Through over forty-five years of study and performance, Debashish Bhattacharya has pioneered a style of Hindustani slide guitar that is remarkable and unique. Through exhaustive research and experience, he has designed and patented three guitars for raga music, which he has named Chaturangui, Gandhravi, and Anandi. These guitars are played lap style, with a small steel bar and finger picks.
Bhattacharya has played these guitars live and on record with Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Jerry Douglas, Derek Trucks, and many other world-renowned musicians. In India, he has performed for Pandit Ravi Shankar and has also appeared in many Indian music festivals.
Bhattacharya’s approach to raga music and his philosophy of teaching have changed the lives of many. Having played more than three thousand concerts all around the world and trained over one thousand students, Bhattacharya has redefined Indian classical music on the slide guitar. Through his incredible talent and discipline, he has elevated the Hindustani slide guitar to be the highest evolution of slide guitar on a global level.
Derek Gripper began his formal musical training on the violin at the age of six. After studying classical music for the next thirteen years, he began to look further afield for musical inspiration. This search took him to India where he studied South Indian Carnatic music. On his return home, he began to focus on the guitar, trying to find a new direction for the instrument. He was attracted to the use of multiple layers in the music of Oliver Messiaen, the African-influenced structures of Steve Reich, and the guitar arrangements of the music of J. S. Bach, but it was when he met Cape Town’s jazz trumpeter Alex van Heerden that he realized how his previous studies could be used to find new directions for the music of South Africa.
After a host of groundbreaking albums that redefined the landscape of South African music, most notable being the visionary Sagtevlei with Alex van Heerden, Gripper began to incorporate the music of other composers in his performances. His longtime fascination with the music of Brazilian Egberto Gismonti led to a project to transcribe this musician’s guitar music, a composer who Gripper describes as “the Heitor Villa-Lobos of our time.” The result is a constantly growing collection of Gismonti’s scores and recordings, many of which have only been recorded by Gismonti himself. The Sound of Water, Gripper’s recording of the music of Gismonti, was nominated for a South African Music Award (SAMA) as the Best Classical and Instrumental Album of 2012.
In 2009, Gripper began studying the playing techniques of the kora by learning traditional Malian compositions. Two years later, he had a breakthrough: by using the simple textural language of the Spanish renaissance lute (called vihuela), it was possible to play the highly complex kora compositions of the great Malian virtuoso Toumani Diabaté on the six-string guitar, without omitting a note of the original performances. Gripper’s project to create an African repertoire for the classical guitar, based on transcriptions of works by some of Africa’s greatest musicians, resulted in a growing collection of outstanding African guitar arrangements, with works by Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, Ali Farka Touré, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, South African bow player Madosini, and others, bringing the guitar and the music of Africa to life in new and exciting ways.
Debashish Bhattacharya is the epitome of slide guitar playing—a genre he has helped popularize to express the subtleties of Indian classical music.