California to Calcutta

Return to GraceNotes Overview: Music CDs from mondayMEDIA

Calcutta to California**
Grammy Nominee Debashish Bhattacharya,
Mark A. Humphrey,  Subhankar Banerjee, & More Friends

Also downloadable on Amazon




1. Valley of Delight (Bangladeshi Folk Song)/Down in the Valley 3:01 
2. Red River Valley/Return to the Valley 4:47 
Mountains Blues
3. Pretty Polly 6:37 
4. Song of Life (Assamese Folk Song) 6:33 
5. Lost on the River/Bhawaiaa (Bengali Folk Song) 8:55 
6. Moody River 6:42 
7. Shenandoah/Bhatiali (Bengali Boatman\'s Song) 13:21 
8. Sleep Walk 2:19 
9. Endless Sleep 6:47 
10. Voyage Espana 6:26

Liner Notes

“FOLK SONGS, whether high or low, old or new, traditional or original, survived or revived, reflect the deepest and most persistent of human dreams, and mark the human face and human habitat with their power.”

--Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival   (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996)

 While visiting Calcutta in November of 1994, my friend Sanjoy Chakraborty, a brilliant young
composer/singer/sitarist, read me an essay he’d written on Indian music and its relationship to natural environments. The essay poetically and persuasively argued that regional musical traits are directly and profoundly influenced by climate and terrain. A few days later, Debashish and Subhashish Bhattacharya entertained me with a variety of folk songs and tunes from different parts of India.  I reciprocated with a couple of American songs, and a year later, during two lulls in Debashish’s first North American solo tour, these recordings were made in California.

   The most direct musical expression of  human engagement with  natural environments and rhythms is folk music. Though  not everything we have recorded meets a textbook `folk’ definition, it all inhabits the same mythic territory as the folk song, which reinvents itself with each performer through whom it passes. People everywhere sing about their rivers, valleys, mountains, and seas.

We chose material which shares evident thematic, emotional or musical bonds, presented in a form which might be likened to the suite.  America and India are not so mutually `exotic’ when you pair songs sharing similar melodic structures: a bright major pentatonic scale (“Valley of Delight/Down in the Valley to Pray”), for instance, or a bluesy minor one (Appalachia’s “Pretty Polly” and Assam’s “Song of Life”).

  Participating in this process with two such extraordinary musicians as Debashish and Subhankar was an exhilarating experience. Sounds they conjure include the slap of the boatman’s oars in the “Bhatiali,”the staccato pluck of the Bengali folk instrument the dotara, a  cousin of our banjo, and the lament of a woman who fears her fishing husband is `lost on the river’ in the “Bhawaiaa.”

  No natural force addressed in this project exerts a more overwhelming allure than the sea.  If “Sleep Walk” seems misplaced  among `sea songs,’ perhaps you’ve never taken a summer stroll on a moonlit beach.  “Voyage Espana” is our metaphoric voyage to the Motherland of the instrument which brought us together, the guitar. Debashish’s approach to it calls to mind Stendhal’s remark: “No instrument is satisfactory except insofar as it approximates the sound of the human voice.” Debashish makes a sublimely satisfactory instrument of his guitar.             

              -Mark A. Humphrey


         The folk parts which  I have tried to  mix  with your folk music is coming from  a very wide range of the folk music of India.  India is very dynamic  in  character, religion, language, and cultural traditions.  The heroes  & kings & lords  came from all over the world, because India was one of the richest countries in the world.  Out of affection, Indians always took foreigners as their own people, and this rarely allowed anybody to return to their native land.  This is the character of Indian soil  & of Indian people.  The whole nation is a mixed culture.  North America has a similar character.  

VALLEYS:   My “Return to the Valley” is inspired by the valleys of Kashmir & Rajasthan.  It’s a mixed composition based on folk versions of two ragas, Pahadi & Mand.

MOUNTAIN BLUES:   In the Assam Valley, between two hills, they grow tea--Assam tea.  They work in the tea garden.  Generally, ladies work much more in gardens  than men, because they’re more skillful in plucking tea leaves  & tea buds. 

On the weekend, or  in a festive mood, they sit together & drink some liquor &  sing this type of folk song, “Song of Life.”  The lyric is fantastic. This is `the  call of life.’  Life is like a man. He is telling people, `Come! Come dancing!  Come running! I came here to see your glorious face, your smile.’ This is the real call of life.  Somehow, this hill folk tune is a complete match with the blues of North America.  

RIVERS:  Bhatialis  and Bhawaiaas are  very old traditions in our country.  Bhati/Bhata  means `low tide’  in Bengali (`river flows down to the sea’).  These songs are typically sung by the boatmen on the Bengali rivers, the Ganga and the Padma. It is sung when the boat flows down to the sea in Bhati--that is, when the boatmen don’t have to pull the oars,  their time off when they can sing at ease. These songs are sung in  high-pitched voices to convey the feelings of the boatmen to the people on the river banks.  Their songs narrate their feelings of joy and sorrow in their life.  The fishermen go down to the river with their boats, leaving their families.  They stay a long time in their boats on the river, so they’re deeply involved with nature itself.  Under the open blue sky, upon the blue rivers, they spend much time.   Their music and lyrics reflect that.  They feel God Almighty through nature.   You will find an urge for surrender in Bhatiali.

Bhav means `mood’ in Bengali.  Bhaawaiaa expresses moods of sorrow/joy connected with daily human affairs.  The lyrics of both Bhatiali and Bhawaiaa songs tend to be  non-religious and romantic, expressing joy and sorrow. The Bhatiali and Bhawaiaa tunes are almost alike, though in Bhawaiaa the singer doesn’t necessarily use a high-pitched voice.  

SEAS:  While I was playing “Sleep Walk,” I was thinking how I used to practice hour after hour pieces like “Spanish Fandango,” “Maori’s Dance,” and “Mother of Mine.”  I used to sit with my roundhole Hawaiian guitar which my father bought me when I was two years old.  I played Western music when I was a kid, but gradually my mind was really occupied by Indian classical music.  But I love  playing Western music & I also love our music.  I was really happy with what I did with “Sleep Walk.”  This brought back memories.

"Voyage  Espana” is based on the raga Basant Mu Khari, a morning melody mixing elements of the rags  Bhairav  and Bhairavi.  The appraoch and expression, however, are inspired by the European flamenco style.  

  -Debashish Bhattacharya


** From Frequency Glide Productions (email Frequency Glide at

mondayMEDIA Homepage    GemsTone Homepage    Contact Us    About Us    Shipping