Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pandit Ravi Shankar, 7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard the sad news.

Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha

I wanted to share the story of how Ravi Shankar was responsible for my path in life.

At age 18, I was living on my own, and casting about for something to do in between trying to finish high school and bike couriering. I was self-taught on guitar and hand percussion, as drumkit was impossible at home, and doubly-so at my apartment in Kensington Market in Toronto.

I tuned my classical guitar D-A-D-G-B-E, and used the three low strings as drones, and played melody on the top three strings. I was not into harmony…chords just didn't click with me. I wanted melody against a drone. My neighbour Karen Nordquist heard me playing guitar, and suggested I might check out some Indian classical music, and sent me to Sam The Record Man with instructions to pick up a Ravi Shankar tape. I'd never heard of Ravi Shankar.

Well, I got there, found the world music section, the Indian music section and the Ravi Shankar section, which was row upon row of cassettes! I thought to myself 'holy! this dude has like 50 albums out!!'. Which one to get? I decided on a Deutsch Grammaphone compilation cassette that had traditional pieces on one side, and Indian-Japanese fusion on the other. (I still have the tape!)

I got it home, and listened to it:

Track 1: Raga Mohan Kauns [Homage to Mahatma Gandhi]

Cool! Very pretty!

Track 2: Raga Gara

Also cool! No idea what's going on! but it's cool!

Track 3: Tala Farodast (Alla Rakha tabla solo)

Cool. VERY cool. (recititation starts at around the 4 minute mark). OMG WHAT IS THIS INSTRUMENT!! WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE!!!!

{This is where I rip the cassette out of my tapedeck, run next door to Karen's place, slap it in her tape deck, hit play and say 'Karen…what is this instrument?!? I LOVE IT!!!'.}

and Karen said "Oh…that's tabla! My vocal teacher Art Levine studies tabla with a guy named Ritesh Das…I'll get you his number tomorrow"

aaaand, here we are, what…24 or so years later?

Ravi Shankar was always very supportive of tabla…his albums regularly featured dedicated tabla solos, so, even though he was a sitarist, he is very much responsible for my finding tabla.

I downloaded that album last night, and listened to it until 3am.

RIP Maestro, and thank you.

Here's the iTunes link to the tabla solo if anyone is interested:

and here's an album that has all the tracks from that tape, and more:

Monday, December 3, 2012

4 New Videos!

Seasonal greetings dear readers!

I have 3 tabla related videos, and one non-tabla related video to share.
1. Tabla Reheading in 3min32sec
2. Live Performance of Ten Talas to a Disco Beat: Jhaptal w video in a movie theatre
3. ‪Sánta Claus and the Flecktones Conquer The Martians‬
4. Refrigerator Dance Madness 57

Ready? Here we go:

Tabla reheading in 3min32sec, with Tisra Tabla solo:

I posted this pic to the Book of Face, and a friend suggested that I videotape a reheading, and speed it up, and I thought that sounded like a capital idea! And here we are.

'guess what I get to do today?'

You've got your taking the head off part, your cleaning the drum part, your tying the head back on part, your putting the new synthetic strap in the first hole and not getting it twisted part, your trying to get the strap through the last bleeping hole part, your balancing the bottom ring part, your pulling once, twice, tuning, pulling thrice and finally fourth (frice?) with the Tabla Tool, then you got some knot-tying and some tuning, the old putting-the-pegs-in part (and the 2nd strap version of that), your tuning w tuner part, your putting the string under the kinar part, and, finally, you've got your final tuning and 'ka-chang!' part. On sam. Sans explosion.


Live Performance of Ten Talas to a Disco Beat: Jhaptal

(in a real life movie theatre with a GIANT screen! :D)

The gruuven-art-foto silhouette effect was sort of unintentional...

On Nov 29th I presented Nina Paley's insta-classic animated masterpiece Sita Sings the Blues at the Projection Booth movie theatre in Toronto. It was originally going to be just the movie. Then someone suggested a live performance might be sweet to open the show. Then I thought 'I have to play to that video!'. Then I saw the GIANT screen, and thought 'omg I have to make video for the WHOLE music set'. was 10 Talas vid, then Freeplay Duo (Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell) did a set of a cappella vocals with Abelton Live as a looping station, accompanied by CDN filmmaker Norman McLaren's optical-printer-ballet masterpiece 'Pas de Deux' (I video'd part of soundcheck), then the 3 of us came together as Autorickshaw Trio, accompanied by silent footage from my 'weird' videos (Tabla in Space!, Tabla-Matic Tuning Model 2161 and Refrigerator Dance Madness 57*)

I tried to set up the lights so that the musicians would be lit, but so that the light would not impinge on the screen. My bandmates Suba and Dylan were lit, but it turns out that lighting yourself without an outside eye is almost impossible, and I was in darkness, though the silhouette effect is pretty cool at times.

