Sarod is his inner voice

Last Updated 17 March 2018, 18:42 IST

British-Indian sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta, who grew up in India and the UK on a 'diet' of folk songs, classical music, poetry and films, has had a fascinating musical journey. Having worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, Joss Stone, Shankar Mahadevan and Anoushka Shankar, he is one of the best sarod players in the world today. Here, he talks about his love for music, his inspirations, and his relationship with the 19-stringed fretless lute, the sarod.

Some excerpts from the interview:

How did you enter the world of music?

I had an incredible childhood.  Music  was always there in the family. Despite having day jobs, both my parents played instruments, and sang. But there was never any pressure to pursue music professionally or full-time. When I was in college, I got a call from the award-winning composer, producer and percussionist Talvin Singh. He had heard me play at a college fest the night before, sourced my number and invited me to go on a tour with him. I was so startled that I almost declined the offer due to the amount of homework pending. Of course, he persuaded me and gave me my first professional job as a touring musician. That was 14 years ago.

What does the sarod mean to you?  

My relationship with my sarod hits its 20th year this year. And it struck me that so many people across the world spend their whole lives searching for what truly makes them happy. I've been lucky that way. The sarod is my inner voice. When I play, I enter a state of total creativity where I am most alive. The combination of muscular and cerebral  application needed to play  it is an experience in itself.

Who are your inspirations?

Growing up, I was influenced by the masters of the sarod, my own guru, the late Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.  

What do you think of the Indian classical music scene?

YouTube helps me keep a close eye on emerging players and talent across the world. I'm fascinated with modern India and the new batch of musicians both in and outside the classical scene. It's an exciting time to be practising music.  

How do we get more youngsters to appreciate classical music?  

A lot of people ask me this question. But we must remember that Indian classical music flourished in the royal courts where only discerning audiences were allowed. We seem to have swung in the opposite direction now, trying to make it free for all, but it isn't that. It's deep, meditative, trance-like, and allows the listener to reflect on their soul. But, how do you package that for the masses?

Here, I'm inspired by artistes like Ustad Zakir Hussain and Shankar Mahadevan who are classical musicians of the highest order,  but have been able to widen their repertoire without compromising on quality. The classical training will always mean that they have the advantage to learn songs from across the world, uniting cultures and breaking down political borders.

How often do you come to India?  

When I visit India, I come as a student of music to meet my teachers and family.
I don't perform in India too often, but hopefully, that will change one day. I love the smell of Mumbai since I grew up there, but the hidden jewel of India has to be Kolkata.  

You recently collaborated with Aruna Sairam for 'Back to the Blues', a concert that combined Carnatic, Hindustani and jazz music, in London...

Aruna Sairam is an exemplary artiste. To conquer the distance between Chennai and London, we shared ideas on Skype through which she opened the doors of Carnatic music for me. Cormac (Byrne), Pirashanna (Thevarajah) and Al (MacSween) ... we have played in various combinations either for my live-score project 'King of Ghosts' or with Anoushka Shankar. The London scene is rife with opportunities to collaborate. The purpose of the concert was to offer modern listeners a fresh, global sound that appealed to Indians and non-Indian alike.

Do you have a wishlist of artistes with whom you'd like to work?

I'd like to do more scores for films and work with directors who appreciate and understand the power of music in cinema. Vishal Bharadwaj and Sanjay Leela Bhansali are exceptional that way. I've been fortunate to have had one foot in the world of cinema since I was a young boy. My mother is a film-maker, and the camera, in many ways, is an even older friend than the sarod. But I think they are two parts of the same story.  

Your plans for 2018...

In 2017, I directed my debut film series,  Tuning 2 You: Lost Musicians of India, a sonic journey introducing grassroots musicians across rural India. My brother and co-director Souvid Datta now plans to shoot a sequel showcasing the incredible folk music of Pakistan.  

(Published 17 March 2018, 11:06 IST)

Follow us on