Raag-Mala Toronto nurturing musical talent

“I didn’t know the subtle nuances of playing this Raag until I performed with Deborshee,” says Hardeep Chana, the Brampton-based harmonium player. He commented after performing Shree Raag with Deborshee Bhattacharjee, the immensely talented young vocalist from Kolkata, at a recent Raag-Mala Toronto concert.

“I had already learned the basics of the Raag,” adds Hardeep, “but rehearsing it with Deborshee and then performing it on stage gave me great insights into the pakads (characteristic phrases that give shape to and define the raag) and into the depth of Shree Raag.”

Hardeep’s comments are musical magic to Zahid Khan’s ears. Khan, Vice-President of Raag-Mala says, “Our mandate is to present the best of shastria sangeet and to showcase up-and-coming artists like Deborshee to Greater Toronto Area audiences. Plus, and this is an important plus, we want to give Canadian musicians opportunities to hone their skills by performing with established artists from India.”

It is not often that local artists get a chance to perform a raag like Shree, an early evening piece which is one of the most difficult to perform due to its complex structure. As well, while playing Shree, a musician can inadvertently slip into other raags like Puriya or Puriya Dhanashree which share the same tonal material.

“Deborshee has studied with many senior musicians,” Hardeep states, “and he also teaches music, so I really appreciated the tips he gave me when we played together.”

Deborshee is one of the premier talents to emerge from under the wings of the maestro Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, under whom he has studied since the age of ten. The 30-yearold is already ranked as an “A” grade artist of All India Radio and a senior Musician Scholar at ITC Sangeet Research Academy, arguably the leading institution in India dedicated to shastria sangeet.

At a recent performance at the Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation auditorium, Deborshee took the audience’s breath away when, in addition to Shree Raag, he sang raag Gawati, a kajri (semi-classical song sung in the rainy season) and a bhajan.

Deborshee is equally adept at singing ghazals and at composing popular songs. His lyrical composition “Mora Piya” won an important award for sound arrangement for Ananjan Chakraborty, his Guru’s son.

Gurinder Singh, the tabla nawaz who accompanied Deborshee and Hardeep at the Raag-Mala concert, is equally complimentary about his time performing with Deborshee. “When you play with someone who sings so beautifully, you are inspired to become more creative and a better accompanist.”
While Raag-Mala cannot always pair local talent with visiting artists, the opportunity to hear senior musicians in performance can be equally educational.

Hardeep, who is doing advanced studies in harmonium technique from Tanmay Deochake, points to the time when he heard his Guru accompany Ashwini Bhide singing rare pieces at a Raag-Mala concert in 2014. “I had never heard raag Nand-dhwani or Kafi-kannada until then.”
Raag-Mala hopes that talented young musicians like Hardeep and Gurinder will get many opportunities to showcase their talents. In October 2016, they will be on stage at the Glenn Gould Studio with Ramneek Singh for this year’s Grant’s Desi Award Gala, sponsored by international distillery firm William Grant & Sons.

-Mohamed Khaki