Fun evening, all told.


‪Sánta Claus and the Flecktones Conquer The Martians‬

WARNING: be patient! The 'Ancient-One of Mars' speech is 2 min long, but so worth'll be happy you waited once the song starts. Trust me. BONUS: turning on Youtube's 'Automatic Closed Captioning' sends the weirdness into overdrive... O.o

what is this I don't even...apparently 'Jingle Bells' in Tuvan sounds like 'hotmail'?

Yeah. Again....don't ask too many questions, because I really have no idea what I'm doing, but there is some hilarious footage in here, incl a Tuvan Throat Singing Robot from 1940, Rudolph as you've never seen him before, some of the greatest costumes outside Bollywood. Here's the video description:

My 2012 seasonal gift to all.

Assembled using footage from 'Santa Claus Conquers The Martians' (1964) and a short clip of 'Leave It to Roll-Oh' (1940) set to an awesome version of 'Jingle Bells' by Béla Fleck and The Flecktones, from their 2008 album 'Jingle All The Way'.

I hope the respected Mr Fleck and his people don't mind...I cooked this meal with love...and it is probably the best Christmas album ever made, so you should all go-ho-ho out and buy it!!:

Attributionalness: OH! and a tiny, explosive clip of Nina Paley's film 'Sita Sings the Blues' that I forgot to put in the film credits...sorry Nina! I blame that bottle of wine I drank while editing...

Whether you're Earthling or Martian, I wish you a Happy Christmahanakwanzika!, and a Fun & Creative New Year!

Ed Hanley
c/o Tala-Wallah Cathode Ray Science
P.O. Box π, Planum Boreum,

NEXT! errr... FINALLY!!!

*OH!!! I just realized that I never blogposted about:

Refrigerator Dance Madness 57!

Here it is:

Once again, the video description says it all (except that I made the music a very LONG time ago):

Gee whiz, I wish they still made extended commercials for appliances with dancing and wanton frolicking. Just...I don't even...(sputters)...c-c-customizable fridge panels? Fridge parties? Warp-fridges? Sideways ice-cube trays with LEVERS?!? I mean, COME ON! Can you imagine the commercials these folks would make for a modern blender???

Track available here:
Go buy it for $1. Your fridge will thank you. Even if it doesn't have a warp-powered sideways-levered ice-cube delivery system.

Read up on tabla here:
Tabla is almost as cool as a warp fridge.

I originally wrote and recorded the music for a dance piece choreographed by Mitch Kirsch, a Cunningham dancer, so a randomly generated refrigerator theme is pretty much in the spirit, I think. AND...the rhythms are all made up of phrases of 5 and 7, so the discovery of a refrigerator dance video from 1957 was a pleasantly serendipitous happystance.

Ta-KaDhin- 5
Ta-Dhin-TaDhin- 7

AND, the person I kept thinking about while making this video has 5 letters in her first name (Freya) and 7 in her last (Sargent). "oooooOOOoooo" Hi Freya! -waves-

Those music people you were hearing are:
Ed Hanley on tabla, voice and programming
Parmela Attariwala on viola and or violin
Debashis Sinha on riqq
Suba Sankaran on vocals

Those videos you were seeing are all from the Prelinger Archives, are public domain and were super fun to edit (err...what does this 'composite mode' do...duuuude no way!!).

off to search 'blender' in the Prelinger Archives.... (swoosh)

ok...the warp part isn't really in the original video. But it totally could have been.

aaaaaand that's all for now.

I have 2 more videos from Jhaptal to post and blog...stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Naghmeh Farahmand: Unbound

I'm working on a new track, and need to finish the live concert videos, but in the meantime I wanted to share and album I helped make: Naghmeh Farahmand's solo percussion album 'Unbound'.

Three tracks from Unbound:

Clicking 'Buy' will download the whole album, even though only three tracks are available for preview.

A fourth track in video form (sorry about the low sound quality on the vid…NOT MY FAULT!):


Naghmeh Farahmand comes from a musical family. Her father is one of Iran’s leading percussion masters, Mahmoud Farahmand. Growing up in that milieu, she showed great interest in rhythms and started playing the tonbak when she was 6.

While learning the rhythmic patterns of Persian traditional music she began playing the more melodic santoor under the guidance of Faramarz Payvar and Pashang Kamkar. Besides this traditional education, Naghmeh learned Sufi and Kurdish rhythms on the daf – an instrument she found both powerful and spiritual – with masters Bijan Kamkar and Masoud Habibi. Skilled on a variety of other traditional instruments, Naghmeh has been passing on these skills as a teacher for over 15 years.

Farahmand has played with many well-known Iranian ensembles and has performed widely at important festivals and throughout Europe. She was honoured to perform with Hassan Nahid, Iranian master of the ney and with Hengameh Akhavan, legendary singer of traditional music. Naghmeh also founded Sharghi, a percussion ensemble, which performed for Iran’s national television, recorded numerous pieces and performed live for over a decade.

