The Broto Roy Ensemble
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The Broto Roy Ensemble

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE | AFM

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE | AFM
Band World Jazz


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"Multi-instrumentalist Showcases Blend of Indian, Western Music"

Musician Broto Roy says he’s in the business of “fusioneering.”

The Calcutta, India, native, who has lived in Washington, D.C., for the last 30 years, will bring his unique blend of classical Indian music and contemporary jazz and rock ’n’ roll to the Montpelier Arts Center on Friday.

The concert, featuring Roy’s original compositions played by a six-piece ensemble, is part of Montpelier’s fall jazz series.

“One of the things we were looking to do was add people who had never been here before,” says John Yeh, technical director at the Montpelier Arts Center and the person who chose Roy for the seven-concert series. “We’re starting to branch out and add some fusion styles of music.”

From birth, Roy seemed destined for a career in music.

“I grew up musically rich,” Roy says.

His great-grandfather, Rajanikanto, was a famous Indian songwriter, and his uncle, Dilip, remains a popular singer in the country.

Roy started studying classical Indian music at age 4. Every morning before school, he would go for lessons from Indian drum maestro Bidyut Banerjee. After graduating high school at 16, Roy moved to the United States, where he studied western composition at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“I came to the states with the sole purpose of being a musician,” Roy says.

Roy has made a career of merging the two sounds he spent years studying — classical Indian music and Western contemporary sound.

“I realized that diversity is where it’s at,” Roy says. “I’ve devoted my life to diversity and that’s what I do. ... In my book, Indian classical is the second most developed kind of music; Western is the first ... and I’m one of the few who really knows both systems.”

Roy says poverty in India makes it nearly impossible for musicians to study Western composition.

“India is so poor that no one is going to spend money to study Western classical music,” he says. “So it’s down to me and a few others who have had the luck to have studied here as well as [India].”

According to Roy, his inspiration for the genre of “fusioneering” comes largely from the collaboration between a British musical phenomenon and one of India’s most well-known artists.

“Ravi Shankar and The Beatles began the whole fusion thing,” Roy says.

Shankar is a contemporary Indian musician and sitar player. The Beatles were greatly influenced by Shankar and his classical Indian sound. The band even incorporated the sitar — a plucked string instrument into their own songs.

Like Shankar, Roy also plays the sitar in addition to the tabla, a traditional Indian drum. and like Shankar, Roy, too, has played with some of the most well-known American musicians of his time.

Roy’s first American release was “The Crossing,” a CD on which he accompanied Indian-American guitarist Sanjay Mishra. In 1998, Roy released “American Raga,” a collection of his own original compositions. “American Raga” was followed three years later with the release of “Total Immersion — Live at the Lowell Festival,” featuring Indian sarodist Aashish Khan and violonist Shashi Dhar.

In addition to his own releases, Roy has performed with artists like the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir.

“He’s played with an impressive pedigree,” Yeh says.

Though Roy has found solo success here in the states, he stays well-connected to his musical family back in India. In fact, Roy, his parents and his sister have a family band called Ganga. The group performs traditional song and music from Bengal, India. In 2008, Ganga released its debut album, “Setting Down the Roots.” Roy’s parents split their time between the states and India. - Gazette

"The Titan of Tabla"

Broto Roy is a talented, lifelong devotee and practitioner of the Indian Tabla, a tuned pair of cylindrical or bowl-shaped drums. To the uninitiated, think Sitar Master Ravi Shankar in a duo with the rapid-fire virtuosity of tablaist Alla Rakha. Broto tells us, “The language and vocabulary of tabla is complex. The various motions (each like a different syllable) are called BOLS. Each sound has a name, e.g., the down stroke might be THUN or DHIN. A fluttering of the fingers of the right hand (like the sound of raindrops) we call TEREKETE.” Broto’s website gives a good exposition on the tabla –

“There are endless variants of the raga (India’s native musical system). Slow, medium, fast – always very intense and soulful,” Broto explained. His musical legacy goes back to his father, Hitabrata Roy, and his father’s four musical brothers. Broto gives credit to his lively 84-year-young father for stimulating his fascination with all things musical and providing him with a tabla teacher, Bidyut Banerjee. Broto relates that “Growing up in Calcutta, I was so fortunate, for my Dad was a cultural liaison between the Indian Government and the United States.”

