Bickram Ghosh: Must celebrate our incredible tradition of instrumental music

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With Glorious India, Bickram Ghosh brings the finest musical talent—including Grammy winner Rakesh Chaurasia, Purbayan Chatterjee, and Kumaresh, among others—under one roof. In this interview, he discusses making Indian instruments the stars of his piece, and taking the album to the Grammys.

Edited excerpts of the interview.

Why did you decide to bring these celebrated artistes together for this album?
If you look at the history of fusion music in India, you will find that it traces back to Indian classical music. It’s always been Indian classical musicians who have ventured into the fusion music arena. As one of the early birds in this space, I wanted the finest instrumentalists of our country on board. These are the people who have played globally, and are the leading players in the classical circuit. We have musicians from the north and the south of India. Some of the best percussionists are also on board.

The world is now looking towards India for many reasons, including our accomplishments in sports and cinema. Glorious India is a reflection of what India is today—it is a country that is not just basking in the glory of its past, which is hugely regarded for its spirituality and music, but also for what we have to offer in the future. 

We need to celebrate our incredible tradition of instrumental music. At concerts in the west, you’ll have 80 musicians on stage. But, here in India, even if you have one player each on the sitar, sarod, and tabla, you can listen to them for three hours. There is a lot of literature, and beautiful sound textures in India. There’s the veena, bamboo flute, sitari, and our unbelievable percussions. Why should we not bring it together to make an album that is groovy but also brims with excellence?

Can you talk about the process of shooting the videos with these artistes?
It’s incredibly difficult to mime Indian classical music. You can lip-sync to a song, but to do so for Indian classical music is tough because, while playing, the musicians are constantly improvising. There are harkats that they introduce during the recording, which are then retained. So, to record the video, they need to track and remember those improvisations. Every little inflection and each twitch of the neck have to be captured. We goofed up a lot, and often we had to do 20 takes. But it was worth it. 

Given your decades-worth of experience, people may assume directing other composers may be easy. Certainly there may be challenges to understanding how to enhance each artiste’s strength in the studio? 
After playing on stage for so many years, we no longer worry about goofing up on stage. Now, we look forward to go on stage, crack jokes, and try to catch the other musician in a weak moment so that we can playfully bounce something off them, hoping they miss it. But, they don’t, because they are brilliant too. 

Can you elaborate on the decision to take this album to the Grammys?
I am a voting member of the Grammys and have played on four Grammy-nominated albums. As we began to work on this album, I felt we had made a [commendable] piece. At the Grammys, there has been a lot of interest in India, and Africa. So, we have a good chance [of winning]. For me, to send it to the Grammys is easy because, as a voting member, I can do that. Thereafter, it’s in the hands of the public.  

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