Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sugata Marjit -- “I don't want to know how many greats were born before me”

Introduction : Sugata Marjit [born: 1959] is an unusual musician. He is an eminent economist, and Director of a research institute in Calcutta. He combines academic activities with a growing presence on the music circuit. His Khayals are a lot like the films of Goddard -- they have a beginning, a middle, and an end; but not in that order. His brand of music qualifies him as the messiah of postmodernism in Hindustani music. Sugata also composes music for the theatre and television. In 1995, his work in the theatre earned him the West Bengal State Academy Award for the best musical score.

In 2003, Sugata Marjit wrote to Deepak Raja about economics and music

Within economics, I specialise in international economics, development, and economics of corruption and governance. I am writing a book on trade, labour, and inequality – whether globalisation leads to increasing inequality etc. I think I am a soft-hearted human being, who feels for the poor, in spite of being an ardent supporter of market-based incentives. I am not a Marxist; I believe in God; I have taken my Deeksha [initiation] at the Ramakrishna Mission. The emotional part of me gets reflected in economics as well as music. My research is to make my points through simple, but elegant, mathematical models. I am a theorist. I believe in simplicity, and the simple is beautiful. This is the approach I take in my research and in my music.

My father had a good voice and was my inspiration. He was a Judge. We lived in several towns in West Bengal, before we finally moved to Calcutta in 1973. He used to find trainers for me [wherever we lived]. He died in 1994. I miss him a lot. He told me that anyone can be a good student academically; but to be a good vocalist is something else, and that one day, I would realise that it is a blessing to be able to sing. My uncle learnt the sitar with Balram Pathak and Imrat Khan. He was a good sitar player, but gave it up, and now runs a vocal music college in a town in West Bengal. A great talent, and inspiration for me.

I learnt with many Gurus, for a few months here and there, until I came to Calcutta. They were people who had been trained by noted Bengali musicians. One of them had, however, been trained by Vinayakrao Patwardhan [Gwalior gharana]. They had taught me basic Riyaz [Self-improvement exercises] to train my voice, and good compositions. The major taleem [training] I had was with Krishnachandra Bannerjee, for 17 years, starting from 1973. With him, I learnt singing in its totality, the intricacies of Ragadari [treatment of ragas], and the finer techniques of vocal music.

Bannerjee was a disciple of Bhishmadev Chatterjee, a household name in Bengal, who had studied with Badal Khan. That is my Rangeela gharana lineage. He [Krishnachandra Bannerjee] did not have a good voice; but he was a great trainer. I could go to him every day. He had heard top vocalists all over India, and could give me the traits of many gharanas – Kirana, Gwalior etc. Bannerjee died in 1990. I performed his funeral rites. Then, I went to TD Janorikar of the Bhendi Bazar gharana, learnt with him for a few years until he left Calcutta for Nagpur.

I am an off-beat person. I like to create all the time. I don’t want to know how many greats were born before me and, frankly speaking, be it economics or music, I get tired of knowing what has been done already, and repenting and repeating it because I am not as talented as others. I listen and try to pick up whatever sounds interesting and has the potential for my voice. I love Bhimsen Ji [Joshi] and Ameer Khan. I like possibly each and every vocalist to the extent that I can draw from them and make people dance with layakari, bol-tans, and little pieces of vistaar. I am a restless kind of guy; and so is my music, and I don’t regret it, because that’s me. I don’t like too much of structure. I like to think more about my music than physically practice it.

I like popular Bengali songs of the 1970s, and Baul [a regional folk genre of Bengal]. I often use nuances of these in my music. Often, I also use phrases of a particular raga picked up from advertising music, radio jingles etc., so long as they fit in properly. ]. I am a performer. My lectures are much better than my writing. My music is much better than my knowledge of it.

I hear all kinds of music, but don’t often get much time. Hindi music, the “old gold” type – I like a lot. Beside Ameer Khan and Bhimsen, I listen to Kishori, Paluskar, Omkarnath, Kesarbai, Kumar Gandharva [I love him!], and Rashid Khan. In instrumental music, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar, Nikhil Bannerjee, Bismillah Khan, and Hariprasad Chaurasia are my favourites. Unfortunately, over the last few years, I have got so busy, that listening time is too short. I have to get back to it.

If I don’t do music with a bang now, I will fall behind in my Riyaz, my commitment. I had never guessed that I would be so successful in academics that it will tend to take away all my time. I have earned a bit, and can retire now if I wish. But, what militates against my taking up music as a profession is [the community of] musicians. There is too much of networking, hitting below the belt, and an un-intellectual ambience. I cannot accept this. I cannot go down on my knees to get a good concert. I can’t lead a musician’s life. That’s the problem. Intellectually, I am happier now. But, I am sure there is a golden mean, and I have to find it.

I have to be more consistent in my Riyaz, and start my training again, learn more and practice more. I can maintain my job in economics by doing a bit of research; but [from now on] that should be all. I have also to be in India. I have travelled far too much, and now is the time [to stay at home].

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York. 2003
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change"
The finest recordings of Sugata Marjit have been produced by India Archive Music.