In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with a concert and oral history with Soumya Chakraverty and Devapriya Nayak. This event was cosponsored with the Library of Congress Asian American Association in celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
In this concert you will hear Soumya Chakraverty play a stringed instrument called the sarod with Devapriya Nayak performing on the tabla, a pair of small drums of different sizes. Both of these instruments have a long history. The sarod is a fretless stringed instrument with a skin head like a banjo and an extended air chamber under the fingerboard. These features give the sarod a unique and clearly identifiable depth of sound. The sarod is believed to have its origins in the Afghan Rabab, a smaller stringed, lute-style instrument played while marching or riding into battle. But it also seems to be related to a number of early plucked stringed instruments from India and the Middle East. The tabla is the best known classical percussion instrument of India and the Middle East, consisting of a pair of hand drums capable of a wide variety of sounds. As Devapriya Nayak explains in the oral history, the origins of the tabla are contested.
Although the sarod is seen as a lead instrument Devapriya Nayak and Soumya Chakraverty describe their playing as a conversation between instruments and musicians, with a balance between the tabla and the sarod. Soumya Chakraverty explains his sarod playing this way: “…as an instrumentalist, listening for what he is playing and I’m layering my music to go with that. So, there’s a lot of– that’s why we call it as a conversation. And often, in a concert you don’t pick that up but there’s a lot of technicality behind it that what he is playing, what I’m playing, we’re constantly bouncing off each other.” This description is appropriate for the part of the tabla player as well, as the drums are often said to have a language and to speak. You will hear the exchange between musicians in the concert and the way that this “conversation” is achieved is also discussed in the oral history (direct links to these videos can be found in the Resources at the bottom of this post).
Soumya Chakraverty’s musical training began with lessons on the tabla as a child. He took up playing the sarod when he was eleven under the tutelage of Pt. Samarendranath Sikdar, a senior disciple of the late Pt. Radhika Mohan Maitra of the Shahjahanpur Gharana. For nearly thirty years he has received extensive training in a multitude of north Indian ragas, some of which are very rare. Soumya played frequently on All India Radio Calcutta between 1990 and 1995. While pursuing his education in Australia, he began to collaborate with other forms of world music, and performed live with a flamenco dancer in a production that combined the Gypsy roots of the dance with Latin American percussion, Middle Eastern vocals, and Indian classical instrumental music. For more than a decade, Soumya has been performing throughout the US and neighboring countries. His focus remains on traditional Hindustani instrumental music, and he continues to work with other music genres such Classical Carnatic (south Indian), compositions of Rabindranath and Nazrul, flamenco, jazz, and Latin American percussion.
Devapriya Nayak (Debu) was born in West Bengal, India, and began learning tabla at the age of three from his grandfather, Chaudhury Kausalya Nandan, an accomplished tabla player of the Punjab Gharana. Later, Debu became a disciple of Pt. Radhakanta Nandi of the Benares Gharana. In 1981, Debu continued his tabla training in the US from Maestros Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Anindo Chatergee and Pt. Samir Chaterjee. His performance at the Kennedy Center with Gaurav Majumdar earned him wide accolades in Washington music circles. Debu is the Director of the DC Chapter of Chhandayan, a tabla school dedicated to the promotion of tabla and Indian Classical Music. With over 30 years of performance experience, he is a much sought after accompanist on the East Coast in Indian classical music.
In this oral history, Soumya Chakraverty and Devapriya Nayak talk about their history as musicians and the influence of music in their culture with Yasmeen Rauf Khan, head of the Paper Conservation Section at the Library of Congress who also has a special interest in the culture of Middle East and South Asia (you can learn more about Yasmeen Khan in this blog in In Custodia Legis).
Hall, Stephanie, “Homegrown Plus: Kalanidhi Dance Company Performs Kuchipudi Dance,” Folklife Today,” March 21, 2019. Includes embedded video of the concert and oral history.
Hall, Stephanie, “Homegrown Plus: The Sattriya Dance Company with the Dancing Monks of Assam,” Folklife Today, March 25, 2019. Includes embedded video of the concert and oral history.
Hall, Stephanie, “Vasant Panchami: A Celebration of Learning,” Folklife Today, January 24, 2015.
Folks of Bengal: Traditional song, music, and visual art from Bengal, India, (webcast) June 29, 2018, Library of Congress.
Soumya Chakraverty and Devapriya Nayak: Traditional Hindustani Music from Virginia, (webcast), May 6, 2016, Library of Congress. Also, Homegrown Oral History: Soumya Chakraverty & Devapriya Nayak, (webcast), May 6, 2016, Library of Congress.
Sreevidhya Chandramouli & Friends — Traditional Indian Karaikudi Vina Music from Oregon (webcast), August 20, 2009, Library of Congress.
Surati: Indian Classical and Folk Dance from New Jersey (webcast), November 19, 2008, Library of Congress.