London-based musician, composer, television presenter, and sarod maestro Soumik Datta will be seen in a new television series showcasing Indian musical traditions and trends, Rhythms of India on BBC World News starting January 25, 2020.
From a spectacular religious festival in Kerala to folk musicians in the Rajasthan desert, intimate performances on the banks of the Ganges to encounters with India’s hip-hop superstars, Soumik takes viewers on an entertaining journey celebrating India’s remarkable musical diversity.
Meeting and performing with folk, classical and pop musicians, he travels from the biggest cities to the most remote communities, exploring how music helps us understand India’s past and its rapidly changing present in a three-part series.
In the series Soumik – who recently released a new EP Jangal in response to deforestation and the climate change crisis that engulfs swathes of the globe – meets legendary names from contemporary classical music like sitar maestro Shujaat Khan, tabla master Bickram Ghosh, Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna, the first female ghatam player in India Sukanya Ramgopal and veena virtuoso Jayanthi Kumareshalongside Bollywood stalwarts like Javed Akhtar, playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, and young Indian icons like Nucleya, DIVINE and hip-hop producer Sez, among others.
“Travelling across India to make Rhythms of India was perhaps one of the most exciting times of my life,” says Soumik of the nine week-long shoots. “One day I was exchanging notes with the rich and powerful of Mumbai’s society, the next I was deep in the forests of Kerala with endangered tribes immersed in ancient rituals. In a country, so diverse, so stretched, I discovered that there is only one language that brings it together, and that language is music,” says Soumik, who has composed for movies like Gangs of Tooting Broadway (2013) and Life Goes On (2009).
Soumik, who has collaborated with international pop stars like Beyonce, Jay-Z and British-Asian stalwarts like Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Akram Khan and Anoushka Shankar has championed Indian arts in the mainstream through his work with London Philharmonic Orchestra and City of London Sinfonia and even through appearances at festivals like Glastonbury and WOMAD in 2019.
Having helmed a music series Tuning 2 You: Lost Musicians of India that focused on India’s musical heritage earlier, the London-based, Kolkata-born musician is perhaps best placed to offer an insider’s perspective for an international audience.
“As a Londoner, I’m so excited to be working with the incredible team at BBC, telling this important story of music in India for viewers across the world. As an Indian though, I feel privileged to have dug deep into my roots, met with incredible musicians from all divisions of society and witnessed the sheer power of music that still impacts people across the nation today,” he adds.
Rhythms of India premiered in the UK last summer to praise from viewers and press alike and will be available for Indian audiences on BBC World News, January 25. The three episodes will be released weekly, and the first episode will on Saturday, January 25 at 2:40 pm IST (repeating on Sunday 26 January at 7:40 pm IST).
Episode 1: Ancient Melodies
Soumik begins his journey in Kolkata, the city of his birth and the place where he learned to play the Indian classical instrument, the sarod. Travelling from north to south, Soumik discovers how the ancient music of palaces and temples, India’s classical music, reveals two very different cultures and traditions – and tells a story of the role conquest and empire played in shaping the nation.
In the episode, Soumik meets with some of India’s most renowned contemporary classical musicians – including sitar player Shujaat Khan, son of arguably India’s greatest-ever sitarist Vilayat Khan, Bickram Ghosh, the main tabla player for the legendary Ravi Shankar, vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty who performs khayal, a poetic form of singing that fuses Muslim and Hindu traditions and Jayanthi Kumaresh a virtuoso on the 2000-year-old veena, the most traditional of all Indian instruments.
Soumik explores some of the current day social conflicts that permeate Indian classical music, from the prohibition that females should not play certain instruments to the politics of the caste system which have traditionally reserved skin covered drums for Muslim musicians or those of lower caste.
In Chennai, the heartland of today’s Carnatic music scene, Soumik meets outspoken vocalist TM Krishna who’s created social and political controversy – at a time when Hindu nationalists are in power – for singing what some see as Hindu classical melodies in praise of the Gods of other faiths. Soumik ends his journey meeting contemporary rock band Agam who are breaking with the traditions of Indian classical music by mixing hundreds of years old classical songs with metal.
Episode 2: Music of the People
Soumik Datta continues his musical travels around India in the southern state of Kerala, home to some of the oldest religious music in the country. He visits the Panchari Melam, a spectacular Hindu festival with extraordinary displays of massed drumming. And in Maharashtra, he discovers how the brass band tradition, with its origins in the military bands of the British Raj, is falling out of favour as the staple of Indian wedding processions.
In Bengal, he encounters Baul singers, mystic minstrels whose music is intended to spread a message of spiritual enlightenment. And in the deserts of Rajasthan, he discovers how the rich folk heritage of the region is drawing tourists from around the world and helping to sustain communities. Throughout his journey, he marvels at how the music of ordinary people continues to play an important role in their lives and reflects on the challenges facing communities across India as they adapt to a fast-changing world.
Episode 3: Sounds of the city
Soumik’s musical journey around India ends with a look at the popular music scene, discovering how Bollywood is changing, the impact of the internet and the rise of hip-hop. He starts in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, where legendary screenwriter Javed Akhtar describes the roots of popular songs in Bollywood’s storytelling tradition. Soumik also meets and performs with, famous Bollywood playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, the voice behind one of Soumik’s favourite Bollywood films, Mr India.
To discover how the internet is transforming the music industry, he visits the headquarters of T-Series in Delhi, India’s biggest music and film company whose internet channel is now the biggest on YouTube. And in Goa, he meets Nucleya, an independent dance producer using WhatsApp to reach his huge young fanbase.
The film also explores how artists are finding different ways to mix western and Indian influences. At the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune, Soumik discovers how rock band Parvaaz is making a name for themselves singing in their own regional language. Back in Delhi, Soumik discovers how hip-hop is shaking up the music industry. In a bedroom studio in West Delhi, he meets the producer behind ‘Mere Gully Mein’, one of the anthems of Indian hip-hop.
A hugely influential celebration of life in the gully, the song was the inspiration for Zoya Akhtar’s, Gully Boy, India’s official entry for the Oscars, and a sign of how the energy of India’s hip-hop scene is now being embraced by the mainstream.