Monday, September 12, 2011

A year of Jhaptal

Hi! I'm back, finally. This year has been busy, lots of different stuff going on. I have a lot to share...what I've been up to, plans for the next year's another mega-simul-post-extravaganza! But first, two new new recordings:

The first one is a very beginning kaida, albeit in Jhaptal (10 beat rhythm cycle) that I learned recently, and the second one, also in Jhaptal, is a little more involved, bol-wise. 'What I've Been Up To' will help explain, so here goes:

What I've Been Up To:
I spent the last year or so in a very intense training period. I took 4 online sessions (32 classes total) with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri via the Ali Akbar College of Music, a bunch of private classes with Subhajyothi Guha in Toronto, spent Dec-Feb in Pune, taking classes with Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, and finally, I just finished an intense, incredibly humbling yet inspiring week-long workshop with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri here in Toronto. Suffice it to say, I have several lifetimes of material to work on. This was all made possible by a generous grant from the Canada Council:


The first Kaida:

This is the first kaida I learned from Pt Suresh Talwalkar in December. We worked on developing my technique further (tone, power etc) and he started me right back at the beginning, but in Jhaptal, which kept in interesting! I have studied Jhaptal before, but it was so great to start right at step one, slow it waaaaay down, and strip it right back to the basics. 

The tintal version of this kaida would be something like DhatiDhati DhaDhathunna, TatiTati DhaDhaDhinna, but the Jhaptal version has more shapes right off the bat:
Dha-Dhati Dhati DhaDhaDhinna, DhaDhaDhinna Dhati DhaDhaThinna
Delhi gharana.

Raise your hand if you've neglected the very first compositions/exercises you ever learned. I think a lot of people do that, and I'm guilty of it for sure. One of the things that is so challenging about this composition is that the bol groupings are very small. 

Let me explain:
I think of each tabla stroke as a letter. When we first learn to read, we first learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet, then small words, then larger words, then we can absorb and create entire sentences with ease. Tabla is the same way. We first learn Ghe, Ke, na, Tete and so on. Then, we learn more complex letters, combination strokes: Dha (ghe+na), Thun, Dhin etc etc. After that, we learn small words: DhaTete, Thunnakena, terekite etc. Once you're a few years into learning, you're dealing with large, complex words and groups of words eg: DhatrekeDhetete Ketagedighene and the phrases get longer and longer, to the point that entire compositions become a single entity that we can recall, recite and perform. Anyone ever read Green Eggs and Ham? Written by celebrated children's author Dr Seuss, the entire book only uses a total of only 50 words. A small vocabulary for an entire book for sure, and while it's aimed at new readers, it can be a bit of a challenge to read, simply because of the repetition and rhyming (ok, maybe that's just me). This kaida is a bit like that. Lots of short words in gradual, low contrast permutations. 

Sam, I am, indeed! ;)

This kaida is short, uses very small words, and therefore requires a different level of concentration (for me anyway) because everything is ripping past so quickly. It also uses strokes that are speed limiters: DhaDhaDhinna is a total workout stroke...all one finger, and a real burner if you do it for a long time.

Initially, I thought this composition was all about Na: there are lots of them, both alone, and in Dha strokes, after all. But once I got it up to a certain speed, it was Tun that really caught my ear. There are very cool patterns happening with Tun, and the Na strokes sort of become a bed, a flow, that the Tuns punctuate. If that makes sense ;)

It gets really exciting when the variations move away from the 'Dha-' in the theme, and get completely full!!

It was challenging to make an arrangement of this for a couple reasons: The kaida is short, and the tala is fast. I always try to find an interesting way into a kaida, hence the extended groove section off the top. There are three tabla tracks on here: a low D tabla, and a pair of high D tabla. The low tabla is a Mukta Das drum i picked up from Kala Kendar, and the baya is an old raw copper Benares shell that Mukta reheaded years ago. Both high tabla tracks use the same drums: a Haridas Vhatkar tabla, plus an old dented Mukta Das baya, again from Kala Kendar. 

The lehara is originally from my old standby, the iLehra iPhone app, but I sent it to my good friend Suba Sankaran, and she composed and sang a whole bunch of variations on the lehara, which John Gzowski (guitar) and Prosad Caruk (sitar) played. Thank you, beautiful people!!

The second Kaida:

This is a beautiful Lucknow kaida i learned from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri during the online classes, and it immediately became a favourite. 

Important disclaimer!: The tihai is not Swapanji's composition...I was experimenting with the bols, and came up with this tihai. I decided to record it, mainly because I am always a little bit wary of recording class material verbatim. 

