in its heart, to get a gig. Not everyone wants to take a chance with a new guy,” he says.

‘Teaching guitar is my primary source of income,’ says Arinjoy, adding that the musicians should generate more interest in the blues to keep it relevant

‘Teaching guitar is my primary source of income,’ says Arinjoy, adding that the musicians should generate more interest in the blues to keep it relevant

Amit Datta

Amyt Datta: Where are the venues?

Datta, a mentor to most guitar players in the city, is all praise for his student Arinjoy, but feels the city needs more platforms to showcase the music. “Arinjoy is an earnest and honest musician. When he plays the blues, he is one of the few guys in the country doing it in the most authentic way. He is mature and understands different styles of music and the treatment it needs,” he says.

Datta highlights that finances have always been a problem, and there are not enough venues. “The musicians have always done what they do, but the whole system does not support this kind of music. I am talking about honest musicians, not the ones who sleep at home in the name of music after quitting studies and jobs.” 

Even Someplace Else doesn’t have the kind of music it used to in the earlier years, rues Amyt Datta

Even Someplace Else doesn’t have the kind of music it used to in the earlier years, rues Amyt Datta

“The whole structure needs to recognise this as a dignified job. There should be more platforms. There are not as many venues as the Skinny Mo's Jazz Club. Everyone says Someplace Else, and it is a shame that you have one place to talk about in the City of Joy. It is quite a myth,” says Datta, adding that even Someplace Else doesn’t have the kind of music it used to in the earlier years. “Everyone needs money, but all the heads are looking at money without artistic value. If it is a legendary place, you have to maintain that.”

Among the other blues musicians from the city, Saturday Night Blues Band and Big Family were the only notable groups, but they have not been active for a while. It is not that Arinjoy plays a gig every week, but when he does, the house is usually full.

Last updated on 19.11.22, 04:36 PM
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