Naghmeh and I met doing a gig in March 2011, and I was blown away by her playing. I asked if she had an album, and she didn't, so I said 'let's make one'.

I co-produced, engineered, edited and mixed as well as playing a couple small parts (framedrum oooOOOooos etc) and generally sherpa-ing the process. Naghmeh wrote and/or arranged everything, and played everything (and the list of instruments is impressive, esp since I only play ONE instrument :P) : Tonbak, Daf, Dayereh, Framedrums (Tar, Bendir), Udu, Djembe, Cajon, Shaker, Zills, Handclaps, shakers etc etc ETC! The amazing Maryem Hassan sings on 2 tracks, and the amazing Ray Montford mastered the record. Yay for amazing people!

Naghmeh would show up at the studio and announce that she had a new piece, and would record, say, the Tonbak part start to finish (incl sections where there were massive dozen-bar rests) flawlessly, to a clicktrack, then overdub other parts that filled-in, interacted, texturized, contextualized, coloured etc. It was very cool…she had the entire arrangement in her head, and would just lay it down, part by part, and it would gradually bloom and reveal itself.

I'm very proud to have been involved in the making of this album, for sure. Go Naghmeh!

Naghmeh laying down some heavy Tonbak at chez Tala-Wallah!



CD on CDBaby:


Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest Post: David Yovino and new tabla technology

The Future of Tabla Design: TransTabla | By Robin Sukhadia

UPDATED. See bottom for part 2.

What is tabla’s best friend? “The Hammer,” according to David Yovino, who launched a Kickstarter Campaign to advance the design of tabla. “Without the hammer, a tabla player cannot tune their instrument. Tabla players must develop sensitivity with their hammer, striking carefully and accurately. Otherwise, the tabla can be damaged or the player may take too long to tune and ruin the mood of a concert.  I wanted to evolve the design to create a more comfortable and useful hammer.”

The evolution of the tabla hammer: old skool (left) and the future (right)

It makes sense: even tabla, which has withstood the test of time, is due for innovation.

Like all musical instruments, tabla has undergone changes in its design that parallel  advances in technology as well as the changing tastes and demands of audiences over centuries of time. The need for more speed, interplay and improved sound have resulted in what we see on stage today. The drum, in just one hundred years, has evolved a great deal from its origins and from its parent drum, the Pakhawaj. That drum was the favorite of the Mughuls in Delhi up to the 1500s. But as tabla artists fled eastward to Lucknow and Kolkata as a result of the onslaught of the British from the 1700s onwards, tabla too had to change as the structure and presentation of ragas changed. Growing middle class and global audiences demanded more fireworks from their tabla players, more speed, and a more powerful sound.

1920 Kolkata – Pandit Hirubabu Ganguly (left) and Ustad Abid Hussain Khansahib (right). Notice the size of the baya, the bass drum, and the larger size of the tabla.

Just one hundred years ago, tabla would have looked much different than it does today. In those times, the baya may have been more likely made of clay, not steel, like today. Although the clay was more resonant in sound, the baya unfortunately couldn’t travel well and was extremely fragile. The bass drum was smaller and also often positioned in the lap of the player, rather than on a ring on the floor, so it too was smaller. Tabla was still very sheltered, and heard only by the elite audiences lucky enough to have presence in the court of the Rulers. It simply was not designed to be consumed on a mass scale, and as such the drums were smaller overall, and designed to project to audiences in small rooms, perhaps for just 50 or so audience members.

That all changed with the arrival of the microphone in India in the early 20th century, the collapse of the Mughal system of patronage, and Indian / Pakistani independence in 1947. Tabla was liberated from its small environs, and within a few decades after independence was being mic’ed and projected to large audiences across India and south Asia. Tabla players were being invited by burgeoning Bollywood composers in Mumbai to perform on film scores. The sound of tabla was going global. All the traveling and the availability of mics led to tabla shrinking in size and the incorporation of new and more durable materials like steel for the baya shell, versus clay. The increasing popularity of the instrument resulted in the explosive manufacture of drums of varying quality by tabla makers in villages and cities across north India. As demand increased, quality and innovation decreased.

Even today, getting good tabla manufactured outside of India is a near impossibility. Only a handful of tabla makers based in India deliver the best drums to master and advanced players worldwide.

Fast forward to 2012. David Yovino, a student of tabla maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California, is applying his skills in design, architecture and music to rethink tabla from the ground up. His designs are addressing critical questions that have been largely unaddressed by tabla makers for decades: How can the latest advances in materials be integrated into the design of tabla? How can tabla be redesigned to facilitate easier collaboration with non-Indian classical musicians? How do you maintain tuning of the drum while enduring the rigors of traveling? How can you enable fast tuning of the drum beyond just a half step up or down? How do you increase the resonance of the drum’s sound?

