Hindustani Slide Guitar


In India utilizing slides were not uncommon even in ancient instruments like Vichitra Veena and Gottu Vadyam. However, the present version of Slide Guitar was first introduced in India by Mr. Tau Moe in the late 1920s. Tau Moe and his wife Rose Moe, a well known singer with their Hawaiian Band EMMI lived in Kolkata (Calcutta) from 1941-47, during which period they made many records with HMV, EMI and toured extensively around Asia. Tau Moe's star student in India was Mr. Garney Nyss who became India's leading Slide Guitar artist.

Early sixties saw the Golden period of lap steel Hawaiian guitar in Calcutta, the cultural capital of India. Though the lap steel was used in the popular version of Western music more than in any other form of music, an experiment to relate the instrument to the main stream music of India introduced the use of slide guitar in background music of many Bollywood films as well as Bengali movies of Calcutta. Late Sangeet Acharya Jnan Prakash Ghosh often used the steel guitar for the background score of his film- music.

Initially popular songs found a new expression in slide guitar. The sweet tone and gliding ability of the instrument attracted players to reproduce popular songs and earn fame. The unforgettable tunes on electric guitar by the artists like Sujit Nath, Abhijit Nath, Kaji Aniruddha, the great Sunil Ganguly, Rajat Nandi still haunt our memory. This, however, neither enabled the slide guitar to come up as an independent music maker nor win acceptance as an instrument suitable for traditional Raga music. For a long time this trend did not help the composers to establish their identity as the soloists - an important aspect of Raga music. The idea of adapting and modifying guitar according to the style and technique of Indian Raga also did not occur to anyone either. It was played only with the pointer and middle finger on the first couple of strings and a melody in slow tempo was enough to express their musicality. The vast arena of classical repertoire in totality was unimaginable within the limited capacity of the guitar in India.

Evolution of Hindustani Slide Guitar:

Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra, a disciple of Sarode Maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, in his early 20s, introduced Guitar as an Indian Classical instrument and raised it to the concert level and recording purposes. Thus he became the Pioneer of Indian Classical Guitar. He changed the string arrangement from 6 strings to 3 or 4 strings as main and omitted the 5th and 6th regular strings, and in 1959 added 2 chikari strings. He initiated tuning the first string D, second string A, third string D, fourth string A and the method of playing the chikari with the thumb and the main strings with the index and middle fingers. No other Indian Classical Guitarist was known to have done that at that time.

Ground Work:

Being a worthy disciple of an innovative guru, the research oriented mind of Debashish kept on searching till he achieved the desired results. Unlike his peers, Debashish strongly believed in having six strings in his guitar, not three or four. By doing so he was able to include the bass strings and get the complete range of the instrument. He found plenty of scope to allow his musical imagination go wild and explore the possibilities. Armed with his wide variety of music education he evolved a Trantrakari Baaj, similar to the one that reverberated during the late sixties. To achieve this he added many features in the main body of the lap steel guitar and introduced Tarab strings (resonating strings) and the front chikari strings along with the technique of playing on it with the pointer.

Prior to this Debashish's guru Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra had introduced the chikari strings in the rear and adapted the technique of playing with the thumb. All the guitarists of the next generation followed him and his style except Debashish. During the last thirty years there has been many experiments of adding and editing the main strings. Finally in the year 1980 he emerged with a concrete concept of the instrument and its technique. Complete with the innovative additions of side Tarab (resonating string), front Chikari with six main strings and three supporting strings, his instrument was ready to accept the challenges thrown by Raga music. He evolved and pioneered the finger style and technique to suit this to enable the guitar players to explore the heights of articulation at per the standards of Indian classical Instrumental recital.