Sunday, August 15, 2010

Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida, Punjab Kaida, new Dha Dha gegenage AND Funky Lucknow Rela

Four-in-one super-special mega-simul-post extravaganza!  
Featuring: Exotic Locations! Triple Gharana Action! Spicy Photos! Silky Dilruba! High Fidelity Stereophonic Sound! Mad Experimentation!

Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida

<a href="">Dhin--Na-Kre Dhin-Na Chalan-Kaida by Tala-Wallah</a>

Punjab Kaida

<a href="">Ghen-Na- Punjab Kaida by Tala-Wallah</a>

Dha Dha gegenage update

<a href="">Dha Dha gegenage by Tala-Wallah</a>

Funky Lucknow Rela

<a href="">Funky Lucknow Rela by Tala-Wallah</a>

All four recordings feature super excellent, Zen-master-esque musician George Koller on Dilruba, with a pair of fretless bass treats...look for more GK in the future...

Notes on the first recording, Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida:

Things open with a Lucknow Paran taught by my first teacher, Ritesh Das, who I believe learned it from Swapan Chaudhuri. KeTageDhatunna KeTageDhatunna KeTageDhatunna KiteDha = tricky! But ultimately satisfying.

The main composition I very recently learned in a 3 day workshop with Subhajyothi Guha. He originally ID'd it as a Peshkar-Chalan but the way it's presented here is more Chalan-Kaida in character. I fell deeply in love with it immediately. Farukhabad Gharana. 

This was composed by Subhajyothi's teacher, Pandit Sankha Chatterjee, himself a student of Ustad Masit Khan, Ustad Keramatulla Khan (the son of Ustad Masit Khan), AND Ustad Allarakha Khan (more on this below...). All super heavyweight tabla players. Wow. Holy lineage, Batman.

I have to share a story here...Subhajyothi very generously asked me to perform in a Saraswati Puja celebration concert at his home in Kolkata in 2002. I was nervous (1st tabla solo in India, at my teacher's house, on Saraswati about pressure) and I had no idea who was playing lehara. Turns out that Pandit Sankha Chatterjee was there, and very generously volunteered to play harmonium. Oh dear. went fairly well...he was of course an awesome accompanist and very gentle and encouraging, even when the wheels came of a couple of tihais right before the finish line....{blushes}

Pandit Sankha Chatterjee, and some nervous guy...

Back to the composition. Really really lovely composition. The phrases are Peshkar-like for sure (and yet have a folk-y quality, no?), and I love the way it moves...very spaciously funky (Tabla Space Funk? you heard it here first people!). I'm going to work on the Peshkar side with Subhajyothi when he comes back in September. 

Where this was recorded:

Family vacation cottage rental, Oxtongue Lake, Ontario, Canada.
Tala-Wallah Studios, Algonquin Branch?

Yes, I took not only my drums on vacation, but also my recording studio! My family is soooo tolerant...very grateful that they put up with my antics. ;) I was staying in a tiny cabin that was apparently (if the owner, who we dubbed The Big Lebowski is to be believed) the original Algonquin Park rangers cabin from something like 1908. An honest-to-goodness log cabin, people. Great for capturing that...ummm...woody log cabin sound that is so sought after. That carpet really ties the room together, does it not?

Disclaimer: I usually like to sit with a new composition for a long time before I attempt to perform or record it, and this is brand new in my repertoire, will mature with age. ;)

Notes on the second recording, Punjab Kaida:

Up next is another composition I learned from Subhajyothi Guha, a Punjab Kaida, composed by none other than the great maestro Alla Rakha, who taught it to Subho's teacher, Sankha Chatterjee.

Let's talk oral tradition for a second here...This composition isn't very old compared to some tabla compositions out there, but has been passed down over 4 teacher-student generations: Alla Rakha->Sankha Chatterjee->Subajyothi Guha->moi. Pretty cool to be able to trace the path through time and people, no? 

