Isheeta Chakrvarty

Meet genre bending contemporary vocal powerhouse Isheeta Chakrvarty who is a global concert artist performing for World Music festivals across the world, she also played for the International Jazz Day and opened for the amazing Ustad Zakir Hussain. Her influences ranges from traditional Hindustani music of thumris and qawwalis to modern Jazz, Pop and their genre derivatives.  It was a pleasure to interview Isheeta and we hope you enjoy it as well.

Musicmandir - Hey Isheeta, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born, first interactions with music, formal training background etc?

Isheeta - I was born in this place called Bokaro, then Bihar, currently Jharkhand. I have been singing ever since I was a baby. Music was always in the family and we were always singing especially at family gatherings. Even though I had some preliminary training as a baby, my  real formal training began when we moved to Kolkata and I began to train under Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty and subsequently Kaushiki Chakrabarty when I was around 10 years old.  

Interesting anecdote though. I was 8 years old when I actually fell in love with Hindustani classical music. A family friend had bought me this cassette of semi- classical songs from the Shyam Benegal film, ‘Sardari Begum’ with music composed by the legendary Vanraj Bhatia. I fell in love with the voice who sang most of the songs and at that age I remember, literally devouring those songs and I would play them non-stop. That voice was of Arati Ankalikar Tikekar and by an absolute stroke of good fortune, many years later she became my Teacher and continues to be so.

Musicmandir - We heard you also teach music, can you tell us a little about that? 

Isheeta - Yes I teach Indian music. I mostly work on vocal techniques and understanding of ‘raag’ music. I am very passionate about teaching Indian music to youngsters because I feel like there is a need to understand and appreciate the music of the culture they are in while they explore music from other cultures and spaces. Having an understanding of your roots enriches the journey not to mention that it plays a big role in understanding identities as well.

 My endeavor as an Indian music educator has always been to simplify rather than overwhelm because that is something a lot of students of Indian classical music have gone through, including myself. This ‘overwhelm’ is also why many have stopped pursuing Hindustani music half way.

As I teach, I learn a lot more. Since I teach on a one on one basis, every student is different, every voice is different, every mind and sense of musicality is different. So it is rather challenging and exciting and rewarding as well to explore those different facets and find a way to help them hone their skills and develop their musical minds and subsequently develop mine as well. I teach to learn.

Musicmandir - You speak about genre expansion in terms of jazz and Hindustani. Do you think both styles have a lot of similarities, or do you actually try to mix and compose tracks having the mentioned influences?

Isheeta - As far as similarities are concerned, both Jazz and Hindustani Music are improvisational. Other than that, both have their distinct styles and disciplines and both require a certain tutelage or ‘taalim’ as we Indian musicians call it.  

Because of my love for both these forms, my endeavor to find a bridge between these was a very organic calling. So even when I write, influences of one or the other seeps in automatically. I hear a sound in my head that I try to recreate either on my own or with the help of collaborations which in itself opens up a huge musical space allowing for deeper exploration and lot of learning for me. 

I compose melodies and just allow for it grow musically in the direction it deems fit. My primary focus is in bridging the two forms but that connection has to happen organically and not in a forced effected manner.

Musicmandir - You seem to be pretty active in the live gig circuit in Mumbai and have an interesting mix of proper jazz gigs vs classical Hindustani gigs and also some interesting fusion gigs with electronic influences. How does that work and do you believe in pushing the existing boundaries of these genres?

Isheeta - I am just really fortunate to have been influenced by so many different kinds of music and musicians, artists that I collaborate with and learn from. I try not to box myself and use labels. I enjoy doing it all, doing pure jazz sets with traditional standards and modern compositions to singing Hindustani classical and folk music in a more fusion space to even doing commercial pop sessions. I feel blessed to be able to juggle all this.

Yes I am all for pushing existing boundaries and exploring new sounds to create something different. There is no end to how deep one can really go. Exploring and discovering different sounds and sonic characters is like exploring and discovering one’s own self. As long as the music itself takes center stage and not the ego, one will automatically be guided in a direction that will make sense to the maker(s). It may not be conventionally and necessarily “right” but that’s okay. As long it sounds good and feels good, and has a certain quality it’s ‘right’.

Musicmandir - Lets talk about your latest release called 'MUSTT MUSTT' which is an Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Tribute. Can you tell us about how that came about and all the wonderful artists who are part of it?

Isheeta - So Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his music has been a huge influence on me. Dam Mast Kalandar is a qawwali I’ve always enjoyed singing. Last year I was invited to the Star of Asia Festival (2018), Almaty in Kazakhstan and along with Anurag Naidu (keys), Dhir Mody (drums) and Nathan Thomas (bass) performed a contemporary take of this qawwali with Jazz, RnB and neo soul influences. It turned out really well and we decided to record it. It was Anurag’s idea to write for strings and we went ahead with that. Shirish  Malhotra came on board as co-writer for strings along with Anurag. He played the viola on this and brought his string quartet the Seven Island String Quartet on board with Mika Nishimura and Kushmita Biswakarma on violins and Vian Perreira on cello. Anupam Roy mixed the track. Ritwik Ghosh and Sakyadeb Choudhury shot the video at the Island City studios in Khar, Mumbai.

There was a lot of back and forth sonically so it took almost a year to release. I finally released it on the 13th of October this year which was Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s 71st Birth Anniversary and I am glad to have been able to release on that particular day.

Musicmandir - 3 current Indian artists you are enjoying listening to?

Isheeta - There are so many incredible artists but at this point these are my top three artists.  
  • Viveick Rajagopalan and his Ta Dhom Project. This is an album everyone should listen to. Using Konnakol (Carnatic percussion vocal scat) and merging it with grooves and rhythm along with modern rap is what makes Hip Hop from India unique and so distinctive. Viveick is an artist I really admire and respect and more and more people need to hear what traditional sounds from our own country in a modern context is like.
  •  Parvaaz. Their new album Kun is on loop at the moment.
We reviewed Parvaaz when they performed in Mumbai, check it out here!
  • Sandunes  - I heard her new  EP 11:11 and also saw her  Hand of Thought concert and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am really excited to hear all the new stuff that she is cooking.
Below is Isheeta joined by Sambit Chatterjee on drums, Niranjan Joshi on keys and Raghuraman Ramasubramanian on bass performing at the Nrityangam in Bangalore celebrating Odissi maestro Surupa Sen on her being awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy Award. Nrityagram is an internationally acclaimed Dance Village set up by Protima Gauri for the pursuit of classical dance especially Odissi.

Musicmandir - What advice would you give someone starting out in music as a singer.

Isheeta - One thing that I would always stress on for any musician, singer or otherwise, is to get some form of musical training. For singers, it’s very important to learn right vocal technique. Wrong technique especially for singers can do long term damage so one must be mindful of that. The other would be to understand their strength in terms of what they are good at singing and work with that and hone those skills. Also, one has to be as real and honest with oneself as possible. It’s competitive out there for sure but as long as they keep working on themselves and develop their abilities and skills, it ll hold them in good stead no matter where they are. Lastly, be open to ideas, collaborate with other singers, appreciate one another, learn from fellow musicians and be professional.


Please follow Isheeta Chakrvarty on the below social channels!

If you wish to listen to and discover more independent artists such as Isheeta head over to our Jukebox and follow our playlists!