Telegraph India: City trio behind Grammy-winning album’s cover: Brief was to create art that would make sense of the music

Debraj Mitra writes:

The cover of album This Moment, which won the Best Global Music Album award, has been designed by three persons, all former students of La Martiniere schools and Jadavpur University’s department of English.

(From left) Urmi Bhanja, Orko Basu and Mrinalini Sen, who designed the cover of This Moment.

The Grammy that the band Shakti won at Los Angeles on Sunday night has a close Kolkata connect.

The cover of album This Moment, which won the Best Global Music Album award, has been designed by three persons, all former students of La Martiniere schools and Jadavpur University’s department of English.

Orko Basu, Mrinalini Sen and Urmi Bhanja, who are part of a creative communications company called Togetherly, started working on the album art at the start of 2022. 

“It feels surreal. I am still processing it. We are all scattered. We are hoping for a get-together of sorts to celebrate the occasion,” Bhanja, 46, told this newspaper on Monday afternoon.

Bhanja, who grew up in New Alipore and now lives in Golf Green, is the only Kolkata resident of the three. Sen lives in Goa and Basu in Bangalore.

The album cover has a bridge that connects two banks of a river under the moon. The sky is full of small circles.

“The cover had to stand apart. That was the brief. The art had to make sense of the music. The bridge joins two ends. Like Shakti, which stands for a fusion of Eastern and Western music. The moon lends a psychedelic spirit. There are numerous inner eyes in the sky that take you to a spiritual level,” said Bhanja, who runs a design agency that has in the past designed album covers for Kolkata bands.

The members of Shakti gave constant feedback on the design, she said.

John McLaughlin, 82, and Zakir Hussain, 72, are the only original members of Shakti who remain. 
The two first met at Greenwich Village in New York in 1969 and jammed together for the first time at the home of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod virtuoso. Shakti was formed two years later.

The current line-up includes vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan and kanjiraplayer V. Selvaganesh.

“All three of us were heavily invested in the entire process from start to finish. It wasn’t just an idea that we sketched out. It was a concept that we built on systematically. We tried different things. We did not compromise…. It was exhilarating,” Sen told The Telegraph from Olaulim, a scenic village in north Goa.

Sen was born, and spent most of her life, in Kolkata. Her parents still live in Ballygunge. She is an educator and a self-taught artist who shifted to Goa five years ago. 

Basu, also a Ballygunge boy — he lived on Ballygunge Circular Road — has worked with McLaughlin before. 

“The credit goes to the 
musicians. They are such masters. I am so proud of them. Their music is enduring and timeless,” he said from Bangalore, while driving and amid a sketchy network.

Shakti’s Kolkata connect goes beyond just the latest album cover. 

Souvik Dutta, a Calcutta boy who now lives in the US, is the founder (along with his wife Shweta) of Abstract Logix, the record label, management and booking agency for Shakti and several other top musicians.

Dutta, whose father lives in Garia and in-laws in Beckbagan, is also the producer of the Grammy-winning album.

“For a middle class Bengali boy who grew up in Kolkata in the ‘80s idolising Shakti, getting a chance in a million to come in touch with John McLaughlin in the early 2000s in the US and being offered the opportunity to work with him, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Shakti for 20 years is very hard for me to still grasp. I do pinch myself often. Life has been beautiful,” Dutta said in a message to Metro.

Dutta keeps coming to Calcutta. The last time he did was in January 2023, when the Shakti was in town as part of their 50th anniversary tour. The band performed at CC&FC on January 24.

Read the article in Telegraph India.