12 Breakthrough Austin Bands at SXSW Music

Indrajit Banerjee

Local sitar maestro looks inward

Photo by John Anderson

12 Breakthrough Austin Bands at SXSW Music

SXSW 2017: An international gathering of nerds waits impatiently for Austin synth wizards Survive, cresting on the popularity of Netflix hit Stranger Things. Taming their restless anticipation are a buzzing drone, thrumming tabla, undulating tonalities, and the mesmerizing improvisations of local sitar maestro Indrajit Banerjee. Such is the power of raga, the dominant form of Indian classical music, which dispels the outside world by drawing all into a deeper understanding.

"This music that we do, it's more of an inward nature," explains the Kolkata-born bandleader. "It's really hard to explain, because it's a different tradition and concept. When things are simple, like when I play only three notes, intellectually nothing much is going on. But there could be much going on.

"How we connect with and how much we bring out of those notes, how much feeling I put to it, is unique. It's like 12-bar blues. You play music with a few notes, but you capture that soul."

Trained since childhood, Banerjee, 52, undertakes frequent classical concert tours.

"I wanted to come here because it's a great city where you meet all kinds of musicians from all around the world," he says about moving to Austin 10 years ago. "In my city, you don't have people visiting and playing that often."

Such is the power of raga, the dominant form of Indian classical music, which dispels the outside world by drawing all into a deeper understanding.

The exposure changed the context in which his music can fit. Besides collaborating with homegrown world beat fusioneers Atash, which also showcases at SXSW this year, and Pakistani-American guitarist Fareed Haque, Banerjee has albums in the works with Dave Matthews' saxophonist Jeff Coffin, flutist Sarah Jane Hargis, and Sitarji, a collaboration with Austin conceptualist Laura Scarborough.

"I never played any experimental fusion when I was in India, but when I came here, I blend in with this culture and then I have one foot on this side, one foot on that side," he says. "I didn't stop or get scared that I shouldn't do something new."

Banerjee smiles.

"I try to be traditional and I try to learn from both the worlds now. How you feel about the raga music I try to convey to you is simple but profound."

Indrajit Banerjee

SXSW showcase: Tue. 13, Russian House, 12mid

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Playback: Does Size Matter at SXSW?
Playback: Does Size Matter at SXSW?
A smaller SXSW Music week still satisfies

Kevin Curtin, March 23, 2018

SXSW Music Review: Keith Urban
Live Shot: Keith Urban
Country superstar’s “Wasted Time”

Doug Freeman, March 17, 2018

More by Michael Toland
Texas Platters
The Young Mothers
Morose (Record Review)

Sept. 7, 2018

Texas Platters
Raquel Bell
Swandala (Record Review)

Aug. 24, 2018


SXSW Music 2018, Indrajit Banerjee, raga, Sitarji

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle