The Santanu Datta Trio was founded by composer, guitarist and singer Santanu Datta in collaboration with French bass guitarist Pierre-Antoine Lasnier and tabla maestro and multi-percussionist Subhasis Bhattacharjee. The upcoming concert tour is organised and funded by the Alliance Française du Bengale. The concerts begins from 28th March and continues till 7th April in Delhi, Pune, Chennai and Ahmedabad.
We spoke to Santanu Dutta, asked him a few questions about his journey as composer, the music he writes and the kind of music the trio will be peforming.
The Santanu Datta Trio includes 3 instruments from completely different cultural traditions playing together – western classical guitar, tabla and electric bass guitar. How did you think to write for such diverse instruments together?
About twelve years ago, I started to perform traditional Indian songs with classical guitar. I arranged and performed a wide variety of songs, ranging from the Bengali Tagore songs to Bollywood numbers. While there is a kind of intimacy in this kind of recitals, at times I do feel the need of a percussionist. Also, the lower range of the classical guitar and that of my voice are in similar registers, so the bass is never enough.
The tabla is a perfect complement to the classical guitar because it gives the rhythmic vitality and agility. It offers a wide choice of tones and dynamics and can be used according to the musical need.
The bass guitar works as a glue between the classical guitar and tabla by providing the countermelodies and rhythmic groves and also gives the foundation in the sound spectrum by reinforcing and extending the lower register.
In terms of instrumentation, this combination works very well. The challenges, however, are a bit different. The Santanu Datta Trio is a very unique concept because the three musicians come from three different musical background, Western Classical, Indian Classical and Jazz. We all have different musical convictions and sometimes it leads to long discussions before taking musical decisions (rubato or strict tempo? compose or improvise? Raga or Mode? etc.)
We normally don’t write the music in the traditional staff notation, rather we use other methods of musical communications, like chord charts, nonverbal gestures (winking, for example) and in most cases, memory!
We’ve noticed your use of tabla with classical guitar before, in particular with Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Why did you think to combine these two instruments? What did you want to achieve?
In fact it happened accidentally! During a preconcert rehearsal my percussionist friend was showing me some very complicated Carnatic rhythms on Ghatam, and at one point I mentioned about Alhambra and asked him if he can double the tremolo with the percussion playing continuous demisemiquavers while counting the slow 3/4. He took it as a challenge and we both were surprised at the result and decided to play it in the concert the next day, and the audience absolutely loved it!
I would not say that this is the best arrangement of Alhambra, but it was just an experiment and it was fun!
Tell us about your own background – how does a graduate from IIT decide end up studying western classical music and becoming a composer?
May be my passion for music comes from my mother, who loved singing and whom I lost very early.
I started to prepare for the IIT entrance exam at the age of 13, and I cracked JEE in the first attempt, in 2006. I was sure to pursue music in the long run but was in a dilemma whether to start formal music education straight away or to do an academic degree first. Fortunately I followed my father’s advice and went to IIT Kharagpur and eventually completed B.Tech and M.Tech.
Irrespective of your career choice and academic interests, IIT is a great place to be in your early twenties. simply because you can meet great people there – people with passion, grit and talent! Those five years (2006-11) in IIT gave me a lot of confidence and the right attitude to deal with the challenges that I face in my career as a musician today.
I continued music education simultaneously and passed ABRSM grade 8 in Guitar, Singing and Theory in 2009-10. I went to Paris in 2011 immediately after the completion of my course in IIT and started formal music education at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, where I studied for five years and received the highest degree offered by the institute in Composition and Orchestration. I also studied classical guitar at a conservatory near Paris and obtained the DEM and LTCL diplomas in Classical guitar performance.
IGF is very interested in the growth and development of classical guitar within India. We are interested in new music, and the ways in which the classical guitar can be adapted in the context of contemporary listeners. What are your thoughts about this as a composer?
The classical guitar audience and players have grown significantly in India over the last decade, thanks to the brilliant efforts by IGF.
It is important to understand that the word ‘classical’ used to describe the nylon string guitar is not related to the Western Classical music, a wide variety of musical styles can be played on the classical guitar. The classical music of Europe is beautiful and very rich, but it is not always culturally relevant to the modern Indian audience. It is simply too far off from our daily life! For effective communication with a wider audience, we need a new repertoire, which must come from Indian musicians. Creating and performing new music which are more relevant in the Indian context can actually revolutionise the growth of classical guitar music in india.
What advice would you have for classical musicians in India. In particular classical guitarists. And advice to students who want to write their own music?
There is no better time to be a Western Classical musician in India! This field is growing rapidly and is full of opportunities.
For the aspiring composers: learn as much as you can and be true to yourself, the music will surely find its way!
Santanu Datta Trio tour of India dates:
30 March 2017
ML Birla Auditorium. 72 Lodhi Estate. New Delhi
1 April 2017
Eduoard Michelin Auditorium. 24 College Road. Chennai
5 April 2017
Mazda Hall. Pune
7 April 2017
Alliance Française d’Ahmedabad