5 New-Age Musicians Who Are Redefining The Sitar
Picking up the sitar from his father Parthapratim Chatterjee, Senia Maihar gharana’s Purbayan Chatterjee is a maestro noted for blending the classical with touches of contemporary of world music. Currently in his mid-40s, Chatterjee already boasts a noteworthy body of work, both as a solo artist and as a member of other classical/fusion outfits.
For instance, he also served in the original lineup of Shastriya Syndicate, a septet fused influences of the tabla, mridangam, and sitar with genres like jazz and rock. For a beginner’s course in Chatterjee’s discography, one must definitely listen to Shastriya Syndicate’s Syndicated, and Shiva Shankara, a track that features tabla legend Zakir Hussain and playback vocalist Shankar Mahadevan.
Punjab-based Rishabh Seen comes from a long line of classical instrumentalists but what he’s doing currently is probably nobody in his family (or in the Indian classical music space) ever thought of. After playing the sitar as a part of Arijit Singh’s touring crew, Seen went on to found Sitar Metal, the world’s first and only sitar-fronted metal band.
Sitar purists might scorn at his work of fusion but as is evident from Sitar Metal’s self-titled debut album, Seen’s experimentation aim to bring about a new age of experimentation that opens the space to take the sitar to unchartered heights. Recently, in 2021, the 23-year-old scene also found a feature on Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 list.
Hailing from Chattisgarhi city Bhilai, Anupama Bhagwat is a so-called ‘Surmani’ (as Sur Shringar Sansad dubbed her once) and one of the finest sitar maestros in modern times. She stands out in her performances with the Gayaki style, a lyrical method patterned after the human voice.
Newer converts to her music can get a glimpse of her talents via Darbar Festival’s YouTube channel along with Bhagwat’s own channel. Such is her legacy that in 2006, Italian astronomer Vincenzo Silvano Casulli even named the asteroid 185325 Anupabhagwat in her honour!
Niladri Kumar began his tryst with the sitar at the age of four under the tutelage of his father Kartick Kumar, a disciple of Ravi Shankar’s. He went on to collaborate with many musical stalwarts, ranging from John McLaughlin to AR Rahman. His 2008 album Zitar makes for essential listening. After all, this was the album that introduced the world to Kumar’s titular invention.
To put it simply, the zitar is a combination of the guitar and the sitar. Instead of the sitar’s twenty strings, Kumar’s instrument comprised of five strings along with an electronic pickup. In fact, he didn’t limit the zitar to just classical music. One can hear Kumar’s zitar skills even on mainstream film tracks like Crazy Kiya Re (from Dhoom 2) and Alvida (from Life in a…Metro).
A rising star in the sitar space, 30-year-old Ayan Sengupta again hails from the Senia Maihar gharana and has collaborated with Purbayan Chatterjee on several occasions. After winning a junior scholarship under the Government of India in 2003, he found further acclaim as n ITC Sangeet Research Academy musician scholar.
To get a glimpse of Sengupta’s instrumental prowess, listeners can check out the seventh episode from the digital instrumental reality show Life is Music. Assisted by Purbayan Chatterjee and his band 1023MB, the young sitarist played a composition called Red Rain. Another classic is the VR video covering his performance of the Raag Patdeep during 2019’s Darbar Festival.
Purbayan Chatterjee – https://www.instagram.com/purbayanch/?hl=en
Rishabh Seen – https://www.instagram.com/rishabhseen/?hl=en
Niladri Kumar – https://www.instagram.com/niladri_kumar/?hl=en