Classical blend portrays Dotara in new light
A hidden aspect of the stringed folk instrument Dotara came to the forefront in an absorbing concert in the city last Sunday. I am talking about a performance by Sangeet Ratna Prasenjit Phangcho, a noted folk musician who has successfully experimented with the Dotara by playing classical ragas on the otherwise traditionally folk instrument.
“I have tried my level best to introduce this traditional folk instrument in the form of a classical instrument. It is quite hard to believe that classical music can be played within only four strings. But according to me, if each string is set in a particular note, then I believe that any kind of music can be played on it,” says Phangcho, who is a B-high grade artiste of All India Radio simultaneously as a Dotara player (classical), folk singer in Assamese, Bengali, Dimasa and Karbi language, Bengali Bhatktigeet and Bhajan simultaneously.
Believed to have its origins sometime in the 10th century, the Dotara belongs to the family of long-necked fluted and can be found throughout Central Asia , the middle East and in the northeastern part of China in Xinjiang. Though literally it implies a two-stringed instrument, the number of strings and dimensions differ from region to region. In India, the traditional Dotara generally has four strings that run along the top of the fretless neck towards the bottom. With the body is sourced from a single log of either the Jackfruit, Neem or Segun tree, the other components are also sourced from primitive objects. The strings are generally made of Tat or Muga threads and they are plucked with a striker made of buffalo horn, animal bones or antler horns. The hollow belly is generally covered by goat skin or lizard skin.
Watching the performance was a visual treat in itself as the entourage consisted of the Suramandal, table and other some traditional Karbi percussion instruments like the Chenglangpong, Chengdoldeng and Senglathe. While Nitul Bhagawati and Bonoy Das accompanied Phangcho on the table and Surmandal, the folk instruments were played by Kulen Ingti, Asor Timung, Jagat Rahang, Urit Rahang and Surya Keleng. Though there is very little scope for improvisation of the Raagas on the Dotara, Phangcho managed to blend both in a fluid manner, managing to catch the attention of those present throughout.
Born to a musically inclined Karbi family in Panbari village of Kamrup District, Phangcho has been playing the Dotara since the tender age of nine. His musical acumen spills over to singing and other instruments as well, having joined the Department of Information and Public Relations of the State Government as a violin player in 1972 before he shifted to the All India Radio as a Dotara artiste.
But it was the four-stringed folk instrument that had always captivated Phangcho. “It was my ambition in life to do something different with this folk instrument. I am highly influenced by the melodious and classical music of Sarod and maybe that forms the basis of my trials. I am playing the Dotara for more than five decades now and I am still in the process of experimenting with the same,” says Phangcho, who believes that there can never be an end to the process of learning.
The programme, which was held at the Shipgram auditorium, was jointly sponsored by ICCR and NEZCC and was part of the former’s Horizon series of programmes.