One of the most unique artists to come to town in an already uniquely diverse Savannah Music Festival is Indian slide guitar virtuoso Debashish Bhattacharya, who performs in a one-of-a-kind concert, “The World of Slide Guitar,” Thursday, April 3. Joined by Derek Trucks, “world blues” advocate Bob Brozman and dobro master Jerry Douglas, the concert features all four playing with their ensembles as well as together.
We had an e-mail exchange with Bhattacharya recently, and wanted to share it with you here.What drew you to slide work in the first place as opposed to standard fretting?
Debashish Bhattacharya: Well, there are two aspects. One, I picked up the Hawaiian guitar that lay in a corner of my house when I was three years old and started playing tunes I remembered from my mother’s songs.
Two, the slide of my instruments is conducive to playing Indian raga music, which demands sustained long and short slides with intricate patterns gently or vigorously touching the notes according to grammar of a raga. As I grew up I developed the guitar and found that this was the best approach for me.It became my soul before I started using my itellect to know it.
The kinds of sound I produce on my guitars, Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi, are completely different from the western notions of slide work and fretting. You must make it a point that I have never heard any Western music, neither met any one playing Western style before at the age of 6, but in between three full years of friendship with my six-string Hawaiian guitar has been completed.How much of your slide work is influenced by Indian sitar music? For example, sitar players often use rather extreme string bends, which a slide might replicate. Is that in your mind when you play?
Debashish Bhattacharya: Why only sitar music? My music is representative of thousands of years of traditional North Indian classical music that flows freely in all stringed instruments following the notion of imitating the human voice as in songs! Sitar is a great instrument so are the sarod, veena, sarangi and recently added Santoor etc.
You are absolutely right in identifying a similarity between sitar bends and slides. Sitar bends, though, are restricted to maximum five notes, but Chaturangui and Gandharvi has much more to offer.My music incorporates many other sound producing tec hniques from other instruments as well. Some sounds are typically my style which only my slide guitars can produce with the specific techniques I have invented for playing raag music on slide guitars.Do you use any unusual tunings?
Debashish Bhattacharya: Yes of course. I often tune my instruments for playing techniques that help make the sound of the raga a pleasure and give a fresh appeal every time. You see I can’t change a raga, but I can change the tuning of my instrument to do justice to the raga.I’m intrigued by the contrast between the tone of slide work in the West, i.e., very bluesy and raw, and the more contemplative, subtle and sweet tone of your playing. Does that reflect your cultural heritage, or is it more of a personal choice?
Debashish Bhattacharya: I really appreciate your understanding of my music. Indian classical is heritage music and for me it is presenting with due respect in the present global context. The tone is result of my research and experimentation suited according to my personal liking for raga presentation.
The contemplation and subtlety that you say are presented in demand to the rasa or emotive fervor determined in the discipline coordinates of the raga. But when at times I collaborate with other genres.... some chemical spiritual changes happens, which cannot be really translated in English.How do you think your playing will mesh with the other guitarists you’ll be playing with – Trucks, Brozman and Douglas?
Debashish Bhattacharya: Well that’s the surprise element! I have been collaborating with guitar artists from other genres like Bob Brozman for many years and people have been appreciative of the new form that emerges from these collaborations. Listeners can also look forward to a different experience altogether.What: The World of Slide GuitarWhere: Lucas TheaterWhen: 7:30 pm, April 3Cost: $75 - $15 at www.savannahmusicfestival.org or by calling 525-5050.Info: www.debashishbhattacharya.com