The India International Guitar Festival was held in Kolkata recently, culminating on January 11. The festival, the brainchild of the Grammy-nominated slide guitar maestro, Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya, saw a very enthusiastic turnout of both connoisseurs as well as people who wanted to experience something new. The festival was dedicated to the Indian classical slide guitar pioneer, often called the ‘Father of Indian Slide Guitar,’ Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra, who also happens to be Pandit Bhattacharya’s guru.
The five-day-long festival was held at Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Artists, producers, the international music press and many enthusiastic guitar players of the country graced the event. Tabla mestro Pandit Tanmoy Bose was very enthusiastic about the event. According to him, the festival helped a lot today's youngsters to be initiated into India’s own contributions to the west. They can now look up to a new dimension about Indian music, instead of just aping west. As Pandit Bhattacharya also said, “No issue with youths shaking heads and the whole body and holding a guitar in one hand and belting out western numbers. But music can be celebrated in a more serene and peaceful way.”
In fact, Pandit Bose was all praise for the slide guitar and Pandit Bhattacharya’s immense contributions towards popularising it, especially amongst today’s youngsters: “For instance an internationally-known musician like Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya who has given a new shape to the Hawaiian guitar, moulding it into an Indian version of guitar, has introduced a new eclectic genre, blending the west and our very own Indian and Bengali essences. This new form, ‘slide guitar,’ has added a whole new meaning and range to stringed acoustics, unheard by the West previously.”
The event saw concerts by some of the world’s top guitarists like Johannes Moller (Sweden), Jeff Peterson (Hawaii), Alan Akaka (USA), Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Dr Kamala Shankar, besides Pandit Bhattacharya himself.
There were also competitions in five categories – Indian classical guitar, Western classical guitar, Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti and contemporary songs on slide guitar. Thus the festival incorporated a lot of the different types of music that is played on slide guitar, including playing Rabindrasangeet and Nazrulgeeti on slide guitar which many Bengalis learn and appreciate.
There were theoretical lessons too: lectures on their own creations and modifications by Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya and Dr Kamala Shankar; and workshops on slide guitar, Western classical, jazz, flamenco and Hawaiian guitar by Johannes Moller, Jeff Peterson and Alan Akaka. The workshops produced a musical collaboration of artistes from India and the participating countries, culminating in a grand finale concert, the Vasundhara Mahotsav Universal Fest. More than 200 slide guitarists joined the festival.
This was the first such festival in Kolkata. Seeing the enthusiasm and participation, Pandit Bhattacharya was extremely happy and hopeful about the future of slide guitar in India. He also promised to make this a regular event on Kolkata’s musical calendar.
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