This a 2-part kaida that has a really nice flow, and the variations are super interesting and challenging. I've already blathered on for too long on this post, but let me just say this: DheneDhinnagena is hard....especially hard not to cheat the last Na and turn it into a Ne. Ne is easier for sure, but the really balances the composition for me. I love how the variations focus down to smaller and smaller bol combinations, and the original tihai followed that direction. *Sigh*. Can you tell I have angst about recording my own tihai? :-/

This recording opens with a short Chakradar from Pt Suresh Talwalkar.

Oh, and the drums: Haridas Vhatkar tabla, plus a recent acquisition: a Mukta Das clay baya from Kala Kendar. Clay sounds great! I've always wanted one and the price was right. It took a little while to break in, but it has an earthy sound I quite like.

The plan for the next year or so:

Here's what's coming: I am planning 2 albums this year. A traditional Jhaptal album (all Jhaptal, all the time!!) and simultaneously, a remix (I prefer 'dub') album of the traditional tracks. I will record additional musicians on the dub tracks, and hopefully make a new kind of contemporary recording, with traditional tabla in the centre of a modern soundscape. 
We'll see how THAT goes! ;)

So, first will be the traditional kaida, and shortly (and by that I mean 'at some point') thereafter, the remix track. And yes...the 1st track isn't entirely traditional accompaniment wise (electric guitar? shakers? am I mad??) BUT....I have big plans for the remix. 

The vision for both albums has become quite large...I have a huge list of musicians in mind, for both albums (I'm trying to have different people, sounds and approaches on every track) but that brings me face-to-face with the eternal problem: finances. I want to pay everyone, but that's just not possible right now. I haven't thought it through, but if people are interested in pre-buying one or both albums, that could help. Drop me a line if you're interested.

Of course, the tracks are always pay-what-you-want (min $1) so you can always show your love that way!! 

Social media

I'm taking advantage of various social media to these days. There's a Facebook artist page here: which will be mainly a platform for upcoming concert announcements and info. Feel free to 'like' :P

I'm also on Twitter (streaming in the box on the right) which I plan to use for mini-updates not worthy of a full post (i.e. 'like, omg! recording so-and-so for the next post!') and thoughts on music, and being a musician.

So...thanks for your patience, and please stay tuned...I'm quite excited about the next year of recordings!! 


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

52 Kaidas at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Maharaja Exhibit

I finally got to the Art Gallery of Ontario's exhibition Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts today, and am absolutely honoured to announce that tracks from this blog are playing in one of the galleries. I knew this was happening, but it all went down right before I went to India, so I never got a chance to see it until today. 
My elephant is in the shop sadly, so I took public transport...
I thought, you know, that the tracks would be really background and unnoticeable, but I'm pleased to say that they're very clearly audible, and fit the vibe in the gallery quite nicely...I can say that right? ;)

The exhibition is really really lovely, so if you're in/around Toronto, I encourage you to go. It runs until April 3rd, and people under the age of 25 get in free.

In other news...more tabla recordings are coming! I've been running around like mad since I got home, and it doesn't stop until April...

until then...tata! ;)

Monday, January 17, 2011


Hi all, and a belated happy new year!

First: apologies for being so absent from the blog. I'm in India, practicing and learning.

Second: I am planning a bunch of Jhaptal recordings over the next year. Stay tuned! (Signing up for emails is the easiest way...see the Feedburner form down to the right).

Third: All the Tintal tracks from the first year of the blog are now on one album on Bandcamp, and that album is available as a download. The cover art is by Krishan Jayatunge. (Folks who have downloaded tracks already can replace the cover if they the pic and then 'save as...' then do whatever you do to change album covers)

Yes, I like the old-school street-vibe ;)

Fourth: There now exists an actual, physical CD of all the Tintal from the first year of the blog. It's not for sale yet, but it will eventually be available on the Bandcamp page for all those who don't/won't/can't do the digital thing. (Bandcamp now does physical sales! Huzzah!).

Fifth: The Jhaptal album will be a track-by-track download until it's complete, when it too will get cover art and be an actual CD etc. The album price will be the sum of the minimum individual d/l price, so there's no savings by waiting...get 'em while they're hot!

Tenth: Here is a small gallery of pics from a recent trip to Haridas Vhatkar's Tabla shop in Mumbai. Click here for the gallery. Listen for this drum in upcoming posts!

Haridas Vhatkar

So, thanks for all the support (and patience) over the first year...I know it's taking longer, MUCH longer than my initial, completely unrealistic plan of one Kaida a week, but I'm hooked, and will continue to record long-form classical tabla compositions until I hit 52...then...who knows! 52 Parans? ;)