Until the ascendancy of the phenomenal Brij Bhushan Kabra in the late 50s, the guitar was simply not a part of Indian classical music. Even today it remains uncommon, but in Vishwa Mohan Bhatt India seems to have a worthy successor to Kabra’s pioneering slide-guitar virtuosity. Actually Bhatt plays a self-designed variant of the guitar, an instrument he calls the Mohan Veena; he’s added chikari (drone strings tuned to the tonic), as well as eight more strings that run vertically along the fretboard and react to the horizontal strings being struck. The instrument is played flat with a slide. Bhatt recently won a Grammy for the gorgeous album he made last year with bottleneck guitarist Ry Cooder, A Meeting by the River (Water Lily Acoustics), a striking fusion of light Indian classical and American blues (one piece is titled “Ganges Delta Blues”)–the two don’t just reach out, they find a hypnotic common ground. For this concert, however, Bhatt will stick to Indian classical music with the tabla accompaniment of longtime cohort Sukhvinder Singh Namadhari. I’m no expert on this music, but I know what I like, and the devastating beauty of Bhatt’s playing–I’m talking about his classical recordings as well–easily transcends any cultural boundaries. The fact that he plays guitar, the bedrock of contemporary Western music, makes his music more inviting to unfamiliar ears, but the waves of spiritualism and sensualism that drench his music attest to its basic universality. Saturday, 6:30 PM, Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 708-510-9136, 708-839-2199, 708-798-2025, 708-323-0145, or 708-361-1760.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Sexton.