Asian Music and Dance

Soumik Datta and Shivkumar Sharma 

The British-based sarodist Soumik Datta, accompanied by Shahbaz Hussain on tabla, had the honour of opening the Darbar Festival’s final evening. Datta’s guru, Buddhadev Das Gupta happens to be an important influence of mine as a writer on the Indian art music condition. Like few maestros in Hindustani music, he knows the travails dedicated musicians undergo in order to make music when they aren’t hereditary musicians. His pupil played superlatively, as if to the manner born. Here comes the ‘but’. Datta should, in my opinion, play fewer notes and deliver the ones he plays with more heart and a keener eye on storytelling. Yes, storytelling. Rāgas are stories. Because laya (tempo) is essential when pacing stories, at times he felt too rushed, too junior gunslinger. The bandish (fixed composition) from Radhika Mohan Moitra – his guru’s guru – in which a played phrase is immediately echoed is a fine signpost to Datta’s future. And despite spilling his natural exuberance youthfully all over the place, Soumik Datta showed himself to be highly promising. I have my beady eye on him. And I’m not afraid to speak to his guru.

Take it as a given that Shivkumar Sharma and the words ‘santoor’, ‘maestro’ and ‘visionary’ go hand-in-hand. Sharma chose Jog as the main course for the last night of the festival. In our post-Walter Benjamin age of mechanical reproduction, he put one of his past glories, one of his finest ever recordings up for comparison. This Jog likewise went through the conventional sequence of movements from alap via jor to jhalla – which was where Anindo Chatterjee began to reveal his inner and extravert Anindo – to gats, three compositions in sevens and sixteens. The alap was like an incantation of spells and then came the jor. Let’s face it, many listeners view its unmetered pulses like some necessary lay-by snooze before arriving at the final destination. Sharma’s jor resolutions were exquisite – astronomically speaking, without getting kozmic, like the stuff of cosmic dust taking form. Jog overall was beset with sound problems. But when Jog’s last notes decayed acoustically, this Jog’s eloquence could only have been the product of the imagination of only this one musician.

Overrunning because of a late start, he encored with a folk-like melody of five-star strength in the six-beat dadra cycle. Intriguingly unidentifiable, it could have been a dhun (folk air) or some half-remembered tune from a Bollywood flick that you can’t put your finger on. At times his melodic feints and statements swept me back to the exquisite traditional Czech melodies of Jiří Kleňha the maestro of the Fischer’s Mandolinette – a hammer dulcimer cousin of the santoor – on Prague’s Charles Bridge. Afterwards, Shivkumar Sharma told me it was a dhun in Pahari. Without quite knowing its course, so to speak, he had launched his dhony – the Kashmiri boat of G.N. Joshi’s notes for Sharma, Brijbushan Kabra and Hariprasad Chaurasia’s classical blockbuster, Call of the Valley. Unplanned ‘tales’, journeys made without preconception are the living essence of Hindustani art music. And, as tonight, that is where the lucky witness, spontaneous magic unfurling.



Join the weekly Pulse newsletter and we will send you the latest news and articles straight to your inbox