Yovino has created the first ever mechanism that enables simple tuning of tabla beyond just a half step. Tabla players who want to collaborate with western musicians often have to carry 2 or more drums that are in tune with the pieces being performed. Now, tabla players can simply adjust the tuning of a single drum across whole steps up or down the scale, while maintaining the drum’s balance. A machined hole built into this new design called the TransTabla allows for easy mounting of the drums on stands, so tabla players can more easily stand up with fellow musicians and perform on stage. Kevlar threading in the straps keeps the drum in tune almost indefinitely.

A new Tabla Tool he designed represents the evolution of the traditional hammer. Incorporating ergonomics and a hook for strap adjustment, the new hammer is more balanced and more utilitarian. Advances in the finishing of the metal also improve its aesthetic appeal.

Yovino aims to raise $10,000 through Kickstarter: to fund the further development of the TransTabla and the Tabla Tool. Consider supporting his campaign, and be part of the next step in tabla’s evolution. Learn more at

Part 2:

Photo credit:
Tabla Hammer – Robin Sukhadia
1920 Kolkata -  Photo Courtesy of Swapan Chaudhuri

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Obama's Position a "Wake-Up Call" for Tabla Players

A roundtable of reporters and analysts on "Face the Nation" agreed that the first presidential debate served as a "wake-up call" for tabla players.

[John Wubbenhorst's very funny 'Romney and Obama debate how to bring more Classical Indian music to America']:

Romney and Obama debate about how to bring more Indian music to the USA....... from John Wubbenhorst on Vimeo.

Sam Anagat, who advised George Bush on his reelection campaign:
"$17.5 billion for Bansuri players is a great start, don't get me wrong, but I'm a little worried that tabla players might have a tough time under an Obama administration. The tabla vote has different infrastructure needs than flute players, who can play while sitting on a swing, for example."

"We need to mobilize the tabla vote, the ghatam vote, all the stationary percussion votes. Kanjira players will be a key demographic"

Read more

In other news, the Baby Powder and Cream of Wheat industries are lobbying hard to ease regulatory restrictions that they say unfairly penalize an already struggling industry.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jhaptal solo, Part 4 plus ANOTHER bonus video!

Tala-Wallah: Welcome back, dear readers. How was space?
Readers: Space was cool, wasn't it, Mini-Na?
Mini-Na: uh-huh
Number Two: While you were in space, I created a way for us to make huge sums of legitimate money, and still maintain the ethics and the business practices of a tabla organization. I have turned us into purveyors of psychedelic tabla videos!
Readers: O_o

So, in the continuing saga of Jhaptal solo vids, here are a pair of compositions.

The first is a Farukhabad Kaida-Rela I learned from Subhajyoti Guha, and the second a Kaida i learned from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

Farukhabad Kaida-Rela

This is a very interesting composition:
Dha-kredhetete DhageTaka Dhinne Dhinnagene
Dhinne Dhinnagena Dhage TeteKreDhetete Dhage Take Dhinne Dhinnagena

Notice that the first Dhinne Dhinnagene is NE, not NA. The other two are NA.

So…if the stroke after DhinneDhinnageNA/NE is a Dha stroke, it's NA, if it's another Dhin, it's NE. It's an ergonmic thing. If you're playing it slow, you can do all Na's theoretically. But it's also a grammar thing…the double NA that happens when ending w Na is pretty sweet.

The variations have lots of entertaining twists and turns, but there is one interesting feature: when repeating a couple of DhinneDhinnagena strokes in a row, it alternates open / closed.

ThinneThinnakene etc.

And then reverses polarity in Khali: Thin/Dhin

Note that the composition abandons the Dha-KreDhetete Dhage part in the latter variations. You could totally spin off into an all DinneDhinnagene / DhaDhagene universe if you wanted to.

Lucknow Kaida

This is, as I mention in the video, a favourite (and yes, that's the Canadian spelling of that word). Also note: it's not that easy to play theka and talk over top, something I was discovering on the fly…hence the weird pauses and eeeeeeeextensions on worrrrrrds :P

I recorded this for the blog earlier, and you can read about it here: (2nd composition)
DhinneDhinnaGena DhageTereite DhatiDhageDhinnagena
Dha TrekeDhetete GhenaDhatiGhena DhatiDhageThinnakena

The variations are super sweet, with explorations of spaaaace, as well as a series that gets into some really wicked divisions: 4.5 and 5.5 (or 9 and 11 if you prefer). Then a reversal, then almost a Dhora (Ax3+B), but not quite, since the math wouldn't work. The tihai is different from the one Swapanji taught, and different from the one that I played in the other version: it's a small Mukra that Swapanji taught, and I thought it worked, both in personality and in an old-school short-and-to-the-point Tihai kinda way. The Kaida phrases get shorter and shorter, so i thought 'why not whittle it down to a nice sharp point: Dha'. 

