Sanjay Mishra Article
From Kolkata Newsline:
He was expected to play the sitar when he wanted to play the guitar. But a collaboration with counter culture’s poster boy, Jerry Garcia, changed everything for Kolkata-born Sanjay Mishra.
He was swinging the axe in an era when Park Street itself was swinging in its original form. In the ’70s, to get on stage at Trincas, a band had to first say hello to the “Anglo-Indian mafia controlling the place, and the only people who could play were those known to a certain Mr Joshua.” Yet, the couple of times the band Mahamaya, with Sanjay Mishra on guitar, performed at Trincas, they didn’t forget to cover tracks of the Jerry Garcia led cult American band, Grateful Dead.
Almost two decades later, around 1995, Mishra, then a grappling guitar player in the US with a single album against his name, received a call. “It was from Jerry Garcia,” remembers Mishra. That call led to a musical collaboration and Mishra’s next album, Blue Incantation, where the iconoclastic frontman of the Grateful Dead came in on three tracks. Garcia’s death soon after in 1995, turned Blue Incantation, reportedly his last recording, into a “famous collaboration”.
Even if Kolkata-born Mishra informs he has always brushed aside suggestions of him having exploited Garcia’s death to further his career, he owns up to there being a notable shift in the way he began to be perceived as a Indian musician in America. “For ten years after I landed in the US, whenever I took out my guitar people used to ask me ‘Don’t you play the sitar?’ I was thoroughly fed up, but after recording with Jerry Garcia, things changed and nobody ever asked me that question. Also the American media stopped misspelling my name,” he says employing a celebratory tone.
In a country where “kids can’t even indicate Europe on the map, forget India”, Blue Incantation appeared at a time when the US was hyping its last surviving and arguably best-known face of the ’60s counter culture movement, Jerry Garcia. True to the country’s record, “there were Jerry Garcia caps, T-shirts, shoes, ties and ice cream everywhere.” This, while the man himself remained elusive. “When MTV nominated the Grateful Dead to the Hall of Fame, he sent a cardboard representation of himself to the ceremony. When the New York Times did article on Garcia, it began saying: ‘It is harder to reach Jerry Garcia than God’. That elusive,” says Mishra.
Thus, when death followed album, the American media, but characteristically, hounded the man who enjoyed the privilege of being on the last major recording of one of the country’s most famous rebellious son. “Ideally they would have wanted a blue-eyed blonde to be in my place, and found it a bit difficult to swallow. But there were people who touched my hand saying that since I had touched Garcia’s hand, things will get transferred to them,” says Mishra, who is in Kolkata to meet his family and perform with Krosswindz. In many ways, when prestigious publications like Washington Post (‘Mishra’s lyrical guitar lines soar’), Spin (‘Blue Incantation has the solidity of music with real soul’) and Mix (‘Mishra is a superb writer and guitarist’) review his album, Mishra knows at least a portion of the credit deservedly goes to him.
It also came as the icing on a fantasy run that took the rock music addict from the streets of Kolkata to the prestigious American Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1985, where he learnt western classical music for close to eight years. “In Kolkata I used to be at concerts by Nikhil Banerjee, Ustad Ali Akbar and Amjad Ali, absorbing. Then I had my rock ‘n’ roll influences and my western classical training. All blended in when I recorded my first album The Crossing in 1991-92,” says Mishra
It is the kind of blend that fits well with Krosswindz’ sound, mentions Vikramjit Banerjee. And it is blend that has also found musicians of the calibre of Bob Weir and Dennis Chambers and Bob Weir playing with him. As Mishra says: “After Jerry it was easy.”
Sanjay Mishra and Krosswindz perform at Someplace Else tonight