Electronica Chalo Rehttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/electronica-chalo-re/

Electronica Chalo Re

Rabindrasangeet is jazzed up for a generation that has lost patience with old rhythms.

Rabindrasangeet is jazzed up for a generation that has lost patience with old rhythms.

It is rabindrasangeet like you have never heard before,jazzed up for a generation that has lost patience with old rhythms. The melody of Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla chalo re has not been tampered with,but the beats have been charged up and there’s a pulse of electronica that most listeners of the original never thought could be included. “That’s the beauty of Tagore’s songs,they’ve got lovely melodies,but are open to new interpretations,” says singer Isheeta Ganguly.

In her latest album,Damaru,she has risked being excoriated for messing with a genre that many Bengalis consider sacrosanct. She and Grammy-winning percussionist Tanmoy Bose have spliced the songs with pop,lounge and Indian folk music,while electronica producer Phil Levy has contemporised Ekla chalo re.

It is a trilingual album: Tagore’s lyrics having been supplemented with Ganguly’s English lines and Swanand Kirkire’s Hindi ones. There is even a smattering of Bollywood glamour: the track “Vande Mataram” has actor John Abraham reciting the poem Where the Mind is Without Fear,while Ganguly sings a modernised version of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s song.


Ganguly has broken free of the constraints of Rabindrasangeet after bringing out seven albums of it. “It is beautiful,but I realised my parent’s generation was probably the last one that appreciated Rabindrasangeet in its traditional avatar,” says the 35-year-old. The album echoes her own cross-cultural journeys,from New Jersey,where her parents,first-generation Bengali immigrants,were based,to Kolkata where she came,as a teenager,in search of a cultural patrimony.

“When I was in the US,my music teacher told my parents that I should be sent to India to learn music for a year. My father was perturbed. He wanted me to go instead to an Ivy League school and have a conventional career. My mother,fortunately,told him that going back to my roots and learning one of the arts of my homeland would only help me. Her tenacity disabled his fears and he took an amazing leap of faith and sent me to Kolkata,” says Ganguly. The new album,named after the two-faced drum,is a nod to Ganguly’s twin musical influences: “I draw on my Indian roots and western upbringing to produce music,much like the damuru’s pendulum that swings back and forth,beating on both faces of the drum,to create sound.”

After learning Rabindrasangeet,she went to Brown University — fulfilling her father’s wish — and joined a cappella group called Chattertocks that performed pop and gospel music. The twinning of the East and the West happened while she was studying at the University of Columbia: she performed Tagore’s songs in English for a ballet of the Battery Dance Company. The success of that performance saw her joining hands with other artists for collaborations — there was a multimedia work called Riot with Shabana Azmi and Madhur Jaffrey,and a project with Mallika Sarabhai called Still I Rise,where she wove Maya Angelou’s poem with Rabindrasangeet.