Part of mandolin master Snehasish Mozumder’s mission—and that of artist-based collective Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM)—is to create opportunities for artistic exchanges and cultural communication through engagement with Indian classical music. This engagement has deep roots in jazz and Western popular music, through the work of artists including John and Alice Coltrane, The Beatles and, of course, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Within his own project, Sound of Mandolin, Mozumder interprets his lineage through the lens of cultural curiosity and inclusion, playing Indian classical music and composing “raga-inspired” music. He has released 28 recordings as a leader, constantly seeking new situations for collaboration. Along with other members of BRM’s ensembles, Mozumder has re-envisioned the music of McLaughlin, Mahavishnu and Shakti to reflect his own expression and the movements of the moment in 2019. This McLaughlin-inspired project will play The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday, June 19.
Before the hit, we spoke with Mozumder and BRM artist and band leader/drummer Vin Scialla. Each offered thoughts on finding new paths through the music, the challenges and triumphs of spontaneity and collaboration and the mysterious power of “the drone.”
The Jazz Gallery: Snehasish—You began playing tabla at age 4. What prompted the switch to studying mandolin, which I understand is not considered traditional to Hindustani Indian classical music?
Snehasish Mozumder: [Mandolin] is Italian originally. I am from a musical family; I’m the third generation doing music. My grandfather started a style of teaching the young kids—first, tabla when you’re 4. He used to play violin and mandolin—not like me, but some songs, some initial phrases of ragas. So when I was 4, I asked for the tabla; then when I was 9 or 10, mandolin, for some initial idea of the melodic instruction. Then, when I was 16, I switched over to a traditional Indian classical instrument—I switched over to sitar.
TJG: So you continued studying mandolin while studying sitar?
SM: Exactly, because I loved the tone of the mandolin, and I noticed that what I had heard on other Indian instruments, I played that sound on the mandolin. We had a big family, so many different rooms. In one room, my father Himangshu Mozumder, very famous guitar player, he used to play light classical and modern songs also, and [in another room] my uncle was playing sitar and another uncle was playing sarod—so from that childhood, I tried to adapt that type of North Indian classical style on mandolin. That was the very start of [my artistry]. And then there was a lot of struggle.
TJG: In what ways do you feel that your first instrument being percussive offered you certain advantages as you pursued mastering other instruments?
SM: It’s like playing a new instrument in an authentic society. It’s very hard. At the initial stage, I [encountered] many problems. But, slowly, I have come out from that. My first big achievement was in 1997, my debut album Mandolin Dreams. Then I got a little bit of international notoriety in 2001, when I had my first Europe tour—Europe and Britain, both. My last concert was at London at Bharitiya Vidya Bhavan; it’s a pretty famous hall for Indian classical music. Fortunately, at this concert, Pandit Ravi Shankar ji came to listen to my music, and he liked it. Then, in 2002, he invited me to Royal Albert Hall as a soloist at the [George Harrison Memorial Concert] “Concert for George.” And now I’m getting recognition from all over the world, and in India, but I’m really grateful to American audiences because they’re always liking a new style, especially mandolin. While I am playing Indian classical style on mandolin, all the mandolin players are sitting in the front row – that’s really, very inspiring.