This falls squarely into the Very Challenging Kaida category. "Two kinds of 'Ghe Na' " was how Subhajyothi prefaced this in class. It took me a long time to feel's so technical that it demands a ton of practice before the hands get comfortable and the ears can open up...that's how it was for me, anyway. Total left hand burner, with all the deep, open Ghen strokes. Boom! Very Satisfying! Very grounded feeling too, while still floating over the tala...interesting combination. Of course, the sur Ta is sweetness and light!

By the way, Alla Rakha was my introduction to tabla. Story time! (what is with all the stories?? I must be getting old...)

When I was 18, a good friend {waves at Karen} recommended I listen to Indian classical music, which I had never heard. I picked up a Ravi Shankar cassette on the Deutsche Grammophon label, and lo-and-behold, 3rd track, side A: an Alla Rakha tabla solo. Totally. Blew My. Mind. Karen knew a fellow named Art Levine who knew Ritesh, got his phone number, and my journey started. 

Here's the album. You can listen to a sample of the tabla solo in question....notice anything unusual? No accompaniment! Just pure, raw Alla Rakha 14-beat tabla awesomeness! 

I love this, however....I think that some sort of accompaniment is really important for tabla solo repertoire...without the framework of the tala cycle clearly shown, a beautiful composition can turn into a blistering stream of notes, especially to non-tabla players. Plus, I find a good lehara completely hypnotizing, allowing some sort of deeper listening, not to mention helping the tension and release that is so important. not criticizing this recording in any way....just saying the lehara is the canvas on which the solo is painted. Of course, Alla Rakha could pull anything off...

This is an excerpt of a much longer recording (45 min) I did in June as prep for a tabla solo concert at Musidium in Toronto. I wasn't planning to do anything with it, but this is at a sprightly tempo, so here it is....

This was recorded in my brother's living room while I was house sitting....not quite an exotic enough location for the new tag, but, every space sounds different, plus it features a rented AKG 414 microphone. be perfectly honest, the Sennheiser 421 proves itself again and again as the best tabla recording mic I own. I always end up using about 75% 421 in the blend, even with a +$1000 mic on hand. 

Notes on the Third Recording, Dha Dha gegenage update:

This is an update of the previous post, Dha Dha gegenage, with a new, vastly improved lehara. If you bought the old version, and want the new one, drop me an email and I'll send the new file. Thanks to the folks who buy tracks, by the way. Especially those folks that invariably buy each one as soon as it comes out. The support means a lot. You did know you can buy these, right? Pay what you want, starting at a buck. There's a 'Buy' link right on the player!

Did you know you can also embed these fancy Bandcamp players anywhere you like on the web? Click the 'Share', link on the player, pick your destination, pick a psycho-tastic visualizer and you're off!

PS listen for the bonus George Koller quote right at the end of the recording! I had to...just HAD to keep that in! :D

Which leads to my favourite recording of this little quartet....

Notes on the Funky Lucknow Rela:

This is a Lucknow Rela I learned from Subhajyothi Guha in the recent workshop mentioned above. Once again, it was love at first hearing. The Terekite is a real treat in here. I was practicing this at the cottage, but didn't get to record it, mainly due to the increasing difficulty of waking up early as the trip progressed. :P

While this is a Rela, I've given it a bit of a different treatment here (heh...'different' to say the least...): introduce the skeleton of the composition, and then fill in the body (aka Rang...I think....definitionally challenged, again. Anyone confirm Rang is the right term?). 

Here's the deal: In the case of a kaida, the thematic material is presented at 1/2 or even 1/4 speed before the final performance speed is reached via doubling. The approach used here is different...example using a sentence: 

Tarun And Bikram Love Appalum. 

Just the first letters?

 T A B L A! 

So...rather than playing single-double, this approach uses just the first letter of each word, then fills in the rest of the letters. The trick is that the speed doesn't increase...just the density. When the maestros do this, it's like a blurry picture suddenly coming into sharp focus. With 3D glasses on. Deeply cool. 

The underlying groove of this composition is so completely funktastic that I spent one whole practice session just playing the skeleton, and thought to myself...what would the skeleton and the body sound like together on different pitched tabla? 

So....the experimentation part: There are 4 tabla parts on here...2 low D tabla tracks, playing the skeleton all the way through, and two high D tabla parts playing the full Rela. 

