With new album out, Dalai Lama performance behind him, Calgary sitar star sets sights on fighting depression

With new album out, Dalai Lama performance behind him, Calgary sitar star sets sights on fighting depression

It might overwhelm a lot of Grade 12 students to win an Immigrant of Distinction Award, not to mention being named a Compelling Calgarians by the local daily newspaper, but for sitar star Ayush Ghosh, those accolades just come with the territory.

After all, Ghosh picked up a sitar at age five, was anointed a musical prodigy by his guru at seven, and shortly thereafter, in 2009, performed for the Dalai Lama when he visited Calgary.

"It was  a very special moment," Ghosh said in an interview with The Homestretch.

"I performed for him in the morning, and afterward, he called me up [onstage] and he hugged me. It was quite an honour and very special for me."

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And what was it about a sitar anyway?

"I fell in love with the sound," Ghosh said. "Whenever I play the instrument, it feels like I and the instrument are one." 

Tuesday, the first day of spring, was also notable for Ghosh, whose debut album, Bridging Borders, was released.

"This album is compositions I wrote," he said.

"It's meant to connect people from different cultures. We live in a very diverse country with people from different religions, different cultures, different languages — and so this is meant to form a connection with those people."

Among the songs on his debut is Tears Within, a melancholy tune that is sad and soulful.

"Again, it's just meant to give hope to people," he says. "In the beginning, you'll hear some sound effects, which are external voices, and the sitar represents internal voices — the external voice shows us the environment, whereas the sitar basically represents my feelings and expressions."

7-century old instrument

That soulful sound might owe something to the fact that the sitar is an old, 20-string instrument which is elaborately crafted.

"It's a very ancient instrument," Ghosh said. "It's seven centuries old. The top part of it is made of wood, and the bottom part is roundish and it's made of gourd — which is like a vegetable."

It's also an instrument that mostly is played solo, without even a musical score.

No written music

"Normally in Indian classic music there's no written music," Ghosh said. "So we're constantly improvising, and even when we're not playing the instrument, but doing something else, like taking a walk, or you're showering, there's always music going on inside your head."

That passion for the sitar led to Ghosh, in 2015, helping to establish the Academy of Indian Classical Music in Calgary, with the idea of reaching out to young people with mental health issues.

"It gives Calgarians the opportunity to learn Indian classical music and experience this type of music," he said. "And also one issue that stands out to me is youth depression — 11% of all youth in Canada face depression and I feel music is a way to solve that problem.

"With this academy, that's a good way to do it," he said. "Since music has the power to bring people together and connect people from various backgrounds."

As he heads toward graduation, Ghosh anticipates listening to the music in his head a little bit longer.

"Music is a part of my life," he said. "Without blood, you can't live, so if you take music away from me, I won't be able to live."

With files from The Homestretch

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