MAHIMA: Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman
The distinctive sound of the slide guitar is an intrinsic feature in blues, Hawaiian, and Indian music. On MAHIMA (pronounced "moheema"; meaning divine inspiration through artistic creation), these traditions meet in the capable hands of two of the world's greatest slide guitarists, Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman. In the process, the two have created a true hybrid, a spectacular union of guitarists on a unique album which also showcases the vocal talents of Sutapa Bhattacharya and tabla master Subhashis Bhattacharya.
The Making of MAHIMA
Bob Brozman has always wanted to ensure that his collaborative recordings are imbued with a free-flowing exchange between the musicians, without cultural restriction or imperialism. Total immersion in the project at hand is essential: the artists live, cook, and eat together. They learn about each others' languages and cultures, make jokes using each others' slang, bestow nicknames, and throughout the process they blur the lines between work and play. They spend late nights talking about life and art, waking each day to dive more deeply into the music. This non-stop immersion produces a strong familial bond and by the end of each project, artists and crew members alike share the joy of having found a true brother or sister from half a world away.
This bond enhances the intensity of the creative environment, and such is the case with MAHIMA. This is Bob's fourth project for World Music Network. The previous three (JIN JIN and NANKURU NAISA with Takashi Hirayasu; DIG DIG with René Lacaille) were all recorded in this manner, in Okinawa, California, and La Réunion, respectively. Successive projects such as these and others have created a global musical family, spanning from California to Calcutta, Réunion Island (Indian Ocean) to Okinawa, and adding other artists from Africa, Australia, and Hawaii. All these artists have met, performed together worldwide, and begun their own connections - confirming that indeed, music has no borders.
The warm atmosphere for MAHIMA began immediately upon the arrival of Debashish and Subhashis at the Brozman house in California. Without delay, each artist had several instruments out and rehearsals were under way. The three would compose and rehearse in the mornings; then as lunchtime approached, Debashish and Bob would find a piece to work on together, while Subhashis and I moved into the adjacent kitchen to prepare the day's meal from the delicious Indian recipes that Subhashis brought from the Bhattacharya's Calcutta home. Subhashis, able to hear the music developing, would step away from a simmering pot to add a vocal rhythm or offer suggestions to the others. The secret to the complex tastes of Indian food is in the meticulous layering of spices, just as the album came together only after the careful consideration of each part, instrument, chord, and voicing.
A day spent with the Bhattacharyas is guaranteed to include both laughter and tears, along with amazing musical growth. The unifying spirit of togetherness contributed greatly to the feeling of this recording.
The Musicians Meet Halfway
In interviews, Bob often says that he likes to meet his collaborators not just halfway, but 75% of the way toward them. On this recording, Bob took this same approach, yet so did Debashish, leaning as much toward the West as Bob did to the East. Rather than one artist simply embellishing the style of another, the two have created a true hybrid, a spectacular union of guitarists. MAHIMA is a summit between two world-class musicians who are also gifted with a sense of empathy, enabling them to collaborate in a natural-flowing manner at high level of musicianship.top
Both Debashish and Bob combine a lifetime repertoire of original techniques and sounds that few other guitarists can make, with an exceptional ability to understand another musician, and exceptional attention to detail. The result is music rich with improvisation and individual voices, yet coherent as a unified sound. Bob and Debashish each have broad backgrounds in both rhythmic and melodic approaches to music, which allow them to exchange voices and musical functions at will, thereby escaping the conventional concept of "rhythm" and "lead" guitar. Debashish and Bob also possess astonishing timbral diversity in their respective ways of handling the slide, and continually adjust the emotion of the sound through an intimacy with the microscopic zone between fingers and strings.
Bob and Debashish first recorded together in India in 1998, and the making of MAHIMA has been a highly anticipated project since then. Their bond began, in fact, long before either man was born. It is a story of uncanny happenstance or destiny…
Slide Guitar Comes Full Circle
The slide guitar developed in many cultures around the world, but there are many deep connections between Hawaiian guitar and Indian music. The earliest known report of anyone playing slide guitar in Hawaii dates from 1876, when Gabriel Davion, an Indian boy kidnapped by Portuguese sailors and brought to Hawaii, is reported to have been playing slide guitar on his lap. Of course, there are Indian string instruments that utilize slide known to have existed since the 11th century A.D. top
However, the normal western Hawaiian guitar was first introduced to India by Bob's Hawaiian guitar guru, Tau Moe, in 1929. Tau Moe toured with his family for 57 years around the world before his retirement and subsequent re-discovery by Bob in 1988. The very first collaborative recording that Bob ever made was with the Tau Moe family. REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH was released in 1989 and won the Library of Congress Award for that year.
