‘The slow phrases that begin a raga, the alap, are there to bring down the listeners’ heartbeat’
What is a sarod?
It’s a single piece of Indian mahogany shaped with stainless steel and sheepskin to create a beautiful melange of high plucked string sound and deep skin drumming sound. It’s completely fretless, so you can create long glides. There’s a wonderful balance between lyricism and vocal lines, as well as some fiery rhythmical elements which work in synergy with a great tabla player.
What combination of instruments do you usually play with?
Traditionally it’s sarod and tabla, but for me, living in the UK, I like to experiment and play in different projects. From the age of 12 I spent every winter in Kolkata with my guru Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, but later I did a Masters in Composition at Trinity College and worked with musicians from other genres and backgrounds. My latest release is King of Ghosts with City of London Sinfonia, recorded at Shakespeare’s Globe. I’ve toured it with various orchestras around the world, and I’m trying to bridge the languages of Indian classical and Western chamber music. I’ve also written a score for the BFI for piano, sarod and percussion and I’m currently writing my first opera, which has sarod and operatic voices.
How does the sarod sound in Kings Place’s Hall One?
The hall is a wonderful size and a great acoustic – I’ve done everything from a solo concert to a gig with my band Circle of Sound, with Bernhard Schimpelsberger on drums. I do use amplification, but sparingly because, unless you are sitting right next to the sarod, you lose out on a lot of the nuances. I like to play without the curtains drawn so the sound reflects off the walls and wood and the grace notes get a chance to ring across the room.
Who are you playing with in your Songlines Encounters concert?
Roopa Panesar, a wonderful young sitarist based in Birmingham, and Shahbaz Hussain, a tabla player
from Manchester. We’re all about the same age and have grown up in the same communities, sharing musical ideas with new audiences. We have a lot of fun when we play together and that seems to come across.
How important is the concept of time in Indian music?
Time is one of the pillars of Indian music – it’s ingrained in everything. It is rooted to primal elements – the sun, the moon, the seasons, but also to the heartbeat. Those slow phrases at the beginning of the raga, the alap, are to bring the listeners’ heartbeat right down so they can get into a meditative, relaxed state. From there we take them on this long journey all the way to the top of the mountain. The fact that it’s improvised means you have to decide how long your concert is. How slow do you start? How fast do you go? In this age of YouTube, when everything is so fast, it’s great to see that this music has a deeply rooted philosophy in something that’s not just Indian but universal.