On the Beaten track — Interview with Tabla maestro Bickram Ghosh

bickram ghoshGeorge Harrison called him “the wonder boy of tabla”. From Harrison to Pt. Ravi Shankar to Zakir Hussain to Pete Lockett, he has worked with the biggest names in the world music arena and at the age of 44 already has to his credit 11 solo albums, 12 film scores and over 70 collaborative works, and quite a few lined up for the near future. Music Aloud’s interview of ace percussionist Bickram Ghosh, for you.

Tell us about your musical beginnings. Being born to musical parents did all of your training happen at home itself? Your education was all literature-oriented. Was there a turning point anywhere in life that prompted you to leave all that and get back to music?

Yes my father Pandit Shankar Ghosh is my main guru. Him being one of the all-time greats of the tabla was my biggest blessing as I learnt tabla at home, easily, in a relaxed fun way, from him.
My mother Sanjukta Ghosh is a well-known singer. The influence of Patiala Gharana in my compositions stems from her.
My parents insisted in a top notch education for me and I ended up doing a masters in literature in English. Yet I always knew deep down that I would be a musician.
However I plunged into my career as a tabla player only after I completed my MA. It was then that my father asked me what I wanted to do and that question just opened the floodgates of my love for music. In an instant I knew it had to be music!

You have worked with the who’s who of the World Music scene. Did being born to an established musician make your beginning in the musical world easier?

My father said to me at the outset that he had taught me and given me an education. He had no intention of promoting me as a musician.
I worked my way up slowly and with difficulty and the first time he played with me on stage together was when I was already established and 33 years old!
I struggled a lot but I didn’t regret it as it gave me a rare quality – integrity as a musician. That is my father’s gift to me!

You have released 11 solo albums apart from the many collaborative works, each fusing tabla with other classical, folk and in Electroclassical even electronic elements. So how much of preparation goes into each of these albums? And what sort of preparations?

I meticulously think out my albums and once I plunge into recording I go with the flow. My solo albums are autobiographical in nature as they always reflect my state of mind in that phase. I spend a lot of time in post production being ruthless editing the material at hand!
Some albums are more in the jam format like Kingdom of Rhythm with Pete Lockett….

Congratulations on the brilliant music in your latest Electroclassical. How has the response to Electroclassical been? What do you think about the general attitude people have regarding classical/fusion music? How have you seen the perception change over the years?

Electroclassical is, touchwood, selling extremely well – in charts country wide… The response from listeners is diverse if music is fantastic, but predictably, the traditionalists are wary of it!
Some people think Electroclassical as an alternative to the traditional classical music. I have always said clearly this is simply an exploration in marrying tradition with modern trends. To allow those who don’t listen to classical to develop a taste for it within the soundscape they are used to listening to! Simultaneously I have released 2 pure classical albums!
Listeners always and still appreciate good music. Even after 10 years and massive changes in trends, Rhythmscape still sits on the charts! Good music always has takers ….
However, if an artist also takes into account temporal trends and incorporates them to express eternal emotions, I believe one can communicate better and linger with the audience! You can wear a denim forever, but u must cut it to suit the current trend. Otherwise you can be outdated….

Your film forays, at least the Bollywood ones, have been restricted to the art film arena. Why is it that you have avoided mainstream movie soundtracks?

I do film only if I am inspired by the project. I am not here to play the Bollywood Rat race. I am a performer first, then a maker of albums and third, a film composer. I will do a mainstream score only if I see myself fitting into the setup comfortably!
I loved doing Little Zizou and Gumshuda… In the latter I have done 5 songs in a slightly off beat mode though within a commercial premise! Dhoondo sung by Sonu Niigaam is doing rather well…

There have been talks about your plans to start a School of Percussion. Could you tell us a bit about that?

I am launching my percussion course called Repercussion for an online music university in America called Ace university.
My own academy will take a few years…..

What do you think of the fusion music scene in India? Any promising groups that have come to your notice?

The fusion scene here is dominated by classical musicians. I love the work of some of my contemporaries like Taufiq Qureshi and Rahul Sharma.
I have not heard anything yet from the younger lot (other than some of Anoushka Shankar’s works) which has really impressed me. I am hopeful and waiting to hear something which will make me sit up!

Could you share with our readers your upcoming musical projects?

My own music company Melting Pot Productions launches in October.
Ready for release Albums: Tablasphere, Mortal, Tagore Lounge, Venus
Television: Nabadurga
Upcoming: Heart and Beat(tentative title) – Sonu Nigam and Bickram Ghosh, Terra GrooveBickram Ghosh and Greg Ellis

Finally, what sort of music do you listen to? Who are your favourite artists? Anyone you still long to work with, after all these years?

I listen to everything! Anything! I love Shankar Ghosh, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, R D Burman, Kishore Kumar, L. Subramaniam, Stephan Grapelli, Nitin Sawhney, Rahman in Lagaan and Swades, Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Keith Jarret, Sting, Toni Braxton……
I would love to work with Carlos Santana and Keith Jarret.