Special/Signature Issues » Folk Used to Be a Bad Word

Debashish Bhattacharya: Hypnotic Slide



In the 1930s, a Hawaiian steel guitar craze that had been traveling the world took root in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. It later fell out of fashion, but Debashish Bhattacharya, who was born in the early '60s, has spent his adult life bringing Indian slide guitar back through his creativity and experimental nature.

A Grammy nominee this year, Bhattacharya is an amazing player who also invents and builds his own guitars that work well with Indian ragas, those melodic frameworks for classical Indian music forms. His sounds are the definition of mood music, and Bhattacharya's latest album, “Calcutta Chronicles,” explores international flavors from Gypsy to Sufi music with free-flowing passion.

His favorite tools include the 14-string gandharvi, the tiny anandi (slide ukulele), and his main instrument, the chaturangui, a 22-string guitar that incorporates the timbres of a violin, sitar, sarod and veena through the addition of sympathetic and droning strings. The hypnotic resulting sound is a clear hybrid of East meets West. And if you've never experienced sitarlike sounds and tabla by the river — Bhattacharya's younger brother, Subhasis, a master tabla player and studio musician in India, will accompany him — you're missing out.

Easily one of the coolest workshops during the weekend will feature a superstar group of slide guitar players: Bhattacharya; the great dobro player Jerry Douglas; Charlottesville bottleneck blues player Corey Harris; and Aubrey Ghent, a master of sacred steel playing — an upbeat, African-American form of gospel using steel guitar. “I think it's going to be one of the best workshops we've ever had,” says Joshua Kohn, programming director at the National Council for the Traditional Arts.

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