Music scene in Kolkata – The untold story

Music scene in Kolkata – The untold story

December 16, 2013

Winter is the season of festivals and fairs of all sorts in Kolkata. Music is part of the festival scene too. Indian listeners are now welcoming new sounds. More bands and artists from around the world who all have their different genres are making their appearance on the Indian stage. And Kolkata is no different.

Jazz Fest

The latest fest to happen in town was the three-day Jazz Fest 2013, from November 29 to December 1.

An admirable roster of artists featured in the fest this year: bass legend Kai Eckhardt, twice Grammy-nominated Cuban-American drummer Dafnis Prieto, the critically acclaimed Carlos Bica and Azul Trio from Germany, the Milan Svoboda Quartet from Czech Republic, American saxophonist George Brooks, known for his fusion music projects, prodigious guitarist Prasanna with the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music Faculty Band, Yuri Honing Wired Paradise from the Netherlands and others.

They enthralled the large crowds at Dalhousie Institute, comprising a nice mix of the young and the elderly. Like every year, this year too it was organised by the Kolkata-based not-for-profit organisation for popularizing jazz and blues in India, Congo Square. Almost a decade old in its present form, this celebration of jazz music has been going from strength to strength.

A short clipping of Jazz Fest 2013, courtesy Cat Jessen

Bacardi NH7 Weekender

The Bacardi NH7 Weekender rocked the city crowds on December 14th and 15th.  After Pune, Bengaluru and Delhi, the Kolkata audience got a taste of great live music. This has become one of the most sought-after concerts in India. Held since 2010, this was the first ever edition in Kolkata. Bass heavy electronica, mellow folk sounds, various genres of metal and much more, there was something going for everyone.    

Well-known names from both India and abroad, as well as newbies, strutted out their stuff on six stages at the Ibiza Resort.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender Kolkata lineup

Dutch metal group Textures, Indian extreme metal heavyweights Demonic Resurrection and Undying INC, homegrown rock biggies Parikrama and Pentagram, Eristoff Wolves Den, Dualist Inquiry, NUCLEYA, The Raghu Dixit Project, Kailasa and Soulmate mesmerised the fans. 

Nischay Parekh, Scribe, Jay Wud, Zero, the Reggae Rajahs, BASSFoundation, DJ Uri also rocked the crowd.

Making it big at HIRC

Hornbill International Rock Contest (HIRC), organised by the government of Nagaland in Kohima in early December, and part of the Hornbill Festival, a famous annual cultural extravaganza, is one of the biggest rock contests in India. For three-year-old Kolkata rock group Underground Authority (UA), it turned out to be the biggest stage yet, as the band emerged winner, pocketing Rs 10 lakh. According to their vocalist, Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer, it was a huge win for them because they also competed against international bands. UA beat eight other bands in the grand finale to emerge the winner.

In fact, bands from Kolkata have a long history of winning at HIRC. The first winner in 2006 was a band from Kolkata, Joint Family. Thereafter, three other winners emerged from the city, including this year. In 2007, Hobos won the contest and last year, Gingerfeet won.

Underground Authority, winner at HIRC 2013

Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition 2013

For western classical guitar enthusiasts, Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival has been the biggest event of the year for the last few years. It is touted as Asia’s biggest classical guitar festival. This year it would be held from December 19 to 22, at the Satyajit Ray Auditorium in the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Some of the biggest names in the world of classical guitar would congregate in the City of Joy for this annual festival.

The big names this year are Spanish guitarist Adam del Monte, Hungarian guitarist Andras Csaki, German guitarist Johannes Moller, Dutch guitarist Lars de Rijck, Duo NIHZ (Dutch duo Bobby Rootveld on guitar and Sanna van Elst on recorders), Bosnian guitarist Denis Azabagic, our very own guitar whiz Amyt Dutta, and Salil Bhatt (slide guitar player, creator of Satvik Veena, and son of Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt).

Besides playing on stage, the guitarists would also conducting master classes. The festival is organised by Calcutta Classical Guitar Society.

The Cavatina Duo performing at the 2011 Guitar Festival

The swinging 60s

There was a time when the Western music scene in India was the liveliest in Kolkata. That was in the 1960s and 70s, when singers like Pam Crain, Louis Banks, guitarist Carlton Kitto, Usha Uthup, Joe Pereira, Lew Hilt, Donald Saigal, bands Skinny Alley and Fentones, Australian singer Marie Samson and others ruled the roost on Park Street, making it the hub of live entertainment in India. Those were the swinging 60s. Mocambo, Trinca’s, Blue Fox and Moulin Rouge were the hot night spots, and the crowd loved jazz.

Pam Crain

Louis Banks

Usha Uthup

Bangla bands

The 70s gave way to the 80s and with it, the scene changed. Many migrated to Mumbai (and other places), which soon took over the tag of the hottest music spot from Kolkata, or Calcutta as it was called back then.

The influence of Western music resulted in the emergence of the phenomenon of Bangla bands, both in Dhaka and in Kolkata, as well as songs reflecting the joys and sorrows of the common man, or Jibonmukhi Gaan (though it can always be argued that jibonmukhi songs were there for a long time, much before the term was coined). Moheener Ghoraguli can be called the pioneer as far as Bangla bands in Bengal are concerned.

Moheener Ghoraguli

Bangla bands became popular with young people in the 1970s, and have since become entrenched in modern Bengali culture. Recently, traditional folk-based Bengali songs are also being released by bands. Among the famous folk bands are Bhoomi and Dohar. The last though is a rock/folk-fusion band.

Significantly, Krosswindz was the first band from eastern India to release an album of English originals way back in 1993, called Singles. Another important milestone for Bangla bands came in 2006, when Chandrabindu became the first Indian band to play at the United Nations. The song was taken from their successful album Udaan.



The Jibonmukhi 1990s

The 1990s saw the advent of a new style of singer - singing, writing and composing songs all by himself (most were male singers). This breed was born with Suman Chattopadhyay, who stormed the music scene in 1992 with the album, Tomake Chai. Soon followed Nachiketa, also in 1992, with the album, Aie Besh Bhalo Achhi. Both are cult classics in modern Bengali music, especially among the younger generation. A little later came Anjan Dutt, who also notched up quite a few hits, and has his own loyal fan base.


Anjan Dutt

The present and the future

Among the well-known music bands currently plying their trade in Kolkata are Bhoomi, Chandrabindoo, Fossils, Cactus, Lakkihichara, Krosswindz and Dohar. There are countless others, and quite a few are doing good work. There is a constant churn, with those not being able to sustain themselves giving way to the new.

Bangla bands use a wide variety of styles such as rock, pop, folk and fusion. Their music is influenced both by popular American music as well as traditional Bengali folk music such as bhatiali, bhawaiya, shyama sangeet, baul and others.

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Comments (4)
Kundan dutta Reply
May 16, 2014
Shibasish Reply
December 16, 2013
Suman's Tomake Chai was a milestone in the history of Bengali music.
Sounak Reply
December 16, 2013
I went to the guitar festival for the first time 2 years back. Was so enamoured that I started learning the classical guitar. Hope to participate in the master classes too this time.
Abhijit Roy Reply
December 16, 2013
Enjoyed the Jazz Fest very much.
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