A trained Indian classical vocalist, Sukriti Sen Bhattacharya is the lead female singer of the otherwise all-male Delhi-based fusion band, Mrigya, which has been churning out riveting music for the past decade.
Her male colleagues in the band have long recognised her talent. Says Indraneel Hariharan, one of the founder members of Mrigya, “We respect Sukriti’s stature as a highly competent singer and fantastic human being. Besides, her sense of humour offstage can be very infectious!”
Bhattacharya, who did her schooling at New Delhi’s Raisina Bengali School, and her Masters in music from the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi, has performed around the world. “But an artiste is born, not made. I am really grateful to the Almighty as my voice came to me as God’s gift,” she says.
She has been associated with Mrigya since 1999 and has toured with Pete Lockett, the renowned percussionist. Besides performing with Mrigya, she has also teamed up with Prem Joshua and has worked with disc jockeys from around the world. However, of all her musical experiences, Bhattacharya considers her brief association with legends Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Zakir Hussain as the most rewarding moments of her life.
So how did this musical journey begin? Being born into a Bengali family had an advantage since the arts are considered a part of tradition and encouraged. Music ran deep in the family, with the record player always on, creating a musical environment at home. As Bhattacharya puts it, “It is because of my parents’ interest that I began to sing. Both my parents were into music. My mother sang as a pastime, while father became a singer in the Uduchi Group and played the Hawaiian guitar for quite a few years.”
As long as she lived with her parents, her mother made sure that she got up in time for her ‘riaz’ (practice) every day. “I had to wake up every morning around 4.30 am and practice for three hours. Evenings saw another two hours of practice,” recalls Bhattacharya.
Marriage and the responsibilities of a family meant a change in schedule, but the inherent desire to improve as a singer did not disappear. “I now tailor my schedule to the needs of my family but I still manage to practice for four hours. My day begins at 5.30 AM. After sending my son to school at 7.30 AM, I do some housework and then sit down for two hours of practice. After a break to prepare lunch, I sit again for another two hours in the evening,” she reveals.
Bhattacharya, incidentally, is married to a tabla player, Shambhunath Bhattacharya and confesses that it does help to be married to a musician. “He has always been very understanding and supportive. Being in the same profession, we complement each other and many a time get opportunities to perform together, too. You can assume that conversations at home revolve around music!”
There is another advantage in having a husband who is a musician. Bhattacharya can practice for her performances along with the tabla, whenever she needs to do so.
This talented artiste has had the guidance of many gurus. “My actual journey began at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya where I was exposed to Indian classical music by the late Vinay Chandra Mudgal, better known as ‘Bhaiji’. Later, Vinod Chandra Mudgal, who was himself a student of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan sahib, taught me many ‘thumris’ and ‘dadras’. After his death I had the privilege of learning from my guru, Pandit Madhup Mudgal, also known as ‘Bhaiyaji’. I continue to train under him even today and he has my eternal gratitude,” she remarks.
The association with the fusion band Mrigya, as its sole female singer, was of course an important turning point in Bhattacharya’s life. Formed in 1999, it comprised five men – Rajat Kakkar, Sharat Chandra Srivastava, Gyan Singh, Indraneel Hariharan and Sacchin Kappor. These days, Mrigya is hailed for its eclectic sounds melded with the rich hues of blues, folk, funk, Latin, rock and jazz, with a dash of Indian classical thrown in. The band has toured extensively around the world and played at numerous national and international festivals, enthralling many with its virtuosity, evident in pieces like ‘Ganga’, ‘Ali’, ‘Scottish Deccan’ and ‘Rock the Raag’.
Musical diversity has helped Mrigya rise above the realm of nationality and language, thereby appealing to audiences around the world. Over the years, it had never given a thought to coming out with its own album. It was only recently that it came up with a debut album, ‘The Composition of World Harmony 2010’, which was received very well by music lovers.
Explains Sharat Chandra Shrivastava, one of the founders of Mrigya, “Mrigya is primarily involved in world music. I travel abroad a lot and play with flamenco, jazz and electronic musicians. When I come back, I try to infuse the same sound spaces into Mrigya’s music.” It’s the same philosophy that permeates its latest offering which comes with the intriguing tag line: It doesn’t take nuclear science to realise world peace. It takes fusion.
Apart from Bhattacharya, the band has a male singer, Qadir Bhai. Says Hariharan, who has himself been trained in Indian classical and Carnatic music since childhood, “Our two singers, Sukriti and Qadir Bhai, fit the equation perfectly. Sukriti's voice has a very soft and enchanting feel to it and Qadir Bhai's vocals are big and powerful. So they balance each other beautifully.”Mrigya’s journey is now open to working with Bollywood. She sees herself as a very active participant in Mrigya’s journey of discovery and describes her voice as an “instrument” to that cause. As she puts it, “Mrigya is basically an instrumental band, yet I – as a vocalist – play an important role because my voice is used as an instrument that adds a unique shade to its music.”