A polymath composer, producer and bandleader Soumik Datta will be co-headlining with Sam Lee on Sunday 24 July. We caught up with ‘one of the biggest new music talents in Britain’ as described by Vogue to get a glimpse into the multifaceted musical mind of Soumik Datta.
Hi Soumik! Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be bringing to your set for Woolwich Words & Sounds?
I play a 19-stringed, custom-built, Indian instrument called the sarod. And though my training has been in raga music, improvisation and polyrhythms, my music now sits between Indian-inspired melodies, programmed beats, Qawwali, Bengali folk and spoken word. Often, I’ll play with a tabla (Indian hand drum) player but our band sound is also supported by looped electronics. Think dreamy atmospheres, trance-like grooves and vibrant, improvised string and rhythm duets.
How does it feel to be back performing live after having to stop for 2020 and most of 2021?
Over the pandemic years, I was commissioned by British Museum, British Council and Southbank Centre to respond to climate change, migrant mental health and the refugee crisis and create digital projects like ‘Silent Spaces’, ‘Songs of the Earth’ and ‘Hope Notes’ (you can check them out on my YouTube channel). Of course, it’s not the same as playing live! Returning to the stage feels amazing — to be surrounded by real human beings, feeling the energy in the room, anticipating the crowd and surfing on the collective love for music that brings us all together. Magic!
You’re co-headlining with Sam Lee – How do you think your music will contrast to his?
Sam Lee represents a unique breed of artist. Whether it’s his wider work with Nest Folk and Music Declares or whether you’re listening to him live, he brings an authenticity to his performance that is raw and powerful. Although our musical styles are vastly different, I suppose we are both hunters of lost songs. Sam is a seeker of traditional British Folk Music while my journey has led me to remote towns and villages across India where I’ve had the privilege of learning and cataloguing marginalised South Asian folk songs that carry the history and culture of my people. I’ll be presenting some of those rare pieces at the show.
Are there any pieces you’re particularly excited to play live?
This is the first of many shows this year. And I’ve been working on new material blending Indian folk styles like Qawwali and Baul with samples and floating sonic textures. I’m excited to see how people react to this new sound world when we play them on Sunday 24 July!
Can you shed some light on who’s going to be in your band for the show?
I’ll be playing with two collaborators. The first is Aref Durvesh, a phenomenal tabla and dholak player who has played with Nitin Sawhney, Sting, Jeff Beck — the list goes on! I find Aref’s style deeply musical and interactive as he brings a unique perspective on rhythm that is at once rooted in South Asia as well as other styles he has learnt through his years of collaborative music making — Reggae, Pop, RnB and Bossa Nova. His tabla sings!
My second collaborator is Ableton Live, powered through my MacBook. It will interact with us and support the sounds Aref and I play with augmented sampling and in-the-moment synthesis.
Are there are any other artists on the festival’s line-up that you’d be interested in seeing?
The festival line up is so exciting! There’s almost something for everything. I’m especially looking forward to the Sophia Thakur + Theresa Lola + MOAK show!
Thanks for joining us Soumik!