Music for Music: Ranjana Ghatak: Stunning Debut
Ranjana Ghatak: Stunning Debut
By Dan Ursini ©2020
Ranjana Ghatak’s bold debut album, The Butterfly Effect, opens with considerable drama and surprise. This gifted vocalist trained in the tradition of the Classical Music of India, and that is reflected in every note she sings.
“Kali” begins with a series of long, delicately nuanced phrases sung with intense concentration. Behind Ghatak’s vocal is the slow build of a spacious sonic environment with isolated ambient vibrations, and spare hard-edged guitar and bass riffs. About halfway through this seven-minute composition, the sound becomes throbbing and dense, highlighted by killer riffs by British guitarist Jack Ross. Yet everything plays off the phrasing and style and energy of Ghatak. The song takes off and soars.
There is considerably spiritual gravity to the music on this album. Ghatak explains, “Spirituality is at the core of Indian classical music, so learning the concepts of connecting to something bigger than the human experience was introduced to me quite early on. The album has songs written by mystics such as Mirabai and Kabir and prayers to Kali and to the Sun. The journey goes from an experience of destruction through to the creation of a new life. I think these experiences are so very human yet have a thread of spirituality that weaves through it and in turn have informed how I think about life and sound.”
Heightening the impact of this intriguing music are the fresh jazz/metal/pop arrangements created jointly by Ghatak, guitarist Ross, and bassist/producer Liran Donin. The music grooves hard on most of the songs, especially the title track, “The Butterfly Effect.” In fact, the rhythmic interplay shared by the voice, bass, guitar, and electronic processing is relentless and highly inventive.
But there is a spiritual element infused with it all. While listening to it, I found myself paying the kind of attention normally arrived at in a deep meditative state. I was extremely surprised. Never before in my life had a piece of music prompted such a transition.
The second half of the album is quieter but no less intense. “Kabir” is a buoyant song with a soaring vocal and a mellow vibe entirely appropriate to a song about the poet Kabir, whose mystical writing reached across the deep divisions of faith and culture during his time.
The enchanting “Yaman Tarana” has an unaccompanied vocal. Ghatak explains, “A tarana is a rhythmical song—the version on the album is stripped down with just voice. I wanted to display the beauty of the composition and the play on notes. They are super fun and challenging to sing!”
Only one of the songs, “Hidden Tombs,” has lyrics in English. The rest of it is in Hindi, Sanskrit, and Bengali. So for listeners like myself, the sheer musicality of Ghatak’s voice carries the album. Throughout, she is fully engaged with the music even as she maintains a relaxed presence in her delivery. Her voice is warm, nimble and calm. There is abundant strength in the way she meets the challenges of these songs. A good example is found on the just-released music video, “Mirabai’s Krishna,” which has a soaring, graceful middle section:
Ghatak grew up in a musical family and, as a teenager, was deeply affected by the vocalist Padmabhushan Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. Later she travelled from London, her hometown, to study with him at his school in India. Asked how the training enhanced her singing, she replies, “I would say I was and am still the most impacted by his tone. He has such a sweet and honeyed voice that has a healing quality to it. His delivery is an incredible mix of grace, devotion, and power. The Ragas and different vocal forms that he sings carry the wisdom and beauty of so many generations whilst feeling totally relevant and poignant in the present day.”
The Butterfly Effect delivers on a combination of levels I have rarely experienced before. As inventive and riveting as the music is, what best sets it apart is the direction of Ghatak’s commitments as an artist: “I always tend to veer towards the union of spirituality and music, in some ways not seeing them as separate.” This is a stunning album.
If you are curious about the music of Ajoy Chakrabarty, try this YouTube link!
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org