Singer-writer Amit Chaudhuri Photo Credit: Anindya Saha
Amit Chaudhuri is something of a modern Renaissance man. The 60-year-old is a world-renowned novelist who specializes in what James Wood calls “the refutation of the grandiose.” Alternatively, you may know him as a famous essayist. His last non-fiction work find the raga, won the prestigious James Tait Black Prize in 2022. There are also some poems in his work.
But Chaudhuri also has another career in music. A classically trained Hindustani his vocalist, he conducted a daring experiment in the late 2000s that he called “non-fusion”. The project spawned two of his critically acclaimed albums. this is not fusion (2007) and found music (2010), before he became busy with other pursuits. But thanks to a visit to Norwich last year, he’s preparing to release a sequel.
Calling from his home in Kolkata, Chaudhuri opens up about his recently released single and the importance of going against the grain. edited excerpt.
Your new single is a medley of Joe Zawinul’s 1970 composition “In A Silent Way” and the Indian national anthem. What synergies have you found between these works by the Austrian jazz composer and Rabindranath Tagore?
It wasn’t consciously predetermined. My music in this project is often based on convergence, but I go out looking for convergence, so convergence doesn’t happen. Many years ago I was listening to Joe Zawinul’s version of “In A Silent Way” and at some point started singing along to “Jana Gana Mana”. I came to think of it as a piece of music. It started there.
TM Krishna recently released ‘Unsung Anthem’ which performs unsung verses of Tagore’s ‘Bharato Bhagyo Bidhata’. Implicit in that choice is criticism that the anthem is increasingly being used as a symbol for ideas with which Tagore never agreed. Were there similar undertones in your reimagining?
that’s what you say Certainly, unless the anthem is viewed as part of the music, it is not part of the conscious work. made possible by a world with So it’s important for me to revisit the anthem, but not nationalistically or commercially. Musical works related to nationalism and religion tend not to be considered works of art. We stop thinking of them as aesthetic objects. And I think it is possible and perhaps desirable to see them this way.
The single will be released ahead of their next album, their first in 13 years. What musical themes does the album explore?
The album hasn’t come out yet, so I don’t want to talk too much right now. But this project is similar to what I’ve done before in terms of exploring musical overlap. The main difference here is the predominance of acoustic instruments. It features more acoustic guitar and piano than his previous two albums. Because I like acoustic sounds. Over the years, due in part to budgetary constraints, we played more acoustic guitar than the entire band. But I liked the sound of it, so I decided to use it for this recording.
Amit Chaudhuri performance.
The single’s music video centers around a painting of the Indian flag by Oxford artist Mark Rowan Hull. Is there a special symbolism to Hal’s messy brushwork?
No symbolism. Fixed the meaning. One seeks to unlock meaning, to find excitement and joy in the unexpected. Mark is a friend of mine who is a synesthesia artist. He sees color in sound. He made this piece many years ago. A version of the Indian flag that I really liked. So for this recording, I thought it would be nice to have a color video without the human figure. But it doesn’t all come together from the start. It gradually became a version of the flag, and thus it is not just an act of worship, but also an act of artistic creation.
Indian flag painted by Mark Rowan Hull.
You’ve previously spoken about your distaste for the categories ‘fusion’ and ‘world music’. How would you classify your unique approach to creating music that spans multiple traditions?
My approach might be closer to that of Tagore or Hindi film music directors. There they create songs that belong to everything they know about musical traditions.Nor do they try to Westernize or Easternize the song, Dhrupad Or Latin elements to it. they have a song Ghazal Also Jeetbut their own musical and spiritual world encompasses much [more]And they put the song in that world, allowing it to carry much of the meaning of who they are [the songwriter] at that point in history.
This single and album marks the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. What do you want people to take away from this release?
This is a deliberate message to writers, artists, filmmakers and experimenters. Everything should be an opportunity for experimentation. Whether it’s Independence Day, a festival, today or tomorrow. We need to revisit each one. So I wanted to remind people that creative joy can come from anything. A person does not need to be controlled in every walk of life. And this must be the most important thing about who we are than freedom of expression.
The author is a Mumbai-based freelance culture writer.