Sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee’s upcoming album features global maestros who kept their egos aside for collective vision
Sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee found himself to be in a bit of a soup in January this year. He had about 25 per cent of a new album he was working on framed in his head. And he then had a 10-minute phone call with UK-based label Sufiscore, after which he gave them a wish list of global collaborators he was keen to work with to finish the project. These names included the who’s who of improvisational music — Ustad Zakir Hussain; keyboardist Jordan Rudess of progressive metal act Dream Theater; Antonio Sanchez, who composed for the hit musical Birdman; Michael League, founder of modern jazz pioneers Snarky Puppy; and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, among others.
By the end of the month, all of them were on board, thanks mainly to Hussain putting in a personal word about Chatterjee’s prowess to these musicians. And the soup that the sitar player found himself in was this — “How do I direct someone like Béla Fleck or Zakir Hussain? How do I wear both hats, of the project being my own vision and letting these artistes bring their own magic into the picture?”
It’s an understandable conundrum. But happily for Chatterjee, the biggest lesson that these masters taught him is to have belief in himself. They made him understand that there might be 100 different ways of approaching a composition, but you have to have 100-per cent belief in that one sound you decide upon. Chatterjee says, “They would ask me, ‘What do you want us to do?’ And I would say, ‘I would love for you to bring in your own vision,’ to which they would reply, ‘Sure, we will do that. But what vision do you have?’ No one was high and mighty, saying things like, ‘Leave it to me, I will figure this out alone.’ That’s how grounded these masters are.”
The final album, called Unbounded - Abaad, is thus a sum total of these collective visions where the musicians would go back and forth as equal partners, exchanging notes across continents before everyone was happy with what was on the table. The first single from it, Shanmukhapriya featuring Shankar Mahadevan, released two days ago, while the entire record will be launched in September. Its sonic design is such that traditional sounds such as Carnatic or Indian folk music do a merry dance with modern influences like the electric guitar.
But remember while listening to it that this album is not just a piece of music. It’s also a lesson in humility. It was possible only because the disparate stakeholders kept their egos aside, no matter how accomplished they are.
And that’s something we can all take on board in life, regardless of whether we are musicians or not.
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