Well known Indian sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee hopped across the Tasman amidst his three-city tour of Australia for a couple of performances in Auckland this week.

Auckland-based Naad Charitable Trust hosted Purbayanji as part of its Baithak series – informal, often impromptu, concerts in an intimate setting in South Auckland’s Papatoetoe.

The concert was set in an interesting format with Purbayanji playing a Hindustani classical raag followed by an interview-demonstration session “the artiste behind the music” and concluding with a couple of fusion pieces with Auckland’s ace pianist Ben Fernandez.

Purbayanji started off with raag Bhimpalasi, a raag associated with late afternoon and early evening, rendering it masterfully in slow, medium and fast tempos (alap, jor, gat and drut) all in teen taal (16-beat cycles).

The rendition was in the pure Hindustani classical format, delighting the small but knowledgeable and appreciative audience. Auckland’s own leading tabla exponent and teacher Manjit Singh accompanied Purbayanji for Bhimpalasi as also the other pieces he played. 

The Indian Weekender’s Editor-at-large Dev Nadkarni interviewed Purbayanji in a session lasting about 45 minutes in which the maestro amply demonstrated his attributes as a thinker and an astute communicator.

He was asked about his early tutelage, his journey as a performer and also asked to demonstrate playing styles of different gharanas of sitar playing, which he did with aplomb. His replies were peppered with humour. The audience participated enthusiastically, asking their own excellent questions.

The concluding pieces were in the Indo-Jazz fusion style played with Ben Fernandez on keyboards and Manjit Singh on tabla. The numbers were versions of tracks the trio had played before during Purbayanji’s previous visit. 

This was Purbayanji’s third visit to Aotearoa. His second was in 2016 when he played at the memorable Mumbai Unplugged concert with world famous Djembe percussionist, Taufiq Qureshi, at the Dorothy Winstone Auditorium under the aegis of the Mohan Nadkarni Foundation.

Purbayanji learned sitar from his father Parthapratim Chatterjee and has been inspired by the late Nikhil Banerjee, one of the greatest sitarists of the twentieth century, who unfortunately passed away prematurely.

In recent years, he has played in venues across all continents and has teamed up with musicians of different genres. He has worked the ground breaking project Shastriya Syndicate – the first Indian classical band – a band with a contemporary touch, which has performed the world over like Roskilde Festival, Denmark, OzAsia Festival, Australia, Traumzeit Festival and Germany among other countries.

On Wednesday, Purbayanji and Manjit Singh’s Indo-Jazz fusion group Takadimi jammed with Jazz musicians at Backbeat on Karangahape Road with Allan Brown on keys, Cameron Arthur on bass and Daniel Waterson on drums.