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.
Roy says his ensembles vary depending on the city he’s performing in and what musicians he wants to play with. The Montpelier concert will feature six artists on instruments including the sitar, bass, piano and drums.
“And I’m using horns,” Roy adds. “Because after all, it is a jazz series.”