I knew the funk was strong with this once the tabla was recorded....then George laid down the bass track, and my head exploded. Let me put it this way....George took the funk, distilled it into 100-proof tabla-funk moonshine, lit it on fire and launched it into orbit. Killer bass playing And yes...that is a single take on bass. No edits. He did 2 takes, and I used the entire 2nd take, blending in parts of the first take in the alapana and at the end for extra phatness.

oh brain melted all over the camera
shortly after this pic was taken

While the core is traditional, the addition of the fretless bass definitely makes for a non-traditional presentation, but I make no apologies. If a more modern interpretation brings people into the world of tabla, I'm all for it. Funky Lucknow Rela needs Funky Treatment. Who am I to resist?

One of the things I like about having a recording studio perpetually set up and ready-to-go is that I can embrace spontaneous ideas like this, fire up the studio, and have a result in a pretty short time. One of the best things a musician can have at home, as far as I'm concerned, is a recording matter how basic.

While the tabla parts are not quite up to my usual standards of cleanliness and precision (high speed unison is fun...but can be messy...when the train goes off the tracks, it ain't pretty), I was inspired, it was spontaneous, and it'll do for a first attempt.

I composed 2 variations in here, and I break down to the skeleton and back to the body for variation has increasing Taka's...1-2-3-4, (akin to Srotogata Yati in Carnatic drumming; lit. 'stream becoming a river') and the other  has increasing and decreasing Taka's...1-2-3-2-1 (à la Mrdanga Yati in Carnatic drumming, a shape following the shape of the Mrdangam)*.

So, many thanks to Subhajyothi Guha for teaching me the three main compositions presented here, George Koller for absolutely knocking the accompaniment out of the park into outer space, and of course to Ritesh Das, who guided me expertly and patiently in the early years.


UPDATE: Now with video:


*Yati definitions from The Principals and Practices of South Indian Drumming by Dr. Trichy Sankaran

Once again, all the lehara melodies are transcribed from the indispensable iLehra iPhone/iTouch/iPad app.

Special thanks to Memsaab for her razor sharp brother doesn't actually have a LOVING room...but he does have a living room. ;)


  1. funny post and very entertaining. Thanks for the great recordings, they sound awesome. :) Look forward to more!

  2. Thanks Anon! I'm working on a couple of new compositions (recently learned from Swapan Chaudhuri!), but I'm not sure how soon I can record band is heading into the studio very shortly, so I'll be swimming in that sea for the next little while.

    You've subscribed to the Feedburner email thingy, right? ;)

  3. Funky Lucknow: Wait a sec, I've got to listen to it again.... and again... mmmmm...

  4. Thank you for a great post ! The Leheras are gorgeous, you're lucky to have someone like George to accompany you :-) My only complaint: in Dha Dha GeGeNaGe the low bass on the sam competes with the spectrum of the bayan, making things a bit confused - not sure it adds much to the experience.

    But the rela arrangement... wow ! In my book this is on par with Zakirji & co's finest pieces from Tala Matrix ! The experiment is a success ! :-) I wouldn't call it funky though, more like drum&bass. Definitely groovy anyway and dreamy as well ^^

    Keep up the good work !

  5. Hi Jantiff,

    re Dha Dha gegenage: I got a chance to listen to this on a different system yesterday, and the bass competing with the baya was exactly my thought...(my system doesn't have a lot of bass, so I may, *occasionally* overcompensate :D)

    A remix is definitely in order.

    Again...if you bought either of the previous mixes, I will give a free updated file. I could be more careful with the mixes, and sit on them for awhile, but I kinda treat the whole process as a big performance, including the mix...


  6. ok...ANOTHER new mix of Dha Dha gegenage. The bass was totally eating the baya, as jantiff pointed out, so I did another mix. I'm loathe to lose George's bass part, but the track required it.

    I've done this before (mix, remix, then remix a track again) but mixing is not my speciality, and it ain't easy people!

