(November 1, 2021) Clad in a kurta pyjama with a shawl around his neck, sarod player Soumik Datta beautifully strums the instrument as he takes on the stage. The music from the sarod captivates everyone as Datta sits cross-legged immersed in the composition. His music has serenaded people across the globe, and the UK-based Indian saord player is making waves globally with his work. But unlike many of his contemporaries, his music is not for sheer entertainment. In fact, he creates awareness on global issues through his body of work. And it’s his latest work that’s set to premiere at the COP-26 Summit in Glasgow this week.
Datta, who was a teenager when he first discovered the sarod, has become a name to reckon with in the world of Indian classical music. His work has taken him across the globe and helped him bring important issues to the forefront through his music.
Sarod- a form of self-expression for the immigrant
Born in Mumbai to a banker father and an art-house filmmaker mother, Datta’s home in the Maximum City was always pulsating with music. As a child, he would often witness a beautiful jugalbandi between his parents with his mom singing and his dad on the violin. While Datta loved music, it wasn’t until he turned 13 when he moved to London that he started training under Pt Buddhadev Das Gupta. It was while going through some of the vintage items that had accompanied his family on their move to London that Datta discovered the sarod. It was the sound of the musical instrument that captivated the then teenager. Seeing his inclination towards sarod, his dad took him during winter holidays to Pt Das Gupta in Kolkata, who took him under his wings and promised to make a sarod player out of Datta.
Datta, who studied at Harrow School in London, would often return to India every vacation to continue learning from his guru. Despite staying in the UK, Datta kept learning the sarod as his teacher made sure he had enough material to practice on his own. “I wanted to hold on to the sarod even while I was in London. Something about it made me feel like I was still in India. At that age, in a foreign country, surrounded by British and European faces, the sarod made me feel Indian. It still does. And it makes me feel proud to be Indian,” he told Sunday Guardian in an interview. Soon sarod became a tool of self-expression for Datta during his time at his very white British boarding school.
Datta would spend hours practicing the instrument under the guidance of his guru. While music consumed him for most part of the day, Datta did finish his graduation from University College London before taking admission at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. It was around this time that American rapper and songwriter Jay Z discovered Datta’s talent and asked him to play at the Royal Albert Hall with two local artistes. He subsequently performed on stage with Beyonce, and was even asked to join her on tour. However, the sarod maestro politely declined. “I was quite young at the time so I was star-struck at rehearsals, but they had this Californian vibe which meant everything was quite laid back. I don’t regret not going to America. If I would have gone down that path I wouldn’t have been able to do explore all the other things that I have done,” he told Independent.
These stepping stones helped him bag the musical score of a 2007 British film Brick Lane, which was followed by Life Goes On and Gangs of Tooting Broadway. While sarod has been his instrument, Datta has evolved as a musician by imersing himself in other musical genres as well. So when he performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2014 as a part of an artistic fusion between the US and India, music lovers couldn’t help but admire his wide range. “It’s hard for people to understand how an Indian classical musician has any interest in other musical genres let alone rock, drum and bass and psychedelic stuff. When they ask me what my influences are they expect me to reel off certain Indian classical names and then they’re surprised when I say Pink Floyd and Radiohead. It’s the sheer energy and soul they put into their live performances I admire,” he added.
View this post on Instagram
Music with a cause
This Global Indian has been composing music for years now but his projects have mostly been at the centre of issues that matter to him. “Be it issues about representation, injustice or the climate crisis, I’ve always found the space of discomfort and confusion to be a deep source for creative dialogue. Increasingly we are living in a world that is polarised, filled with the outcries of marginalised voices now amplified on social media. So the intention behind every project is to try and untangle the impossible — to catalogue chaos through creativity,” he told Telegraph.
The 37-year-old artiste, who fuses Indian classical music with pop, rock and electronica, did the same when he released his EP Jangal in 2020. Alarmed by climate change and global warming, Datta puts focus on the issue through his music. And now this artiste has turned director with an animation film Songs of the Earth which is set to premiere at the COP-26 Summit in Glasgow this November. The film that’s accompanied by an eight track album weaves issues from climate migration, extreme weather to ocean pollution through songs and immersive visuals. “I’d love for young people to respond to Songs of the Earth and think about how they could make small changes to the environment around them and start valuing this behaviour as a measure of good citizenship as a badge of humanity,” he added.
🎹🚀 One week before our film and album #SongsoftheEarth drops at the UN climate conference @COP26 here is the first single “Oceans Rising” commissioned by @BritishCouncil in response to ocean pollution and endangered aquatic life 🌊🌊🌊👉🏾 https://t.co/f1v6Gu56Ta pic.twitter.com/OtKzKvNnN9
— Soumik Datta / Arts (@Soumik_Datta) October 27, 2021
Datta, who began his journey in music with just an instrument, has now become a champion of issues, and is using his music to create a difference.
Follow Soumik Datta on Instagram