Born in North York, Ontario, Rattan Bhamrah started singing kirtan at the gurudwara from the age of seven. He first studied vocals under Pandit Ashwini Bharadwaj and then with Sri Jaspal Singh under whose guidance he transposed his learnings of vocals onto the esraj.
A stringed instrument from the family that includes the sarangi, taus and dilruba, the esraj has been popular as an accompanying instrument in devotional singing in the Punjab, and in the performance of folk music in Bengal. It was listening to esraj in the gurudwara that piqued Bhamrah’s interest in the instrument.
Over the years, as he transitioned from singing to primarily playing the esraj (he still sings kirtan in gurudwaras, often while playing his esraj), the earlier singing lessons have served him well.
“At its best, the esraj captures all the nuances of the human voice,” says Bhamrah. “Of course, in addition to learning the technical aspects of the instrument, a player must also have a deep understanding of a raag and how to unfold it in performance.”
One wonders how Bhamrah managed hold on to his love of music while studying mechanical engineering at Waterloo University. “I found time to practise after classes, as I shared a house with friends who were supportive,” he says. On weekends, he participated in the kirtan at his gurudwara.
Today, Bhamrah is a serious musician, even while working full-time as Operations Project Coordinator at a company that offers automation solutions. He continues his studies under senior artists – he learned sarangi from Vidushi Aruna Narayan Kalle, the daughter of sarangi maestro Pandit Ram Narayan, and is taking voice lessons with Sri Vinayak Phatak, who sings in the Jaipur/Atruali Gharana tradition.
Bhamrah will take to the stage at the Aga Khan Museum on July 8th as a soloist in the first half and then in the second half as accompaniment to Vidushi Kankana Banerjee, a senior vocalist from Mumbai.
“It’s a great honour to perform with such as eminent artist,” he says. “After all, she studied for many years with the late Ustad Amir Khansaheb, one of the best vocalists of India.”
Bhamrah accompanied Kankanaji on her previous visits to Canada and also performed with other vocalists like Ustad Eltaf Sarahang and Vidushi Ramneek Singh. He also provided lehra (melodic accompaniment) for senior tabla soloists like Ustad Sukhwinder (Pinky) Singh and Pandit Anindo Chatterjee.
Gurinder Singh will accompany Bhamrah and Kankanaji on tabla at the July 8th concert. He learned tabla from his father Sri Sukhdev Singh (a disciple of Pandit Kishan Maharaj), and subsequently under many distinguished gurus including Ustad Sukhwinder Singh. A gold medalist for three consecutive years in the national inter university competitions in India, Singh has accompanied many artists and will make his fourth appearance on the Raag-Mala Toronto stage.
President, Raag-Mala Toronto
When and where?
Sunday, July 8th 5pm
Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive