The accomplished Montreal-based Basuri player Catherine Potter, a student of Hariprashad Chaurasia, was a part of CERAS and Kabir Cultural Center and a friend of South Asia. She used to participate in activities of these organization and had volunteered for fund raising to help Pakistan flood victims. In her death, the South Asian community lost a friend and supporter. We produce an Obit written for the local news paper Gazette. Another lengthier Obit written by Philip Fine of Montreal was published in the Canadian national newspaper Globe and Mail of December 23, 2010. Ed.


Musician Catherine Potter Fused East, West


Sophie Pascal (The Gazette [Montreal] December 17, 2010)


Bansuri player and composer Catherine Potter was known for her fusion of Indian classical music with western jazz. She lost her battle with breast cancer and died on Dec. 3, at age 52.


(Photograph by: Olivier Arcand Samson not produced)


 The world beat music community is reeling from the death of Canadian artist Catherine Potter, who dedicated her life to the creation of a unique musical identity based on the fusion of classical Indian and western (jazz) music. She lost her battle with breast cancer on Dec. 3, at the age of 52.


However, it can argued that Catherine was much more than a Canadian artist, as she struggled with identity and recognition. She created from another perspective altogether than that expected for a local girl. The question that begs an answer today: Was she an Indian or a western musician?


Over a career that spanned 25 years, Catherine Potter became a world renowned bansuri flute player, trained in the classical tradition of Northern Indian music. She held degrees in jazz from Concordia and in ethnomusicology from Université de Montréal. However, she had already begun studying the bansuri flute in the early 1980s with world famous Indian flutist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Her first CD, Bansuri (1997), represented a confirmation that she was beginning to master Indian music.


She founded Duniya Project in 2002, and her second CD, Duniya Project (2006), offered a true Indian fusion project merging jazz and classical Indian music along the lines of improvisation.


Her third project, Convergence des continents, was the culmination of 25 years of research and collaborations, in an attempt to “marry Indian and African elements with a kora tuned to an early morning raga’s mode …” Composed with Zal Idrissa Cissokho on Mandingo kora as a tribute to Boubacar Diabaté, the project had enormous potential and was booked from Quebec to India but cancelled once Catherine entered hospital.


Catherine will be remembered for her integrity, convictions and rock-solid determination. She is credited with having brought classical Indian music to the ears of Canadians who would not otherwise have known of its existence. She pushed hard yet always strained to improve her craft. She was modest and unassuming, yet very meticulous and demanding.


However accomplished, Catherine felt that she was not taken seriously as an Indian musician because she was a westerner and a woman. It was very important to her that she be recognized as an “authentic Indian musician.” That issue caused her much pain.


Born in Guelph, Ont., Catherine Potter looked like the North American girl next door, with auburn hair and freckles. Because she was white, it is widely believed, even in the artistic community that knows her well, that she started from western music and aimed to merge eastern influences into it.


But it may have been the other way around. In some of her biographical notes, she concludes to needing western music to balance her knowledge. She wrote: “For me, it was important to have a western musical education alongside the traditional Indian one; somehow I knew that it would help in being taken seriously if I ever decided to pursue non-western music as a career.” That is when she came back to Canada from India, and decided to enrol in the jazz program at Concordia.


It seems clear then that her professional designs always came from an Indian perspective and not from jazz. Yet in an interview given to an Indian newspaper during the Duniya tour in 2008, she said that she did not want her music to be considered purely Indian: “I would prefer to call it contemporary Canadian music as it reflects the interculturalism of where I come from: Montreal.”


Nicolas Caloia, who toured with Duniya Project, understood Catherine’s dichotomy well: “Catherine’s music was not so much about merging jazz and Indian music, but about finding a means to express her own voice. Indian music was in many ways her mother tongue, so what we did with Duniya only ended up being Indian fusion. Catherine was not really from a jazz background, she learned to play music in India. She played jazz coming from a foreign musical mother tongue, which is very unusual.”


To Thom Gossage who also toured with Duniya, it was obvious that Catherine wanted to be considered as an Indian musician. “She started Duniya to keep a connection with the West. It was a mix of both jazz and classical Indian, but she was first and foremost a true lover of Indian music, of which she had tremendous knowledge.”


Subir Dev, her tabla player in Duniya, recalls that she said she wanted to be reincarnated as a tabla player, and be reborn in India, as an Indian. “But to me, Catherine was already more Indian than any Indian out there.”


The Canadian Indian community did recently recognize her as one of the top five living stars of Hindustani classical music, as she was invited to perform in an event titled Montreal Constellations.


In the words of her own teacher, guru and friend of 25 years, the great Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, who saw her as a daughter:


“It is artists like Catherine Potter who contribute to the richness of our Indian music and who blur the boundaries of different identities and cultures.”


Catherine fought the misconceptions associated with her color and gender and struggled with ferocious integrity to express a spirit that had to come from her own heart, through her own spirit, in true Indian tradition. The bansuri was her voice.


Catherine’s passing represents a huge loss for the Indian community, for Canada and for world music. She will be remembered as a pioneer, for her soft resilience, her joy, her passion for classical Indian music, and her relentless efforts to get it into our ears and hearts.


A memorial service will be held in January. 

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