From Calcutta to the world


In conversation with Santanu Datta and Pierre-Antoine Lasnier from the Santanu Datta trio post their first gig in the city

17758308_1002315649869176_2450204270676053441_oIt’s a usual long and sultry day in the city. The Eduardo Michelin Auditorium at Alliance Francaise just about begins to fill up and audiences have come expecting respite, some from a long day and others from the long drawn monotony in contemporary music. The stage is set, a classical guitar, a bass guitar and tablas taking their spots on stage. Soon enough, the air is filled with a confluence of sound- ranging from the age-old melodies of Europe to odes to love and rain emanating from the soils of Bengal. Essences of Mozart and Tagore make their way across the room as Santanu Datta, Pierre-Antoine Lasnier and Subhasis Bhattacharya from the Santana Datta Trio make the evening their own.

Santanu Datta 1Tracing his penchant for Indian classical music to his mother, Santanu’s tryst with music has been laced with academic prowess. With a graduate degree from IIT, he moved to Paris to pursue his true calling, spending five years learning the nuances of western classical music, adding to his already rich skill set. “What I am doing right now is not fusion, I am looking at ways to combine Hindustani classical with western classical, to try and make the tiny details come together,” says the classical guitarist and singer. We sense the hesitation to associate with the word fusion, a sentiment shared by various performers across the city. “Everyone throws this term around. What we’re doing here is focussing on the core concepts of different musical cultures. If you’re playing a raga, you need to maintain the melodic movement and at the same time try to find a way and harmonise it as well. It’s a technical task and it isn’t just about superimposing different music. It’s about finding a way to make everything work correctly and independently,” he adds with a giggle. Having been associated with Pierre for quite a while, Santanu was introduced to Subhasis by the latter, thereby paving the way for a unique musical association. “We have three people from different backgrounds- jazz, western classical and Indian classical. So I thought it would be interesting to see these cultures come together,” he adds. This, however, turned out to be the biggest challenge in the process of mixing styles, as Santanu points out. “Bringing our philosophies together was challenging. In western classical music, you can have a little rubato and a nice melody with a liberal tempo (which isn’t exactly acceptable in Indian classical). In jazz, you play in the moment; you go along with the harmony. I don’t work that way. My harmony is fixed, bass is fixed. So we had a lot to figure out. We needed to see how much each of us could be liberal and just how much and when exactly we could improvise without ruining the essences of our styles,” he reminisces.

A sociology project brought Pierre-Antoine Lasnier to Kolkata four years ago, a move that he calls life-changing.Pierre 2 Having begun training in western classical music at the age of 5, Pierre found a penchant for jazz by the time he turned 14.  Currently learning Hindustani classical music under Debashish Bhattacharya, the bassist points out, “Before coming to India, I had a very sketchy idea about Indian music. Coming here has opened me to this culture and it has brought me fresh perspectives. It opens some doors you never thought existed.” While Santanu seems visibly excited by the prospects of imparting a few lessons on contemporary classical music, Pierre is clear about staying away from the tutor’s seat. “To teach a subject, knowing the subject isn’t enough, you need to have the skill and propensity to be a good tutor. In that sense, I don’t think I make the cut,” he says with modesty, a perspective Santanu begs to contest. “Before you explain something to your students, you need to understand it in its entirety. One of the duties of being in this business is to pass on your craft. It’s a skill that needs to go through across generations. And to tell it well, you need to know yourself and your art and teaching helps fine tune that knowledge, not just for the student but for the tutor as well. In my opinion, it’s a mandate for musicians.” Currently working on a few film scores simultaneously, he is also quick to add, “Film music has brought down production value and quality of music in this country. The focus is on the story and on keeping audiences engaged without distracting them. In that frame, it’s hard for music quality to take centre stage. Director isn’t concerned about your musical language, and he has no reason to be. His audience is his priority. So it’s a little inevitable in some cases but some really take that for granted,” he rues.

Besides being busy with their tour with Alliance Francaise and independent projects, Santanu promises an album in the coming months as well as a tour to Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a plan that’s still on the drawing board. As they spell out their plans, we wonder how hard it is to stay original and stand out from the crowd in the country’s musical space, to which Pierre responds, “It’s more a matter of communication. If you’re true to yourself, your history and your music, originality isn’t difficult at all. But that is the hard part; it’s easy to get swayed in the process.” As they take to the stage, Pierre sums up the constant process of creating music saying, “When a non-music oriented person asks what this whole ‘finding one’s sound’ is about, we equate it to happiness. It’s not a goal or an ambition, but a journey.”


Musical inspirations:

Pierre: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Debashish Bhattacharya- my guru

Santanu: Johann Sebastian Bach, Rabindranath Tagore, Paco de Lucía

One style you want to incorporate into your music:

Pierre: Western classical music

Santanu: Jazz and flamenco

One musical style outside your comfort zone

Santanu: EDM, too mechanical for me, I am quite old fashioned that way

Pierre: I am familiar with techno because I have studied it back in university so I guess African music. The songs are amazing to listen to but are so hard to recreate.

One instrument you want to master

Pierre: Has to be the trumpet, I’ve tried and it’s not child’s play

Santanu: Piano, but the sad bit is, classical guitar requires me to grow nails which I can’t have to play the piano. Maybe, someday. Oh and the cello too.

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