I have a couple of old tabla solo recordings on Vinyl, including an Ahmedjan Thirakwa recording, and the tihais are so short sometimes, they're done before you even realize they're happening. A nice change from the increasingly elaborate math parties one can sometimes see (and which I love…not slagging tabla math parties at all!)

PS I've got a Youtube playlist going of the Jhaptal solo videos, so crack open a new tab in your browser, click here, and let them run in the background while you go about your nefarious internet business. 

Bonus Video time!

This is a video for (a slight remix of) the first track in this post:

I will just post the description I wrote for the Youtube page, as it'll make about as much sense as anything else I could possibly write about this video:
The future of Tablavision technology is here! The cats at Tala-Wallah Cathode Ray Science present the astounding: 'Tabla-Matic Tuning model 2161'. If tabla is your bag (and it should be) then this is the scene for you!

Just think! Without budging from your easy chair, you can turn your new Tabla-Matic set on, off, or change channels! You can even shut off those annoying commercials! Just a flash of light does it*! So take 5, kick off your zoot suit and get fractured, boogie man! It's supermurgitroidally out of this world! Hey Mommy-O and Daddy-O, dig this: There are no cords or wires even! Capable of all rhythmic resolutions from 3 to 128 beats! It will astound you, and provide hours of entertainment for the whole family! Fully compatible with the model 420 Kaleido-percept-o-tron stereo-enhanca-matic.

*Absolutely harmless to humans.

This is a Public Domain/CC BY-SA service announcement brought to you by the finger-zingers, skins players and tab-slappers at Tala-Wallah Studios, and remember:

Tabla is Good for You!

You can download the air check of this hot plate from this screenshow here:



Don't even ask. Even my mom thought I was weird.

It started out as another experiment, this time using video from the Prelinger Archives which is a very large collection of old, now Public Domain films, and then it went a little sideways, to say the least. But fun to make for sure. (insert image of me giggling to myself incessantly)

And remember: if you like what I do, feel free to support me. There are tracks and albums for sale here and you can even play-what-you-want! With Paypal, or a credit card even! Isn't that exciting? It totally makes my day when Paypal sends me a message and says there's $1 in my account!

Until next time, 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jhaptal solo, live, part 3, plus Bonus Video!!

Ok, back to serious business. No explosions or rotoscoped tabla footage. Just one single Kaida. The same Kaida as in the previous tabla-delic post though, for contrast.

I learned this from Pt Suresh Talwalkar in Pune during the Jhaptal Breakdown period. As soon as I heard it, I was in love. The strokes are simple:

Dha-treke Dhinnagena
DhageTete DhageTreke Dhinnagena
DhagenaDha TrekeDhene
DhageTete DhageTreke Thinnakena

Everythink on Kinar, 2 finger Tete.

There are a whole bunch of interesting interactions going on here.
Hey buddy. Treke has TWO flams.
Not. Just. ONE. Got it?

Treke and Tete are really close sonically, but have very different characters, but ONLY if you can get the 't-re' and 'k-re' flams happening. Treke is kind of a squashed Terekite, and can sometimes be a shortform of Terekite…play a Terekite kaida, and replace Terekite w Treke, or vice-versa.
Treke is sort of   rather than   •  •  in the same space. The 2nd flam in Treke is easier (it's essentially a Kre), but that first one…well, it is there one minute, then you speed up and whoosh! it's gone.

The real driving energy for me comes from the Dhinnagena DHA / Dhene DHA groupings. It just has a certain momentum….Dha is the end of a sentence, not the beginning, if that makes sense. The 'Tun' sounds drive into and hilight the Dha.

The Kaida is broken down right along the fault lines of the Tala: 2, 3, 2, 3 and the variations tell such a lovely story, with really small, gradual, incremental changes going on.

Treke Dhinnagena becomes DhageTreke Dhene, and then GhenaDhage Treke

There is a really pretty (albeit concentration testing) transmogrification where we go from

both parts the same:
Dhinagena Dhene…. Dhinagena Dhene

to 2nd pat different:
Dhinnagena Dhene …. Dhene Dhinnagena

to first part joins 2nd part:
Dhene Dhinagena …. Dhene Dhinagena

over the course of a few variations.

The Tihai is something else though: its called a Nauhakka (or Nohakka) tihai. The exact same phrase (including gaps) happens nine times (with a total, in this case, of 27 Dhas). It rolls and rolls and rolls and if you're not paying attention, well….Sam will sneak up on you. It's tricky to define each Palla actually…they can all sort of blend into one another if you're not careful. I flavoured each one differently in the Ten Ragas version, but went straight at it here. It has a kind of floaty relentlessness.

