Debashish Bhattacharya

Kolkata, India

Tormented Souls At Sea


Behind the Music

I initially was pulled into this project by the innovative nature of it — by the notion of translating hard-hitting and detailed reporting into the feelings, moods and colors of music. But one of the things that made the project really special for me was having my son be part of the creative process. There were many nights spent listening to my son read the stories held within the pages of The Outlaw Ocean, and finding lines together that I’d then create music around. He also came up with many of the song titles. 

As I composed these songs, I tried to envision the sea as a storyteller and, if it could make music, how it would sound. The Outlaw Ocean Project really enables listeners and readers alike to see two different interpretations of the sea — one gives a broad image that highlights its beauty, while the other brings you down to the microscopic reality you might not see, no matter how painful it might be.

Debashish Bhattacharya
About Debashish Bhattacharya

Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya was a prodigy of Indian music, taking up the guitar in its newest incarnations as an Indian classical instrument. Playing for All India Radio by age four, Bhattacharya developed his personal style over the next 20 years. He was given the President of India award in 1984 at the age of 21. From there, he went on to work developing the Hawaiian slide guitar into a more Indian instrument, adding chikaris and sympathetic strings, and eventually coming out with a 24-string instrument based on the old Hawaiian six-string. This is universally regarded as the highest form of the slide guitar's development anywhere, making Bhattacharya one of the masters of the instrument. 

In 2003 Bhattacharya released “Mahima” with Brozman, which raised his global profile exponentially. Between 2004 and 2009 he released no less than ten albums, including the widely celebrated “Love's Dawn,” “Til Death Do Us Part,” “Calcutta Slide Guitar: Vol. 3,” “Raga Pahadi Jhinjhoti” with Swapan Chaudhuri, and “Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide-Guitar Odyssey,” which earned him both a Grammy nomination and a BBC Award. Bhattacharya resumed recording in 2013 with the solo “Madeira: If Music Could Intoxicate,” and “Beyond the Ragasphere.” The latter was recorded with friends including drummer Jeff Sipe, guitarists Jerry Douglas and John McLaughlin and keyboardist Raja Narayan Dev. Two years later, Riverboat issued his “Slide Guitar Ragas from Dusk till Dawn,” followed in 2017 by the ensemble recording “Hawaii to Calcutta: A Tribute to Tau Moe.” 

The Journalism behind the Music

All music in this project is based on The Outlaw Ocean, a New York Times Best-Selling book by Ian Urbina that chronicles lawlessness at sea around the world. This reporting touches on a diversity of abuses ranging from illegal and overfishing, arms trafficking at sea, human slavery, gun running, intentional dumping, murder of stowaways, thievery of ships and other topics.

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