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Please tell us about yourself
She felt drawn to music as a kid, and at the age of 21, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya is already a popular name in the music circuit. From Jazz to RnB, the Delhi-based musician has performed at several gigs in the city, juggling genres.
“I was a Kathak dancer in my school. Later, I went towards the other side of music, and [joined a] music school in America,” says Sanjeeta, who prefers not planning her life, as she believes that planning leads to disappointments.
“I never planned on becoming a musician. It just happened. Going to Berkley (School of music) also wasn’t planned. Similarly, coming back from there wasn’t planned, and the same goes for these gigs,” she says.
One of biggest passions in life is to travel as it simultaneously fuels my other passions of photography and writing. There are few things better than listening to music while driving down a road overlooking snow-capped hills or vast desert plains. All this coincides beautifully. As Yip Harburg said, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.”
Growing up in a family of painters and musicians, I have always been passionate about dance, poetry, photography and traveling. However, I believe that without music, these passions would cease to exist.
One thing that all families from Bengal do is send their children to take music, dance or art lessons at a very young age…my family is no different. I began taking music lessons in the Indian Classical Hindustani repertoire ever since I was three years of age. Simultaneously, I also took Kathak dance lessons. As I grew up, I was exposed to a plethora of different genres of music and owing to my Christian school choir, I became particularly attached to Gospel and Church music.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
My brother was the first one to introduce me to music from outside this world that had been created for me. From classic rock bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple to metal bands like Tool, Meshuggah, Slayer and Iron Maiden. My interests are therefore widely varied and I have never tried to attach myself to a certain genre. What appeals to my ears is what I love to sing. It took me a a while to develop my own style and it began when I joined my school band, Irus in 2007. We covered various artists at National and state level competitions from Jackson 5 and Manhattan Transfer to Alicia Keys and Joni Mitchell.
At home I trained classically and at shows and competitions, I sang jazz, pop, gospel, rock and musical theater pieces. I attended 5-week summer programs here at Berklee in 2010 and 2011 and the full tuition scholarships in both years boosted my eagerness to continue pursuing music. The obvious option for me after finishing high school was to join Berklee and it was the one and only college I applied for.
Over the years, I developed two distinct ways of singing Indian classical and western music which was very hard initially. Since I joined Berklee in in Fall 2013, I have worked with my teachers to help distinguish these two styles. During my Indian classical training, I never had to read or write music because it was all learnt by ear. Therefore starting from “how to make a treble and bass clef” to reading western solfege in Ear Training 1, I feel like I have truly learnt so much from my experience here at the college.
A lot of my music and writing is inspired through my travels. Exposing myself to different cultures has helped me understand the various nuances, articulations and phrasings that make their sounds distinct and has thus given me a better understanding of music altogether. I do not like to restrict myself to a specific genre as I feel that it takes away the freedom to experiment and Berklee and provided me the best platform to do so. From American jazz standards and Latin music to Balkan and Persian music, I am discovering new music everyday here. Its what makes living half-way across the world worthwhile. Music to me is about experimentation with sounds, listening for inspiration and expressing myself in ways that words cannot. Through my music, I hope to communicate, connect and love.
Can you talk about your career path?
My first tryst with Berklee was in summer 2010 when I attended the 5-Week Summer Performance Program. I had such a wonderful time being exposed to people and music from around the world. There was SO much more to listen to and learn! I came back again the next year and decided to do my undergrad at Berklee.
I met Annette in my first semester, she happened to be my assigned private instructor. I was so happy to meet someone from my own city with a similar background and a world of knowledge. Her passion for music, good vibes and my own curiosity about meeting Indians and playing familiar music in a completely new environment made me join the ensemble.
In this ensemble I learnt how to put music first and keep egos aside. Constructive criticism, respect for each other, LOVE and laughter helped us grow together. I learnt that practice makes perfect and letting go of inhibitions makes you more receptive to the music around you. It’s been a beautiful journey, being in the Indian ensemble.
*Takes a bite of my muffin while I glare at her*
Hearing Mr. A.R. Rahman play the Bombay Theme on the continuum for the first time at rehearsal has got to be one of the most memorable moments. Everyone had tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces. I will never forget that show at the BSO. I’ve never had that much fun on stage! Rehearsals for that show really bonded us all as a family.
Of late, the Sanjeeta has ventured into Balkan music, and has formed a choral ensemble — Voicestra — along with other musicians Vikramaditya Negi, Aditi Malhotra and Kaushik Manikandan. The four-member group might just be one-month-old, but they’ve been garnering rave reviews.
“Our first gig was at a pub. You’d expect people to eat, drink and just go about their business, as a band keeps playing in the background. But when we started performing, all the eyes were on us. I don’t want to sound arrogant, and I am not lying, [other than us] there was pin-drop silence. It was just awesome,” beams Sanjeeta.
Proud of slowly growing as an artist, she is now gearing up for yet another group gig in the city on April 20 at The Piano Man Jazz Club. Ask her why she opted for forming a group, instead of trying to make it big individually, and the musician says: “Unless you don’t try something different, you don’t grow as an artist. And that’s important to me. I mean, if you want money then there is Bollywood and [there are] other avenues, and one can totally do that. I won’t say I am a saint and that I don’t want to earn money. I do want to, since I’ve taken up music professionally now. But for me, that’s not the only thing.”