Soumik Datta’s travelogue, Rhythms of India, traces the country’s musical landscape from TM Krishna to DIVINE

The TV show premieres on Indian television this week

Anagha M Published :  24th January 2020 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  24th January 2020 12:00 AM
Soumik Datta

Soumik Datta

LONDON-BASED MUSICIAN Soumik Datta traversed India over eight weeks to capture our musical roots and heritage and realised one thing about the country. “Being a nation that is divided in so many ways — between class, caste, economy, religion and language — music seems to be the one uniting factor that the people of India can all agree on,” he says. His journey is documented as the show Rhythms of India, which premieres on Indian television this week. In the three episodes, Soumik meets folk musicians, Carnatic musicians, rock bands, and Bollywood composers. We got to chat with him about the series:

How did you get involved with this show?
I was on tour playing a few shows in the US when I got an mail from series director Ashok Prasad about it. I remember being quite surprised, but before I knew it, we were having regular meetings with the research team, and soon enough, we flew down from London and touched down in India for the first of seven shoots. All in all, the series took eight weeks of filming! 

There’s a wide range of genres among the musicians you meet. What made you choose them? 
BBC and I spent many weeks discussing who would feature on the series. We needed a range of experts and guest speakers and many of them would be considered celebrities. However, both the director and I were adamant that we were making a show primarily of the ‘music of India’ and not ‘celebrities of India’. The truth is that India is heavily celebrity-focused, but I wanted the series to take a broader view, which would allow voices from the margins, from outside the mainstream to be heard. That’s why we went to temples in Kerala and met with musicians practicing hundreds of years old drumming traditions, and to the forests of Bengal to meet with Baul minstrels, who shared with us the powerful folk roots of Indian music. This breadth of genres and styles will keep audiences hooked, while also seeing some star names that they recognise.

Tell us about some encounters and anecdotes from the shoot. 
Music gives you access to almost any place in India. I learnt this while filming my debut series four years ago, Tuning 2 You. And I felt it again, this time too. On one evening, we were deep in rural Kerala, watching age-old snake worshipping musicians from communities playing almost extinct tribal instruments under the night sky. The next morning, we were in the homes of celebrated, high-caste classical musicians sharing thoughts on ragas and traditions over chai, and a few hours later, we’d be shown into the VVVIP section of Gully Boy’s music launch, interviewing Zoya Akhtar and DIVINE as Ranveer Singh prepped for his hip-hop debut in front of a bristling audience of thousands. Being a nation that is divided in so many ways between class, caste, economy, religion and language, music seems to be the one uniting factor that the people of India can all agree on. For me, music is India’s secret weapon and I hope more artistes here can use it as a force for unification and social change. 

The show has already aired in the UK. What was the response there like?
Indian food, music, dance and art are very much part of the fabric of Britain. Perhaps it’s just post-colonial, but there is a genuine fascination for India. So when the series was aired for the first time, audiences loved the combination of an Indian travelogue clubbed with musical discovery. It taught them a few things they didn’t know, reinforced a few things they did, made them better understand the ancient roots of music in India and also how modern generations are being influenced by American and hip-hop culture. It was my privilege to be that guide taking them on this odyssey of sight and sounds across my motherland. Being British, Indian and a musician, I was in the fortunate and unique position to tell this story. 

On January 25, 2.40 pm onwards. 
On BBC World News.