With his six-part series, British Indian sarod player Soumik Datta will be taking his audiences to the interior parts of India to meet musicians that people don’t really have the chance to get to know like this.
Titled Tuning 2 U: Lost Musicians of India, the show is conceptualised and hosted by Soumik and shot by his brother Souvid Datta. “This is a very personal project, so we made it ourselves. Because of my background as a musician, I wanted to, sort of, take the viewer on a journey, not just through eyes of an anchor, but also the sensibilities of musician meeting other musicians. Our plan was quite simple — since my brother is a filmmaker and photorgapher, he was going to be behind the camera while I was going to be in front of it to taking the audiences to various parts of India, introducing them to new, extraordinary musicians that they wouldn’t otherwise have the fortune to meet,” says the musician whose joy knew no boundaries when the show was picked up by Channel 4 in the UK and then brought to India by Sony BBC Earth (which began airing it from April 30).
Homage to India
Soumik and his brother was born in Kolkata and moved to the UK when he was 11. “We’ve been extremely fortunate to be born in a family that supports the arts. My mother is a filmmaker and singer, so recognition for the arts, and perhaps the sense of responsibility as well, was instilled at a very early age. I am a composer and I need to work on my own music and get that out for people to hear, but we also need to appreciate people who didn’t have that opportunity and weren’t in a place of privilege. Perhaps because of that feeling, we wanted to go back and pay homage really to our homeland, to musicians of our homeland and the incredible musical legacy that India holds which perhaps has been sidelined by commercial entertainment,” says Soumik.
The series starts from West Bengal. “Which is where our family is from. Everyone in our family has some connection with music, and we wanted to start this journey by retracing our roots there. We also went to Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa, and far more remote areas in Nagaland,” he adds.
The plans for the second season of the show are underway right now. “We wanted to expand this a little more. The important message is the power of music in ordinary lives, outside the arena, just seeing the relationship people have with music regardless of their background or education. It is a form of identity and communication. We want to explore other areas this exists, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, broadly speaking we’d say South Asia has a lot of music has history that has spread across the area which is related to India,” says Soumik’s brother Souvid.
The young and dashing Soumik has rejected the sterotypical look of an Indian classical musician, instead he keeps up with the times and makes sure he has a global appeal. “Moving to the UK was a difficult and confusing time in my life. I left behind everything I knew in India. But one day when we were playing cricket in the house because it raining outside, I hit the ball into a corner and it accidentally hit a sarod. I discovered that this was my dad’s mother’s instrument. It became a way with which I could hold on to my roots and identity. The sound and feel of the sarod connected me back to India,” recalls Soumik, who then started learning to play the sarod from his Kolkata-based guru maestro Buddhadev Das Gupta. “My training involved a lot of back and forth travel,” he adds.
By the time Soumik was in university, his sarod skills were very impressive, so much so that Jay Z had once offered to have the artist tour with him and Beyonce. Soumik turned down that offer because he felt he was not ready for a life like that then. But later he did collaborate with Jay Z and Beyonce, and big names such Bill Bailey, Manu Delago, Akram Khan, Nitin Sawhney, Anoushka Shankar, Bernhard Schimpelsberger, Talvin Singh, Joss Stone, Shankar Mahadevan and so on.
“Collaborations were interesting for me because I was learning from my guru in India but I was living in the UK, so I was always exposed to genres like blues and jazz, and I got to mingle with musicians from across the world. I was curious about different kinds of music and instruments. I saw it as an opportunity for both sides to get together,” says Soumik, adding, “The way in which dhrupad came out of its form and became khayal or how thumri got accepted within the Indian classical mould, these were all offshoots of a very ancient tradition, products of some sort of fusion. It is not surprising what’s happening now, in a time of social media people can connect to others around the world. There is a sense in which the world is getting smaller — we’re travelling more, we’re curious. The ability to travel and learn exists, and because it’s not particularly expensive to do that, more and more experiments and collaborations are going to happen,” he concludes.