Tau Moe also lived in Calcutta from 1941-1947, at which time he made many influential recordings for H.M.V. India. Tau's star pupil in India was Garney Nyss, who became India's leading Hawaiian-style recording artist, making many titles for H.M.V. India under the name of The Aloha Boys. In the 1950s, Mr. Nyss influenced his student, Sri Brij Bhusan Kabra, the first Indian musician to play Indian classical music on the Hawaiian guitar, and also an important recording artist.
Sri Brij Bhusan Kabra's star student, in turn, was Debashish Bhattacharya, who has taken the instrument to new levels. Amazingly, all four generations of this musical chain were still alive in 1998, when Bob and Debashish had the privilege of meeting Mr. Nyss and hearing him play in Calcutta. Thus, the connection between Bob and Debashish has even deeper historical and philosophical resonance, which confirms and expands their deep friendship and musical partnership.
About the Instruments
Debashish uses two special instruments of his own design on this recording. Both are dedicated slide guitars, played on the lap with a steel bar. The first is a 24-string Hindustani Slide Guitar, known as Chaturangui, built on an archtop guitar body. It has 6 primary playing strings, tuned to an Open D or Open D minor tuning, plus 4 "supporting" strings, (giving octave, major 7th, flat 7th, and 6th notes), 2 chikari strings (high rhythmic drones) and 12 sympathetic strings. These sympathetic strings, with their tone reminiscent of sitar, can be heard "firing" in response to played melody notes. They only respond when everything is perfectly in tune and pitches are played perfectly with the bar. This guitar can be heard on "Song of Life," "Sujan Re," and other songs in the keys of D or D minor.top
Debashish's second guitar, known as Gandharvi, a recent design of his, has 12 primary playing strings, in pairs and octave pairs, like a Western 12-string guitar, plus 2 chikari strings. Its basic pitch is E major or E minor, and can be heard on "Bana Mali" and "Tagore Street Blues." It has its own unique "crying" voice, which brings to mind several other traditional Indian instrumental sounds.
Bob uses several instruments on this album - two National Reso-Phonic tricones, a normal one for D and G tunings, and a Baritone tricone, with a longer neck, that Bob designed for music in lower tunings. Bob also uses two Bear Creek "Weissenborn"-related instruments: a short-neck Kona model, and a 7-string Baritone Hawaiian guitar, also designed by Bob. Smaller string instruments, including charango and hualaicho (small charango with higher tuning), are heard on "Konkani Memories;" octave baglama (a tiny bouzouki) appears on "Bahu Dur Dur."
Subhashis employs a full set of tablas and dugis (smaller high-pitched drums, similar to tablas), in addition to several non-Indian percussion pieces, such as bodhran, riq, djembe, dombek, kanjira, talking drum, claves, shakers, and more. He thoroughly enjoyed the liberty of constructing layered percussion ensembles, lending a unique sonic flavor blend to each song.
Playing Guitar with Debashish Bhattacharya
This recording is as much a voyage to the West by Debashish as it is a voyage to the East by me. Debashish's compositions herein strongly reflect his interest in composing for a Western ear. Indian classical music, often somewhat inaccessible to "world music" ears, does not have chord changes or song structure in the European sense. MAHIMA, however, contains Indian folk songs and many compositions by Debashish which lean toward song structure and the possibility of chord changes.
One of the most interesting aspects of creating this music with Debashish was collectively making decisions about how much harmony to apply and choosing which harmonies to add to Debashish's melodies. Some melodies literally cry out "change chords!" while others only hint at it, and some melodies ultimately sound more beautiful against the non-changing environment of the root sound of the mode. Some songs could be arranged either way, as a matter of subjective taste.
Having concise song-like compositions on the record was a priority for both of us, as was covering a range of moods, modes, and rhythms. The experience of playing with Debashish requires a maximum level of attention which in turn generates a profound level of respect and love, both toward Debashish himself and for the art of music generally.
Bob Brozman - Guitar Master