As I mentioned in the Ten Talas post, it leapt out at me as perfect for some kind of non-trad treatment, which brings me once again to comment on the versatility of tabla. It challenges the perception I think a lot of people have of 'drumming' as just a stream of boinks and bonks and thwacks on a drum (heard any good drummer jokes lately? Tabla=/= Bongos!!). There's a deep music here, a rich musical language, and the practice and performance of that language can really change both the player and audience. What else. Oh….

The blog had a makeover! I'm sure you noticed.
Orange and purple!
It's the FUTURE!

I updated the template, and lo and behold! Tabs!! Wow. The possibilties are endless! We are talking triple rainbow potential here people! There's an Albums tab, for just music. A Video tab for just videos, aaaaand the mooooooost exciting thing ever….wait for it….…a GLOSSARY!!

If you're new here, or new to Tabla in general, it might be handy to keep open in another tab. I realize a lot of terminology gets tossed around, and I can't redefine every word in every post.

Anyway…in an effort to keep everyone on the same page, terminology-wise, a glossary is useful.

Now it's Bonus Video time!

Wherein the author does a slight remix of a prevously recorded track (scroll down to #4, Lucknow Rela), and cuts video to it. But not any video. Outerspace video, man. Are you seeing a theme here yet?

I'm developing some Finalcut skills for a video for an upcoming track. It's a solo in Chartal Ki Sawari (11 beats) with material drawn from a workshop with Pt Swapan Chaudhuri. There might be 2 versions of the audio. I'm not sure yet. The one I really really want to make is a kind of massive production, and somewhat daunting on the costliness side of things, what with hiring musicians (sitar, drums, bass and keys) and an engineer and renting a studio. Wanna hear that? Buy some tracks people! I might start an Indiegogo campaign actually.

Did you know that almost all NASA photographs and video are public domain? That today is the 46th anniversary of Star Trek (the original series, puh-leassse)? That this site exists?
Swigert: 'Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.'
Houston: 'This is Houston. Say again please.'
Lovell: 'Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a main B bus Tabla solo.'
Houston: ' ... O_o '

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ten Talas To A Disco Beat: Jhaptal

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you...something completely different.

Sita Sings the Blues meets Charanjit Singh in a psycha-tabla-delic dream.


It's been awhile since I've released a new track you can buy…so here's the Audio only version with that seductive BUY button. Pay What You Want, minimum $1 as per usual.

As always, I'll get down to the absurdly detailed nitty gritty of materials and creative process.

The Music

I first heard Charanjit Singh's album Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat a few years ago, and I fell instantly and rabidly in love with it. I have listened to this entire album on repeat on more than a few cross country aeroplane rides while on tour. A few tracks are in the top 20 most played in my iTunes library (#1, 6, 7 & 10). I even bought the vinyl. It's hypnotic.

Charanjit Singh made this album in 1982 in Bombay, apparently predating the invention of the genre known as Acid House by something like 4 years. Here are a bunch of links for you to investigate further if you wish: Track 1 on Youtube; and now you want to buy it, so go here: Bombay Connection; an article in the Guardian;  parts one and two of Geeta Dayal's awesome take on the whole thing; and finally an interview with the man himself. Psst!! Dudes in the video...I love that you went to his house! Can you convince him to make a new album? :D

Anyway…as soon as I heard the first track, I thought "I have to record tabla on this song!" and then immediately: "I'll record tabla on on ALL the songs! muahahahahah!!", and then… reality set in. The tracks are already so perfect and complete, there was just no way to improve upon them, not even with tabla (gasp!), so the idea went on a back burner and simmered. In the meantime, I went to India and studied with Pt Suresh Talwalkar on a Canada Council grant, and one Jhaptal Kaida he taught me leapt out as being PERFECT for a 1982 Vintage Bombay Acid House treatment (I'll cover the kaida fully in the next video post from the solo). But…all the tracks on the album are in 8 or 16 beat cycles, and the Kaida is in 10. Hmmm. Obviously, I need to make a version of one track in 10 beats…and then (forehead !!smack!!) it crystallized: Ten Talas to a Disco Beat! Remake every track in a different Tala, using the Ragas Charanjit Singh used on the original album. Not covers, not sampling, but new the style of Ten Ragas. A companion album, if you will. Of course, I don't have Tabla repertoire in 10 different Talas (rhythm cycles), nor have I ever made anything remotely like a primordial Acid House track in my life, but I'll cross those bridges when I come to them. Never let reality get in the way of a good idea!

Here's the Kaida:
Dha - Treke Dhinnagena
Dhagetete DhageTreke Dhinnagena

DhagenaDha Treke Dhene
DhageTete DhageTreke Thinnakena

Fast forward to September 2011, around the time I posted the bluster-y Year Of Jhaptal post I decided to try to tackle making just one track, using that Jhaptal Kaida. Track 1 on the 10RTADB album is Raga Bhairav, so I started there. First: bassline, then drums, then keyboards courtesy of Dylan Bell (not an easy keyboard gig as you can imagine…it took promises of beer and future recording/web design-y favours) and then I set about actually recording the tabla parts in June of this year. There are 19 or so tracks of tabla: 3 high D w Bayan (6 tracks), an A drum and a low D drum (just Dayans), all in unison; a few tracks of single hits on a high and low D Dayans w distortion (sounds like an electric guitar? it's tabla), plus the sundry Dtrkttktrkt and other filler tracks. The bottom end is completely eaten by the bassline so that's why you can't hear the bayas: The bassline is crushing them out of existence! Muahahahah! But, I'm ok with this. The bassline is more important here.

