India’s Sanjeeta Bhattacharya Dabbles Freely Across Styles

Sanjeeta Bhattacharya may have studied overseas at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music, but the Delhi-based singer-songwriter is really a lifelong student of music. Growing up in an artistic family, she embarked on taking piano lessons and learning classical dance when she was just five. Fast-forward to today, and at age 24 she plays Balkan music and flamenco as readily as she plays jazz, pop, and folk.

“A lot of my learning was based on ear training,” Bhattacharya tells For the Record, referring to the fundamental method of identifying pitches and other musical elements by hearing alone. “As a result, I still relate to and lean toward eastern harmony, and the melodies I write incorporate these inflections. It has made me open to ideas, and I often find myself drawing parallels in what I hear and see around the world with my own roots.”

That global perspective is what makes Bhattacharya a great fit for India in Spotify’s global emerging artist program, RADAR. The program features artists from over 50 markets worldwide and helps performers at all stages of their careers strengthen their connection to audiences via Spotify’s social channels, RADAR playlists curated by Spotify’s editors, and bespoke marketing initiatives. 

“I feel very humbled and grateful,” Bhattacharya says of her inclusion in the RADAR program. “I love the concept and am thankful they’ve chosen to amplify my music through this initiative. It warms me to know that the music I write truthfully, and the stories I want to share, are able to reach a global audience.”

At Berklee, Bhattacharya had the chance to watch artists like Esperanza Spalding and Herbie Hancock play live. “You have access to music from the world over on the internet, but to experience it in person is very different,” she says. “The one thing I took away from college is humility—to recognize that one of the greatest gifts we have is the power to communicate, and to use that power responsibly.” 

Emotional communication through lyrics is one of Bhattacharya’s obvious strengths, whether she’s duetting with Susmit Bose on the American folk standard “Wayfaring Stranger” for the soundtrack of the 2016 movie M Cream or tenderly plucking heartstrings against plaintive violin and cello on 2017’s “I Will Wait.” Her singing rises and flutters beautifully while remaining controlled and emotionally grounded, even when making a jazzier turn on 2018’s “Natsukashii” or stripping down to smoldering folk balladry for “Watercolour” featuring New Delhi singer-guitarist Dhruv Visvanath.

Though she primarily sings in English, which she grew up speaking, along with Hindi and Bengali, Bhattacharya has sung in Spanish and other languages, too. Inspired by “the divine friendship” between philosophical poets Rumi and Shams-i-Tabrīzī around the turn of the 13th century, her 2018 single “Shams” includes lyrics in both Hindi and Urdu, while “Natsukashii” takes its name from a Japanese word for nostalgia.

“I have always had a fascination for languages,” she says. “They connect me in some way to the history of the places where those languages were born. I like to explore these languages and see how best I can relate them with experiences in my own life.”

Following her studies at Berklee, where one highlight was performing at a live tribute to iconic Indian composer A.R. Rahman at the Boston Symphony Hall, Bhattacharya returned to India, balancing close-quarters gigs with large-scale festivals.

She has toured much of the country, though she has yet to play in Madhya Pradesh, a large state in central India. While that’s very much on her list, she has been limited this year by the impacts of COVID-19. But rather than let that sideline her, Bhattacharya has been hosting live-streamed concerts and donating all proceeds to nonprofit organizations. 

“I love playing unplugged, rather than singing into microphones; it’s very liberating to me,” she says of the live-streaming experience. “That being said, I do miss the energy of an audience that surrounds you. Seeing faces react, hearing their voices, feeling the warmth in the room makes a huge difference to me. I hope we are able to cope and recoup soon, and share our stories at least with an intimate gathering.”

Check Sanjeeta’s top tracks on Spotify.