Together We Play
Hindustani classical musicians Purbayan Chatterjee and Rakesh Chaurasia have collaborated on an album that makes audible their affection for each other
In early March, sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee and flautist Rakesh Chaurasia headed to a small studio in their hometown Mumbai to work on a new record. At the time, Chatterjee was riding high on the success of his 2021 album Unbounded (Abaad), a progressive jazz/rock/Hindustani classical extravaganza that packed in stellar performances by a star cast of global virtuosos, including Ustad Zakir Hussain, Béla Fleck, Michael League and Shankar Mahadevan.
But now he and Chaurasia—accompanied by Satyajit Talwalkar and Ojas Adhiya on tabla— were on a slightly different mission. With the easy chemistry that only comes from decades of friendship and collaboration, the duo recorded seven tracks of free-flowing ragabased jugalbandi, nailing most of their takes in one go. The result of that freewheeling recording session is the new album, Saath Saath, which was released independently in September.
“Unbounded was an exploration where I had free rein to venture into uncharted territory and add many different elements to each song,” says Chatterjee in an e-mail from the US, where the duo is currently on tour. “I wanted to see what I could do with that freedom in my own mind if I got back to the exploration of ragas. All my fellow artists on this record are contemporary masters and are very modern in their approach. So, Saath Saath is a homecoming album… a home with a view of the world.”
The music on Saath Saath is based on seven ragas that are associated with different times of the day, progressing from the cinematic serenity of opener Lalit to the playfully romantic build-and-release of the mid-day raga Madhuvanti, and then the more freewheeling folksy improv of evening raga Pahadi. The incredible synergy among between the four artists— all of whom are also family friends—is an electric, intimate conversation between sitar, bansuri and percussion where every witty exchange and subtle melodic interplay is as thrillingly engaging as a David Attenborough documentary.
“Music cannot just be played or sung alone, there must be a sense of ‘togetherness’,” adds Chaurasia, referencing the album’s title which translates to ‘together’. “[Mine and Purbayan’s] friendship has been truly special as it goes back more than 30 years. That has helped make this musical journey memorable.”
With the album already out, Chatterjee and Chaurasia are busy presenting it to the world with a month-long US tour and a minor detour to the Barbican in London, where they’re set to perform a set at the Darbar Festival. Both are, of course, veterans of the international tour circuit, but there is something a little special about this one. “It’s a great feeling to tour to promote the record,” says Chatterjee. “We have done Atlanta and as I sit and write this interview, we are on a plane to Indiana. Post the pandemic, the feeling of being on the road is kind of surreal. Bringing our music to audiences all over the world is not just what we do, it is who we are.” ■
After composing the music for the film PK (2014), composer and musician Shantanu Moitra felt an urge to step away for a bit. The rigours of Bollywood, as also the limitations of format impositions in music, had taken a toll. So, off he went to the Himalayas, for 100 days, with a friend. “I kept thinking:
“Kamaal ka desh hai hamaara, kamaal ke
log hain (this country and its people are spectacular). I started humming something very unlike the stuff I had done for Bollywood. All this classical music I heard as a kid—my father is from Varanasi—was, I think, in my DNA. I realised that if I travel, new music and ideas will come to me,” says Moitra.
Thus began a long journey building up to
Songs of the River, a 3,000 km expedition from Gomukh to Gangasagar, most of it on his cycle, and part of it on a boat. He has turned it into a docu-series, now streaming on Disney+Hotstar, tracking his journey along the Ganga. It was his father who first suggested a trip to the Ganga: “‘Come to Banaras,’ he told me. ‘Or anywhere along the Ganga. You’ll find some meaning in it.’” While Moitra terms himself “a lazy Bengali”, his love for adventure and the great outdoors overrides those laidback instincts.
In the devastating second wave of Covid infections in India in 2021, Moitra lost his father, someone he shared
IN A WAY, MOITRA’S SONGS OF THE RIVER IS A TRIBUTE TO HIS FATHER AND THE MANY LIVES LOST TO COVID
a profound relationship with. “Covid and his passing propelled me with that urgency. Now I have to do this.” In a way, Songs of the River is also a tribute to his father and the many lives lost to Covid. In the series, he carries 800 photographs of people who had died in that time, to honour them and perform ceremonies in their memory.
Songs of the River becomes a way for Moitra to connect with his roots, to channel the emotions and experiences into meaningful music. Each episode features a collaboration drawing from his travels, and the river itself, as he brings in artists such as Mohit Chauhan, Maati Bani and Taba Chake, Bombay Jayashri, Sid Sriram, Ambi Subramaniam, Kaushiki Chakraborty and Rathijit Bhattacharjee along for parts of his trip. His reasons for working with them went beyond just their considerable artistic merit—from teaching music, working with autistic children, feeding stray dogs, he knew they were all good people, making a difference. In Songs of the
River, we see Moitra work on a song with each of them, bouncing off ideas for an album.
“Movement, travel,” he says, “is the best recipe for a composer. And yet, we end up doing it in closed rooms. When I’m cycling, a rhythm comes to me. A tune. It’s that openness. This note won’t come if you don’t experience it.” ■