That's the session...all 36 tracks:1-17 are virtual instruments
NOT samples (also not old Roland gear)
 and 18-36 are all tabla
Enter a solid week of editing just the tabla parts. Then a frustrating wandering-in-the-woods period where I had so many ideas that didn't work…Suba Sankaran came over and we co-wrote melodic lines for each variation (lovely, but not quite became all about the melody), a vocoder track with the vocal percussion version of the main tabla parts ('Dha treke Dhinna Gena Dhagetete' etc), w the melodic lines or baseline or keyboard parts as the triggers (I couldn't make it work to my satisfaction), a different set of effects on each tabla track! for each variation! (what are you freaking crazy? do you know how LONG that would take??) aaaaand so on, ad naseum. So….it went back in the subconscious slow cooker for a few weeks. Fast forward again to editing the videos from the Jhaptal solo. The next one in the queue is that very same Suresh Talwalkar Jhaptal Kaida, and I thought 'what if I released that video, and THEN the Ten Talas track! Holy synchrorhythmity Batman!'
na-na na-na na-na na-na DHA DHA!

Enter a kind of manic period over the past few days where I looked at the track again, stripped everything back to the basics, and lo and behold…it was all there already. I just needed to slash and burn: this this this this and thisDELETE. Finish editing, and mix. Done. Sometimes a break is all it takes. I mastered it this morning.

Which brings me to the video part…

Much like Ten Ragas, I was positively frothing with glee when I first saw Sita Sings the Blues. Here are some links: You can watch it online for free (and you really really should), or download it (I have a 4 gig HD copy and a 15 gig copy I used for editing, all free and legal) right here; here's Roger Ebert's review; and here's an interview with creator Nina Paley in Wired. I am in awe…Nina Paley is my freakin' hero: she animated the entire 81 minute movie by herself, on her home computer. Keep that in mind while you watch. Here's what she says about it:

Dear Audience,
I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

You don't need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom. 

Whoa. Did she...did she say remix??

So….I wanted to remix parts of the movie. This idea was simmering for even longer than the Ten Ragas idea. Once I started the final push to finish the track, it was clear a video had to go with it. I'd already done some of the heavy lifting making video projections for the Jhaptal solo using SSTB, so it only made sense. I started on Tuesday, finished Thursday, and looked like Gollum at the end, I'm sure, complete with mutterings and preciousssings and cursessssessss. Please note: 99% of what you see is Nina Paley's work. I just chopped it up, squeezed it through kaleidoscopes, ran it spɹɐʍʞɔɐq, grabbed single frames etc etc. I did throw a few easter eggs in there, and those are my hands on the drums, filmed during the recording.

Oh yes, and there are explosions. Lots and LOTS of explosions. With pretty colours. On Sam. Because, really....Sam should be punctuated by explosions of pretty colours, don't you think? That's how I see it anyway.

So…there you have it, a creative time-travelogue of sorts, starting in 5th century India (Ramayana), with stops in a tabla practice room in Delhi sometime in the early 1900s (the Kaida), a Bombay recording studio 1982, an animators apartment in New York in 2007 ending up in an Artist's Co-op in Toronto in 2012. I take no credit for creating ANY of this. This is a perfect example of what Austin Kleon is talking about here.

I'm not going to promise that I can complete the album, as this one track took over my life for significant chunks, but it was really fun to make, and I have material in mind for an 11 beat version...

Thank yous are in order:

Dylan Bell for his Bomb-tastic keyboard parts
Suba Sankaran for writing a ton of (unused) melodic material and inadvertently teaching me a lot in the process
and both Suba and Dylan for letting use their livingroom as a recording studio
Santosh Naidu for convincing me to be as accurate as possible in recreating the drum and bass sounds
Gurtej Hunjan for showing me how to program the 808 drum machine in Logic to get those sounds
Jai Pahuja for patiently listening to me plan this project out for years
Andy Krehm for mastering it on short notice (we used 1/2" reel-to-reel tape in the mastering chain...exactly what Charanjit Singh would have mixed down onto! very excitement! unless he mixed down onto 1/4" tape, which is probably more likely)
Nina Paley for making Sita Sings The Blues, and writing back to me re proper credits (swoon) and generally being an inspiration
Charanjit Singh for going way way outside the harmonuim box and making an awesome record that's both traditional and cutting edge even today
Boing Boing for introducing me to both Ten Ragas and SSTB
Pandit Suresh Talwalkar for teaching me the Kaida, whipping my technique into shape, and showing me a lot of very cool tabla tools and techniques
Freya Sargent for embracing and encouraging the creative mania!

