A flair for fusion

A flair for fusion
Bengal’s Rabindra Sangeet and traditional art music have their own charm. Naturally, catching up with Sounak Chattopadhyay, popularly rated as one among the Top 5 Rabindra Sangeet singers in India, is a pleasure.

Sounak is a leading vocalist who has made a place for himself in the hearts of many classical and Bengali art music lovers. “After 10th standard, music became my passion and I decided to pursue it as a profession. I left science and took up commerce because my father was a chartered accountant,” he says.

First he trained under gurus Mashkoor Ali Khansahab and Mubarak Ali Khansahab of the Kirana Gharana; then he learnt semi-classical forms from Sanjukta Ghosh; advanced training in Rabindra Sangeet  from Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta and Pramita Mallick; and other traditional Bengali songs.

How hard was it for him to convince his family to let him pursue music as a profession? “My mom has always been supportive of my decisions. My father was a little apprehensive in the beginning because having a passion is one thing and taking it up as your source of income is another. For a middle class family like mine, without a musical background, it was not an easy decision to make. There may have been doubts in my musical journey, but never any opposition. I won many competitions and day by day things got consolidated, and both my parents did all they possibly could to support me — financially,  and in terms of logistics. And most importantly, they always gave me moral support.”

A class of its own
Exposed to classical music and other forms of Bengali art music from a young age, Sounak admits he always had more  fascination for fine elements of art rather than for prose.

“Classical music is a genre that has never been able to compete with the so-called mainstream music. There was a time when we could listen to classical music through All India Radio, but now you get to hear live music as everything is easily accessible. A lot of dedication through specialised training is required of a person who is keen to learn classical music.”

He has imbibed classical music and Rabindra Sangeet from his childhood and he presents their fusion for audiences to lap up.

“This fusion has been very spontaneous with me, and not forced. There are not many differences between these two genres; they blend in effortlessly at some point and I’ve tried to exploit this opportunity. When one is experimenting on Rabindra Sangeet, one needs to keep in mind that in these songs the lyrics are the fulcrum. The melody is definitely important, but the theme, lyrics and philosophy of the song are also equally important. The fusion needs to be created and  executed in accordance to the spirit of the song.” 

Sounak reiterates the interesting bit about singing Rabindra Sangeet. “It’s not difficult technically, because the style of singing is unornamented. On the other hand, expressing them within a limited frame, or periphery, is difficult.”

A regular stage performer, he is known for his concerts in India and abroad (notably USA), apart from regular television appearances and his recent albums, which have topped the charts in leading music stores. “I first performed in the US in 2006 and it was alarming to see that classical music is more appreciated there. I received a standing ovation from a crowd of 400 people and I was so touched when people who did not know the lyrics connected with the songs there,” he recalls.

From voice to words
Other than traditional stage performances, he has also emerged as a successful ideator and scriptwriter for composite programmes. These programmes are not just musical entertainments, but also address social and cultural issues from a broader perspective. “This was a part-time interest only to do with Rabindranath Tagore, not so much with classical music. As I read Tagore’s music, essays and poetry, his expressed philosophy on humanity and nature kindered the writer in me. The stage, too, interested me. I wanted to present multimedia stage shows, including reading, videos, presentations and dances in a combination, in 2009. I have written various scripts with many elements of Tagore in them. Every year I write a script for either my own production or for any other cause. I really enjoy scriptwriting.”

He advises youngsters who want to pursue music to go ahead with conviction and to not fall for glamour of the stage. “Do not be in a hurry to establish yourself. Back-up and support are extremely essential. And, you need to give yourself a lot of time to grow as a musician.” As an artiste belonging to a young generation, Sounak wants to think beyond the stereotypical, challenge the conventions in the world of arts today, and contribute towards making it accessible to everyone in the years to come.

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