    It's easy to lose perspective on where a mix is at when you're deeply immersed in it. You've listened to it maybe 20 or 30 times while working on it, making finer and finer adjustments, and get it to a point where you think it sounds good, but in fact, your ears are tired, and you have totally lost perspective! The next day, it sounds horrible... so you start again. To avoid this phenomenon, I treat a mix like a performance: one sitting, couple of hours, git 'er done. It's not always successful though.

    Anyway, enough justification on my part...

    I did discover a new tabla mixing trick this time though...using parallel compression on just the baya. For the audio geeks: send the tabla to a bus, EQ out all but the deep baya frequencies (80-200hertz or so), apply some very firm compression, and feed a teeny tiny bit of your compressed baya bus back into the main fattens up the baya nicely. (Files that away for next time).

    jantiff: Thanks again for your helpful and very generous comment :) I agree with you on the drum&bass assessment...not so sure about the Tala Matrix thing though ;)

    As I mentioned, my band is recording a new album right now, so I'll be immersed in that for the next month or so (donating all my studio gear to the cause as well) so I'll see y'all on the other side!


  7. awsome dude, looking forward to your bands new music!

  8. Hi Tala-Wallah,

    Nice 4 compositions!! Here are my thoughts on it.

    Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida
    - Absolutely gorgeous composition! This one surely goes in my Ed Hanley's database ;-)

    Punjab Kaida
    - This one is tough to comprehend (the astetics of-course). So I'm going to go back and listen to it untill it dawns upon me. I will surely give you my feedback on this. Stay tuned.

    Dha Dha gegenage update
    - This is some piece! Although the bols in my case are slightly different.
    DhaDhaGeGeNaGa | DhinGeDhiNaGeGeNaga | TiTeGeGeNagaDhinNe | NaGaDhiNeDhiNaGeNe
    TaGeTiTeGeGeNaGa | DhinGeDhiNaGeGeNaga | TiTeGeGeNagaDhinNe | NaGaDhiNeTiNaKeNe

    I have your old variation. Could you please give me an update? This one sounds better than the previous. It was funny to hear you say "It was intense" at the end of the recording. It surely is!

    Funky Lucknow Rela
    -This one is a very nice rela... as you mentioned a real TiReKiTe treat.I listened to this composition quite a number of times and it is really good. Needless to say, you have executed it very well! However, with all due respect, the funk spoils the beauty of the composition. IMO, the funk (especially the bass) puts a lot of "weight" and takes away the center stage which belongs to Tabla. One can argue that the bass is very subtle as to not steal the attention, but it does! IMO, the whole point of using bass is to give the "cool" and exotic effect which a good tabla performance doesn't need. In a number of occasions while I was listening to the composition, I found myself focusing on the bass rather than on tabla!! It "grabs attention from the background" and thereby doesn't "assist" tabla. I request you to post the same composition removing all the funk (also from the lehera) so that the true power of the composition is at display and tabla, composition and the performer gets the undivided attention of the audience (and also I would like it in my database). I apologize if I've been too harsh but sadly that's what I felt.

    1. Prasad Upasani (iLehera guy) has released a newer version of iLehera and it contains 2 raga's 'MadhuKauns' and 'Bhairavi'. Madhukauns is the new one and Bhairavi was in the older versions. They both sound awesome so my request is to change the lehera for your next composition to use either of the two.

    2. I want to listen to your rendering of
    Tuka Dhirenage Tuka DhireNage DhireNage TiTeTiTeGeGeTiTe GhiraNageTiraNage.
    Can you please include it in your list?

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  11. Hi Mac!
    Apologies for the delay...Blogger didn't inform me of this comment, and I've been away for awhile.

    Thanks for your comment! Re: the new version of DhaDhagegenage, I can't find your email address, can you send me an email? The quote at the end of the recording is George Koller, after his first accompaniment take.

    Re the Lucknow Rela. I'd be happy to post a non-funk version of this. Give me some time though...

    Re the leharas: I used the MadhuKauns in the Lucknow Rela, and the Bhairavi is on the DhaDhagegenage recording.

    I'll try to change the leharas up a bit more! ;)

    Re Takedherenage...heh. One day I'll be satisfied enough to record that, but not yet! ;)