Broto Roy’s evident proof of his love of Indian music is the Roy family’s performance group, “Ganga.” This family band exemplifies an ancient tradition of musical balladry and story-telling. “My great-grandfather was one of India’s most prolific songwriters. His name was Rajani Kanto. My Dad, ‘Bachoo,’ plays the dotara (a lute-like instrument) and the harmonium to accompany love songs, epic histories, coming of age narratives, and above all – the dancing.”

Broto closes his eyes a moment, recalling the lovely, delicate choreography his late Mother, Minati Roy, introduced to the overall magical beauty of Ganga. With a soft, reflective smile he says, “Ganga, our beloved river; the very life source, the Ganges ! Ganga is Bengali for the river that flows through our nation’s soul. And since Ganga, the band, came into being in 1984, our Mother’s beautiful dance motions have been the interpretation of the music.” Mother Roy passed away in 1995. Nowadays the ensemble consists of the voices of his sister Krishna, their friend Nupur, his father, and Broto on tabla. Occasionally, there are guest artists.

Being bright and a seeker of perfection, moving from Calcutta (“a center of artistic endeavor, whereas Mumbai is all trade”) to Washington, DC at sixteen made him realize the endless possibilities for a young person infused and enthused with things melodic and rhythmic. As he told us, “There are forty million tabla players in India – that’s why I’m in the States!” Broto loves living in this area but says, “Compared to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Nashville, or Miami, DC is not a music town. However we are trying our best to change that.”

The Titan of Tabla frequently gives time and energy to worthwhile causes. He received a grant from the Virginia Folklife Program for being a Virginia Folk Master Artist and apprenticing a student in tabla. Of special note is the work he has done for Washington’s Art and Drama Therapy Institute (ADTI). ADTI helps in efforts to train challenged and disadvantaged District youth and adults to appreciate and participate in the performing arts. Broto’s role was to augment the orchestra leader’s percussion section and show some of the intricacies of performing on the tabla. The eagerness and creativity of the kids so inspired Broto that he composed a joyous theme for the Institute called “Let Us Fly.” CNN did a news feature on ADTI’s quest for a Grammy for disadvantaged persons and interviewed Broto as composer of the piece.

While Broto is fiercely loyal to the music of his homeland, he is also a musical explorer and says, “Music is a quest – a spiritual quest.” He has teamed up with the most innovative western maestros of various instruments such as guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist Scott Ambush (of Spyro Gyra), organ player Joey DeFrancesco, Fareed Haq (of Garaj Mahal), and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and recognizes the strong Indian rhythmic influence present in the music of composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

Broto has performed in many places over the years, such as Blues Alley, numerous universities and folklife festivals, museums, and galleries all over the US and Europe. He was Artist of the Month twice at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. See the website ( to see the long list of places he has performed. Here is a 2010 sample.
• April 1, 2010 - Pennsylvania State University, Altoona - Broto with Indro Roy Chowdhury, sitar. Noon.
• April 13, 2010 - Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale - Broto Roy's Dance Trio - 12:15 pm
• April 20, 2010 - Syracuse University - Hendricks Chapel - 7:30 pm, New York
• April 21, 2010 - State University of New York-Oswego
• May 1, 2010 - Montpelier Arts Center - Herb and Tea Festival. GANGA - Music of Bengal with sitarist Indrajit Roy Chowdhury.
• June 5th, 2010 - World Folk Festival, Glen Echo Park, Maryland. GANGA - Folk Music of Bengal
• June 24th, 2010 – Festival of American Folklife, on the National Mall, Washington, DC
Gigs and Digs salutes Broto Roy, who now has global distribution of his debut CD “American Raga”, highlighting his groundbreaking east-west fusion of Indian ragas with jazz, on the EMI Label all over the world – including India. Broto has led his own electric fusion band, with mostly original compositions, performing everywhere since 1989.
In addition to being in demand for live performances, Broto also teaches tabla at his studio in Falls Church, Virginia. Visit his website at Broto's CDs are available at the following websites: ITunes, CD Baby, The Orchard, and Amazon.
- Old Towne Crier, Alexandria

"American Raga"

American Raga immediately won me over with its haunting riffs, arresting rhythms, and passionate improvisational exchanges in trio and duo formats. The CD features tabla player Roy, four clever guitarists (T.K. Smith, Paul Bollenback, Al Pettaway, and Tom Prasada Rao), flutist John Wubbenhorst, soprano saxophonist Carl Grubbs, and violinist N. Shashidhar.

