Evocative Music from a Unique Instrument on Debashish Bhattacharya’s ‘The Sound of the Soul’

Bhattacharya plays his self-designed chaturangui with equal parts passion and precision on this tribute to his mentor, Ali Akbar Khan
Debashish Bhattacharya playing slide style on his self-designed Chaturangui
Cover artwork for the album 'The Sound of the Soul' by Debashish Bhattacharya

Debashish Bhattacharya
The Sound of the Soul 
(Abstract Logix)

At just two years old, Debashish Bhattacharya attended his first concert—by sarod master Ali Akbar Khan—and started down a path of imagining Indian classical music played on Western instruments. Years later, he and Khan had what Bhattacharya described as a decade-long “guru and disciple relationship” in which Bhattacharya would stay with Khan for a month and study with the master. Of course there’s a world of difference between a sarod and a six-string, but Bhattacharya still absorbed Kahn’s teachings and he remains devoted to Khan’s memory, recording The Sound of the Soul as a tribute to his mentor’s centenary. 

Like Khan, who violinist Yehudi Menuhin called “the greatest musician in the world,” Bhattacharya plays with equal parts passion and precision, deeply rooted in Hindustani improvisation and tradition. But unlike his teacher, Bhattacharya has spent a lifetime translating that mix onto an instrument of his own making, the chaturangui, a hollow-necked six string that has two drone strings on the bass side, two rhythm strings on the treble side, and 14 sympathetic strings alongside the neck. Played with a metal bar, the chaturangui encompasses a wide range of tones, lighter than a sarod, darker than a Weissenborn, and perfect for the dynamism of these four tracks. 


The album’s centerpiece, “To His Lotus Feet,” is stunningly beautiful, a 39-minute meditation on the lessons between master and disciple. It starts slowly enough, with Bhattacharya playing a low, liquid flow of notes that build gradually from one phrase to the next, one ornament after another, in a conversation that keeps growing deeper, more resonant, more powerful. Then, at the 15:00 mark, he’s joined by Swapan Chaudhuri (tabla) and the drama really begins, its improvisations turning more adventurous, more far-ranging, reaching a crescendo at the 38:00 mark before quietly dying back to the last echoes of memory, gratitude, and devotion. Astonishing! 

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Kenny Berkowitz
Kenny Berkowitz