Sonic Saturdays

Listen: A tribute to Dhruba Ghosh (1957-2017), a rounded musician whose first love was the sarangi

The sarangi maestro died of a heart attack earlier this week.

In the past, this column has included a series of articles on sarangi solo recitals.

These articles featured maestros who contributed to the field during the 20th century. But succeeding generations have also seen extremely talented sarangi players who have chosen to present solo recitals in addition to accompanying vocalists. One of the key figures in this context was Dhruba Ghosh, who concentrated on solo recitals over the past few decades. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on Monday, his untimely demise leaving many of his musical dreams unfulfilled.

Son and disciple of the illustrious tabla maestro Nikhil Ghosh, Dhruba Ghosh trained in vocal music and tabla before shifting to sarangi. He had one lesson from Mohammad Sagiruddin Khan, but he created his own identity as a sarangi soloist after incorporating elements from a variety of sources. For instance, he was influenced by sarangi wizard Bundu Khan’s recordings and by styles created by trendsetter vocalists Amir Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. The tonal quality that he preferred suggested an influence of sarangi maestro Ram Narayan.

Here is a link to an exposition of the raag Jog followed by a short presentation in the raag Jogiya. Tabla accompaniment is provided by well-known tabla player Yogesh Samsi.

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Moving from a formatted structure to a freer and open-ended presentation, Dhruba Ghosh’s musical journey was in many ways similar to that pursued by most sensitive artistes. But he was able to articulate the process he had followed whenever he spoke about his music. He explained his perspective on Hindustani music and the sarangi in an extended interview:

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I cannot but mention that I was witness to his pursuit of excellence during my long years of training under his father. I would often practice with him in sessions that lasted several hours. At times, he would even suggest rhythmic ideas to me, something that would not have been possible without his earlier training in tabla. Little wonder then that he could incorporate cross-rhythmic patterns so easily as one of the devices for raag elaboration.

The work of sarangi players painstakingly documented by scholar and musician Nicolas Magriel also contains recordings featuring Dhruba Ghosh, some of which also have tabla accompaniment provided by me.

Like some instrumentalists who chose to sing during their recitals, Dhruba Ghosh did so too. But generally, he would present his vocal compositions in these segments, bringing to the fore his penchant for composing. In fact, his inclination to compose was not restricted only to khayal or thumri compositions, but would also extend to ghazal.

His travels overseas had brought him in contact with several composers and musicians from other cultures. This led to many intercultural collaborations, one of which was the album Miho: Journey to the Mountains that won a Grammy for being the Best New Age album in 2011.

The following clip is a collaborative piece based on the raag Yaman that was recorded in Montreal:

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Dhruba Ghosh spent a long period as a teacher in Sangit Mahabharati, a music school founded by his father. He even headed its administration for a while after his father’s demise. Later, he became the principal of the Sangeet and Nartan Peeth of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. However, the sarangi remained his first love and he dreamt of not just continuing and strengthening his association with the instrument, but of also evolving new techniques that could extend its scope.

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