Slide Guitar Ragas From Dusk Till Dawn
The slide guitar ragas of Grammy-nominated Debashish Bhattacharya are deeply grounded in India’s musical traditions yet profoundly innovative. Combining revolutionary reinvented guitars with a boundary-bending melodic and rhythmic approach, Slide Guitar Ragas From Dusk Till Dawn is an album of sublime and joyous musical meditations.
One of the uniquely poetic features of Indian musical tradition is the attachment of ragas to distinct times of the day and night. From the first crack of sunshine at dawn until diminuendo into darkness at dusk, and from twilight to the start of the new day, every fragile moment of earth’s daily passage is linked to a specific raga. It is believed that the melody and modality of each raga is at its most powerful when played during its allotted hour. On Slide Guitar Ragas From Dusk Till Dawn Debashish Bhattacharya guides listeners through his sensitive exploration of raga rotations.
Debashish’s apparatus is his self-designed chaturangui guitar. The chaturangui is a Hindustani adaptation of the slide guitar with six primary strings, four supporting strings, two drone strings and twelve sympathetic strings creating tonal similarities with the Indian sitar. Debashish plays his instrument with a three-finger picking style derived from ancient practices of veena playing. The veena is an ancient predecessor to the modern sitar, distinct for its resonating gourd chamber, bridge and long neck. Debashish’s instrumental influences include sarangi player (and singer) Ustad Bade Ghulum Ali Khan and sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan. Later he formed a close relationship with Jodhpur-born guitar pioneer Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra. Debashish now considers Kabra his musical guru. Debashish plays ‘Roshni (The Light)’ on Kabra’s custom-made Gibson S400 guitar, top-layered with lines on his own gandharvi and anandi models.
‘Aarti (The Evening Ritual)’ opens the album in evening mode with two extended introductory explorations of Puriya Kalyan raga. These sections, the alap and jor, open an Indian classical performance by elaborating and expounding the tonal framework. Debashish’s touch at the outset is spacious; plucked notes are left to reverberate, ghostly harmonics echoing out atop a resolute drone. Ever so slowly the opening cadence crescendos, cascading into urgent eighth-note patterns. By the end of the track tremolo discord descends before a masterful guitar flourish to close.
‘Ras Tarang (The Waves Of Desire)’ is a Kirwani raga often associated with the midnight hour. This track is played on Debashish’s gandharvi in a seven-beat time cycle. Gandharvas are the custodians of music and dance in ancient Hindu mythology. Skilled musicians themselves, the spirit of these Hindu devas is said to be found in the strong natural scents of bark, sap and blossom. The paired strings of the ghandarvi guitar ring out ethereally across the texture on this track creating a lingering, mysterious feel uncovering the central creative theme of desire.
‘Mehfil-E-Jashn (The Celebratory Concert)’ is in the Darbari Kanada, a late night-time raga which emphasises the instruments’ lower tessitura and the modal lower tetrachord. Darbari Kanada is considered to hold a powerful emotional impact. It also possesses a respected royal history: it was popularized by Miyan Tansen, a sixteenth century composer in the court of Emperor Akbar.
‘Roshni (The Light)’ is a raga for burgeoning morning, the evanescent moment just before night recedes into dawn. Here Debashish treads a pensive, positive-sounding tonal world. On this track Debashish’s musical debt to the legacy of Hawaiian lap-steel guitar playing can be profoundly heard in the shining guitar melody that bends and swoops above an empty texture, before tabla joins raising the tempo. The second half of the work is dance-like and celebratory in mood, building up to illuminate pulsing overlayed guitars, fluttering inimitable scalic runs and matchless melodic gymnastics.
‘Vasundhara (Mother Earth)’ breaks the dawn and rejoices in the coming of morning. Debashish opens with a boldly bluesy leitmotif. This track eschews the more meditative mood heard prior and launches headfirst into tight driving rhythmic propulsion. The textural contrast alludes to the sense of urgency at the start of a new day. As well as the Hawaiian influence, Debashish’s previous work with Latin musicians resonates here; the dramatic instrumental interplay raises thoughts of flourishing flamenco guitar licks. Debashish dedicates this track to ‘Mother Earth’ and it is his peon to the environment, a cause for which he passionately campaigns. The album closes with a neat three-chord cadence and Debashish rests his case.
Allow Debashish to lull you into dusk-time reverie and awaken your spirits to a glorious new dawn on this evocative album of insightful Indian guitar.