One down, five more albums to go — there’s no stopping percussionist Bickram Ghosh this year
Quotient is unlikely to be anybody’s favourite word, but in the case of Bickram Ghosh it has to be the most repeated. He employs it copiously, using it describe his transition from being a classically-grounded tabla player, who accompanied the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Shiv Kumar Sharma on stage, to being a genre-straddling world musician (“I have a strong new-age quotient”). Ghosh pops the word again each time he talks about his forthcoming musical projects and albums, most of which while blending in musical strains from across the world, come with a strong “Indian classical quotient.”
There is Repercussion, the Kolkata-based musician’s collaboration with Pete Lockett, the British percussionist noted for his works with artistes like Björk, Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant as well as on the soundtrack of recent Bond films. While the two percussionists are currently exchanging heavy music files over the internet, Repurcussion is likely to be released on Saregama once Lockett arrives in Kolkata for the final recording soon. An “out and out” percussive album, Repercussion will bear traces of Indian, Egyptian and Spanish rhythms with Bengali folk band Dohar bringing in a certain “tribal feel” to the music. “Pete has been trained in Indian classical music and understandably the Indian element in the album will be strong,” says Ghosh, 41, who recently teamed up with the French band, Mezcal Jazz Unit to release the Indo-jazz album, One, on Saregama.
In between, a proposed album with Sunev, a cross-cultural band that has Ghosh, Lockett, Moroccan violin player Mounir Baziz, Spanish flamenco guitarist Juiliano Modarelli and British saxophonist Jesse Banister incorporating Arabic, jazz and Indian elements, and the Sooni Taraporewala directed film, Little Zizou, where Ghosh has created the score, are also awaiting release. Ghosh nearly forgets to mention his album with flamenco pianist Pedro Ricardo Mino, one of his “strongest” pieces of work which was recorded seven years back in Los Angeles and is now set to release.
After spending a decade from 1993 touring the Indian classical music circuit as a tabla player, Ghosh’s much publicised musical crossover happened with 2002’s Brainwashed, George Harrison’s posthumously-released album where Ghosh played the tabla. Since then, his electric hand drum, rock star looks and musical freethinking have become essential props of Ghosh’s new-age turnaround – one that has garnered praises from fans as well as criticism from Indian classical music’s old order. These days, he admits, almost 70 per cent of his creative output is reserved for new-age music. “If kids today know about ragas from my fusion concerts, I think it’s a good thing since I’m only recharging classical music for a new generation. At the same time whenever I perform at classical music concerts I stick to tradition. That way my conscience is clear,” he says.
Electro Classical, Ghosh’s ambitious classical-meets-electronic album, underlines the musical worlds he now courts. Slated to be released on Music Today, Electro Classical has musicians like Rajesh Vaidhya on the electric veena, Snehashish Mazumdar playing the electric mandolin in the north Indian style, Prattyush Banerjee on electric sarod, an innovation on the classical sarod that Banerjee himself created, Amyt Dutta on electric guitar, V Suresh on ghatam triggered through a contact mike, Pulak Sarkar and Som Dasgupta on keyboards and Ghosh performing on his Handsonic. The music is a quirky mix of jazz, lounge, Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean themes, with loops and samples occasionally forming the backdrop and Indian classical music being the recurring motif. The idea of the album was borne out of Ghosh’s belief that the “electrifying of classical Indian instruments” is an embryonic movement in Indian music. “My knowledge base is classical music and for years pure classical music is what I have played,” says Ghosh, “but I have a lot more to contribute to other forms of music before I go back to the world of Indian classical music.”