Roy's seven innovative tracks combine ragas with jazz. Ragas are Indian classical melodies that combine ascending and descending notes to establish certain moods. A tabla is a tunable two-piece percussion instrument that's allegedly very difficult to play. In India, a tabla player studies under a guru, or master musician. According to Roy's CD notes, it takes 20 years of training to become adept with the instrument. Roy must have spent at least 30 years with his tabla because he seems a very accomplished rhythmist, and his debut release is both oddly soothing and subtly intense.

American Raga isn't New Age music. Recorded live without overdubs, it's trance-inducing, jazzy and intricate, and the energy level is surprisingly high. Fans of uncompromising fusion, sophisticated percussion, or fiery jazz guitar will not be disappointed.

Three of these seven tracks exceed 12 minutes in length, a duration that would normally try my patience, but somehow none of these cuts seems inappropriately long. The lengthiest song, “Digging Deep,” is a 20-minute musical journey with some spirited interplay between the immensely talented Bollenback, Shashidar and Roy. “Rishi's Garden” is a beautiful ballad sung in English by Tom Prasada Rao and recorded live at the Kennedy Center in Washington. My favorite cut is “The Reason Why,” a spacious but fervent piece with some dazzling guitar playing by Bollenback. Also noteworthy is John Wubbenhorst's masterful flute-playing on three tracks.

If you're a jazz fan who has never completely warmed up to Indian music, American Raga just might open your ears.

- All About Jazz

"American Raga"

"...spiritual and visceral". - The Washington Post


"American Raga" - EMI
"Total Immersion - Live at the Kennedy Center"
"Live at Lowell"
"Setting Down Roots"
Streaming samples are available at
Digital downloads are sold at;;; Amazon and many others.



Flexible ensembles (duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets) of the highest caliber of professional musicians accomplished in styles reflecting the entire musical idiom: Jazz, Raga, blues, rock, psychedelic to salsa. In Broto's own words "the music itself is a language of communication not only between the musicians and the audience, but also between the musicians themselves. Like strands of DNA, the melody and rhythm spiral around each other. This intertwining takes place within a tonal environment created by a drone and endless permutations of these elements hypnotically built on one another. Improvisation is carried into its own sophisticated world. Elaborating on 5, 6, 7, 11 and 16 measure verses we create new music which as yet has no category. I'm very proud of everybody's deep commitment to my music, not to a single style or fashion of playing but to the exploration toward a wider vision. What I really am and increasingly so, is a universal composer. I'm interested in all kinds of music and sooner or later one of those styles finds its way into my own compositions. Here we are pushing the boundaries of jazz and my music reflects that. We stress an American jazz and Indian classical mixture with a virtuoso meeting of East & West. Paul Bollenback, the guitarist, has distinguished himself as one of the best in the world of jazz with eleven recordings with some of the greatest in the jazz world such as Joey DeFrancesco, George Benson and vibraphonist Joe Lock and many others. Paul has played with Broto since 1990. Scott Ambush takes time away from his world tours as bassist for Spyro Gyra whenever Broto needs a world-class player. Indro Roy Chowdhury has played with the Boston Symphony and is the foremost up and coming young sitarist in the U.S.A. Jamal Balbed is resident saxophonist at Bohemian Caverns Jazz club in Washington, DC and is another young player reaching the height of his powers. John Wubbenhorst is a foremost disciple of Hari Prasad Chaurasia - one of India's greatist flutists. On keyboards is Harry Appelman, veteran of several State Department world tours and Broto's festival performance in Morocco.