Fusing percussion to create Rhythmscape
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Fusing percussion to create Rhythmscape

In this interview, Pandit Bikram Ghosh, who experimented with countless percussion instruments, talks about his album Rhythmscape.

music Updated: May 31, 2003 18:36 IST

Calling Pandit Bikram Ghosh a tabla player would be inaccurate, perhaps, incorrect. For, Ghosh has ventured beyond the tabla and experimented with countless percussion instruments in his quest for diversity.

He has studied percussion very seriously down South, bought and learnt instruments that have captured his imagination from all over the world, apart from learning the tabla from his father Pandit Shankar Ghosh, which is how his journey as a percussionist began.

Ghosh's album 'Rhythmscape" which fuses various kinds of percussion has been released recently. In this interview, he speaks about his music that is, to the say the least, quite unique at a time when many accomplished classical musicians are looking beyond the obvious to create an individualistic, you can call it global, sound.

What attracts the listener to the tabla in the West?
The tabla is that one drum that produces a vast range of sounds. One can also see a lot of interaction with the person whom the tabla player accompanies. So you can say that there is a certain physicality in the whole process. That is what attracts people from the West. After Zakir Hussain, the instrument has become a lot more glamorous It is understandable. When people who dress well and look good play brilliantly, people get attracted to the instrument as well.

Earlier, when Ustad Allarakha Khan played in the West, the instrument was viewed with incomprehension and awe. Has that been replaced with more familiarity today?
There is much more familiarity, although it needs to be said that the predominant attraction continues to be the sound. A huge chunk have not explored the subject matter. But then, how many people in India can tell whether or not a 'tehai' has been taken at the right point? On the contrary, if a note is somewhat out of place in a 'raga', the same people might react knowledgeably.

Fusion is the 'in' thing. But does that contribute to literacy?
It is a bridge. There has been a certain coteried audience for Indian classical music. But these days, all of a sudden, four-five thousand people turn up for concerts. Fusion helps to attract those listeners who may not be going for classical music concerts otherwise. That helps to enhance awareness about the music.

But there is good fusion, and bad fusion too in which artists come together just for the heck of it. Your comment?
For fusion to be both serious and good, the artist should have an idea of the other genre. Bad fusion happens when sounds of various instruments are made to come together without adequate knowledge. What is sad but true is that knowledge is going out of fashion these days.

What explains your passion for exploring new percussion instruments?
I have studied South Indian percussion seriously. But wherever I have gone, I have collected various kinds of drums. Whenever there has been the possibility of creating a solo which I have felt a certain kind of drum carry off well, I have incorporated that. I have collected all kinds of drums, met all kinds of drummers, and if ever there has been an instrument for which I have not been able to find a player, I have gone ahead and learnt that myself.

'Rhythmscape' is not only an album, but there have been a series of concerts with that name. How are you enjoying it?
I am at a point in my career when I am having fun like never before. After thirty classical concerts on the trot, I did feel the need for a break. These days, after a series of 15 concerts or so, I do five or six 'Rhythmscape' concerts. I get a lot of positive energy from doing so and, when I get back to playing in Indian classical concerts, people say that there is an extra zing in my playing. I feel rejuvenated, may be that is why.

You have learnt South Indian percussion, and also played with Pandit Ravi Shankar for a long time. Have you experimented with him by playing the tabla in the Carnatic style?
When Panditji plays ragas like Hamsadhwani or Kalawati which have South Indian roots, I use a low 'sa' tabla which I play in the 'mridangam' style. He likes it very much.

How tough has it been to create an identity for yourself, since you are Pandit Shankar Ghosh's son and the cousin of Pandit Swapan Chowdhury?
It has not been easy at all. For the first four-five years of my career, I had to struggle to counter criticisms. After that, I changed tracks, and that is why I started studying Carnatic music seriously. After a point in my life, I started juggling between two careers: those of a percussionist down South and in the North. It was one of ways of sounding and being different, and people recognised it. But the initial years were tough. That is a confession I must make.

First Published: May 31, 2003 18:36 IST