Sounds like diversity

Published: Jan 20, 2020, 07:00 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A soon-to-launch documentary series takes a look at music as a unifying force in a country as diverse as India

Soumik Datta with a Baul musician
Soumik Datta with a Baul musician

If you take a train from Kolkata to Shantiniketan in West Bengal, chances are you'll encounter these wandering minstrels called Bauls. They sing songs about universal harmony with only an ektara — a one-stringed instrument — for accompaniment. It's a far cry from the sort of music that Nucleya makes. He embodies a wholly modern, electronic aesthetic, which, again, is the polar opposite of the Carnatic strains that emanate from TM Krishna's voice. The point is that India is a land of musical VIBGYOR. Songs change colours across every border. And that's what London-based sarod player Soumik Datta has tried to capture in a new documentary he's hosted, which will premiere on BBC World on January 25 and is called Rhythms of India.


In it, the musician traverses the land over nine months to try and capture the sonic spirit of different regions and cultural traditions. The idea is to highlight how — in a country where something as age-old as Indian classical blends into a sound as contemporary as modern Bollywood — music is the glue that sticks us together. "I think music is a secret weapon. We just need to unleash it to unite us all," Datta tells us. He adds, "Travelling across India to make this documentary was perhaps one of the most exciting times of my life. One day I was exchanging notes with the rich and powerful of Mumbai, and the next I was deep in the forests of Kerala with endangered tribes immersed in ancient rituals. In a country so diverse, so
outstretched, I discovered that there is only one language that brings it together, and that language is music."

Indeed it is. For all you know, Nucleya is listening to some Baul music as you read. We are living in a nation of infinite musical possibilities. All we need to do is recognise it. And once we do, maybe — just maybe — all the fractious discourses engineered by our political masters will dissipate. One can only hope.

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