Debashish Bhattacharya in conversation with John Schaefer
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, 66 Fifth Avenue
FREE, no tickets required
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The world is full of great guitarists, and India is full of gifted classical musicians. But in both worlds, Debashish Bhattacharya cuts a singular figure. Playing a specially-designed slide guitar, he has made his instrument an extraordinarily versatile and emotive purveyor of India's ancient raga tradition, while attracting fans from around the world. He'll talk with John Schaefer about feeling at home between musical worlds.

Hosted by the Center for Transformative Media at The New School, with Mannes College of Music


About Debashish Bhattacharya:

Kolkata, India's Guitar Legend Debashish Bhattacharya started learning Indian music from his parents before he learned the alphabet.  In his childhood he mastered many Indian classical instrumental styles as well as vocal music from different musical teachers in Calcutta. He became a disciple and student of Brij Bhushan Khabra, the father of Indian classical guitar, for 10 years, and also trained under Ajoy Chakraborty, the eminent Indian vocalist. He has also studied with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

As a performer, Debashish gave his first guitar recital at the age of four on the All India Radio, and in a public concert. In his twenties, he evolved a unique style of playing guitar, synthesizing selected features of various other instruments such as the Veena, Sitar, Sarod and Kannur. In 1984, he was awarded the President of India award at the age of 21.

Debashish developed his innovative Hindustani slide guitar after years of research and experience.  He designed and built a unique Indian Slide Guitar called the Chatarangui.   It consists of a Hofner acoustic F hole guitar, with a hollow neck and a solid wood body and a total of 23 strings. He added a hollow platform of wood running the length of the guitar's neck, mounted with 17 tuning gears, in the rear side, as well as 6 tuning pegs in the front.  This piece of wood extends the width of the neck, making room for thirteen sympathetic strings, and two supporting strings for additional versatility.

Above the 6 normal (sliding melody) strings, there is a pair of ckikari strings, as on a sitar. One of Debashish's innovations was to move them to the treble side of the guitar, which enables far more complex playing, since their rhythmic drones can be played by the fingers, over other melodies simultaneously.  Debashish plays this guitar while sitting cross legged, with the guitar held on the lap and played with a small steel bar, metal picks and a celluloid thumb pick.  He also plays two other Indian slide guitars he designed and built, the 14 string Gandharvi and the 4 string Anandi.

Debashish is perhaps the greatest slide guitarist in India.  He has, both through creating the actual design of the instrument, and through his incredible talent and discipline, elevated the Hindustani slide guitar to be the highest evolution of slide guitar anywhere. Debashish's music has musical range, physical dexterity, and emotional depth.  To develop his playing, he has undergone decades of disciplined study of Indian vocal technique combined with his instrumental work.  Debashish can sing perfectly in parallel with every blindingly fast melody he plays.  He is an eager collaborator with an open musical mind, and has performed with a wide variety of musicians.

Over the past two decades of his illustrious career, Debashish has received prestigious professional recognition on a number of occasions:  He received a Grammy nomination in 2002, won the BBC Planet Award in 2005, received another Grammy nomination in 2009 and won the Songlines UK World Music Award in 2016. He is one of the most influential pioneers in Indian music, bringing his innovations to audiences around the world.


About John Schaefer:

John Schaefer is the host and producer of WNYC’s long-running new music show New Sounds (“The #1 radio show for the Global Village” – Billboard), founded in 1982, and its innovative Soundcheck podcast, which has featured live performances and interviews with a variety of guests since 2002.  In January of 2017 he began a new program, The Furthermore, on WNYC’s sister station, WQXR.  He created the New Sounds Live concert series in1986, which features new works, commissioned pieces, and a special series devoted to live music for silent films.  Done largely at Brookfield Place and Merkin Concert Hall in NY, the series continues to this day. 

Schaefer has written extensively about music, including the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music (Harper & Row, NY, 1987; Virgin Books, London, 1990); the Cambridge Companion to Singing: World Music (Cambridge University Press, U.K., 2000); and the TV program Bravo Profile: Bobby McFerrin (Bravo Television, 2003).  He has also written about horse racing (Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, Vintage, NY 2006), hosted panels for the World Science Festival, and has been a regular panelist on the BBC’s soccer-based program Sports World.