"Hindustani Strings at the Borderlands" Launches Weeklong Celebration of Bengali Music

Chicago IL: “Performing the Bengal Borderlands: Music, Movement and Encounter” (Feb. 11–16) series at the University of Chicago (UC) was launched with a concert titled “Hindustani Strings at the Borderlands” at 7:30 pm on Feb 11, 2013 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. It featured separate performances by Amie Maciszewski (Austin, Texas) on the sitar and Somjit Dasgupta (Kolkata, India) on the sarod. They were accompanied by Manpreet Bedi on the tabla. The weeklong series of events is hosted by UC’s South Asian Sound Interventions Series (SASI).

Assistant Professor of Music and the Humanities, Kaley Mason introduced Maciszewski and Bedi. The former, a student of sarod maestro Aashish Khan and Hindustani vocal diva Girija Devi, is a sitarist, teaching artist, ethnomusicologist, and documentary filmmaker. She played short pieces in different genres popular across the Bengal region, starting with raga Jhinjhoti popular as a folk variant (jhinjhit) among the Baul musicians. This was followed by raga Saraswati, in acknowledgement of the seasonal worship of the goddess of learning, the arts, and music, just commencing in India. She concluded with a Bengali boatman song. Bedi, a local Chicago artist, is a disciple of Suresh Talwalkar and Ramdas Palsule.

Prof. Philip Bohlman at the UC Dept. of Music introduced Dasgupta (born 1960), who preserves the tradition of playing Hindustani classical music on string instruments belonging to the family of which the most popular today is the ‘sarod.’ He performs on sarod, rabab, sur-rabab, mohan vina and sursingaar, the playing techniques of which all he inherited from his guru Radhika Mohan Moitra, a famous sarod player and a foremost musician of our times. Dasgupta, whose ancestral roots are in erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh, does not come from a family of traditional musicians. He learned to play the sitar at age of 10 from his father and dedicated himself to mastering the instrument under ‘Radhu Babu’ (Moitra) after listening to a six hour concert by the latter in Kolkata. This is his first visit to the United States.

Dasgupta began his sarod recital with raga Des (‘country’) that he found particularly appropriate for celebrating the dissolution of artificially imposed state boundaries. In fact, the original Sanskrit term never referred to the ‘nation’ (rashtra) but to the ‘countryside’ and the life of its ‘folk’ as opposed to the urban and high classical tradition (marga). His brief meditative alap was followed by compositions in slow and fast tempo. He too concluded with a Bengali boatman’s ferry (bhatiali) song in raga Bhairavi played without tabla accompaniment that invoked the end of life in its last line. The concert seemed to end abruptly with the audience expecting more.

Dasgupta will be also conducting a UC workshop on “Musical Instruments across the Bengal Borderlands” on Feb. 12 that will describe and show footage that traces instrument production from raw materials in villages to finished products in urban centers. Amie Maciszewski’s UC workshop Feb. 13, 2013 will explore the worlds of public ethnomusicology, documentary film-making, and musical performance. The SASI program is at http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/sasi/.

A reception of samosas and tea catered by Rajun Cajun followed this concert at the Performance Penthouse of the Logan Center for the Arts.

Photo captions for “Hindustani Strings at the Borderlands” at Performance Penthouse:
1) Somjit Dasgupta (R) on the sarod accompanied by Manpreet Bedi on the tabla
2) Amie Maciszewski (R) on the sitar accompanied by Manpreet Bedi on the tabla
3) Prof Kaley Mason (R) introducing Amie Maciszewski’s sitar performance
4) Prof. Philip Bohlman (R) introducing Somjit Dasgupta’s sarod performance
5) Audience at the Performance Penthouse of the Logan Center for the Arts