PS I'm kind of agonizing over whether this is actually a cover version or not. I don't think it is, and here's why: The Raga itself is not copyrightable, nor did Charanjit Singh invent it, the drum grooves and tempo are different, all the keyboard parts are completely different, and while the bassline is close, it's pretty different too…different rhythm, different time cycle, and different note order. But….I'm 100% sure I'd recognize it and go 'Charanjit Singh cover!' if I heard it, so that casts a teensy weensy seed of doubt. Anyone care to weigh in?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jhaptal Solo, Live, Part 2

Part 1 is here

Part 2:

This section has 2 compositions: A Peshkar (that flows into a Kaida), and another Kaida: the famous Delhi Kaida everyone knows and loves, albeit in Jhaptal. I learned both of these from Pt Suresh Talwalkar in Pune during the formative start-from-scratch-but-in-Jhaptal phase of my life.

The Peshkar starts in Tisra (triplets) and man, did it ever take me a long time to feel this comfortably.

Dhin - - Dha - re Dha - Thin - Na - - - -  is the basic phrase*.

The end of the phrase is where the romping and frolicking happens:
…Dhin - Na - - - -
…Dhin - Na - - - Kre
…Dhin - Na - Takita
…Dhin - - Terekite

It hangs out in triplets for awhile (I kinda rush through it actually…nerves perhaps), and then morphs (hopefully) seamlessly into Chatusra (4s), using almost the same phrase (the gaps are slightly different), which is always a bit of a mind bender. That 3s to 4s transition is so cool that you could groove out on it for a few cycles and not bore anyone, as far as I'm concerned. And then it morphs again into a really awesome Kaida with a deeply cool Tihai.

I have a 'special moment' the first time I try to step into the Kaida, but hey…these things are permitted as long as you get it right the second time. I get it right the second time. (My actual thought process was "Doh! ok ok FOCUS man! Gosh." …simultaneously channeling Homer Simpson and Napoleon Dynamite and almost making myself laugh).

The Kaida is heavy on Dha, and I have a Tintal version of this Kaida from Pt Anindo Chatterjee that I really must spend some more time with. When I learned it, it was so hard to play that I kinda shied away from it, but now it may be time for a revisit. I digress. I only touched on a few of the Jhaptal variations here, but when I record the whole thing, I'll try to play all the variations. And get this: there's an entire Rela section at the end!

Looking at the closeup video, i'm not playing Terekite right in the centre of the Gab, which I really should be at this speed. Bad Talawallah! The sound is quite different when you nail the centre. Note to self: play in the centre! It's funny how the wide and relaxed focus I have in practice sometimes gets restricted in concert (or when I'm nervous). I simply have less mental bandwidth to work with, so some things fall outside the available range. Though when the music is really flowing, and therefore I'm relaxed, there seems to be almost unlimited bandwidth, and those moments are why I play music, ultimately. It's a meditation I guess….shutting down the analytical left side of the brain, and letting the intuitive right side fill the space. That feeling is really without compare.

Ergo: more practice! Embed the physicality so deeply that it doesn't fall apart at the big moment, or require a lot of thinking to pull off, and you can listen to, and play with, the sound.

AND…the more you perform, the easier it gets. More practice, more performance, less thinking, more music.

Enough self criticism for the moment. The trickster-y Thun (pause) before the downbeat is some superfine funkyness IMHO. That's pure Suresh Talwalkar right there.

We are treated to some more loveliness from Rattan, and then: Cunning drum switch! Wasn't sure how I was going to do this actually…glad it worked out. Hence the weird nodding…I'm thinking: 'ha! ok phew…that potentially embarrassing moment is done.'

Which reminds me…a big low tabla is the bomb to practice on. You have to work so much harder to get definition, finger placement involves serious travel, and the gab is usually massively thick, so you have to really nail it to get any 'pop'. Good for technique, and you'll really notice a difference when you move back to a small, higher pitched drum.

The next Kaida is the famous Delhi Dhatete (or Dhatita) Kaida that I recorded in Tintal, and wrote about here.

The Jhaptal version adds another DhaDhatete to the Tintal version:
Dtt Dtt DDtt DDtt DgTnkn

Pssh! Easy! You're just adding a phrase to make it into 5! Yes, BUT! The cool thing is how it opens doors up for a whole different set of variations/improv tools. The breakdown is 3, 3, 4 and 4, 6. Both add up to 10. You can start playing around with 5s, and it really gets interesting: 5, 5, 4, 6 etc. Again, I played it safe and only touched a few variations, but there's a ton of possible transmogrifications: DDDtt, ttDtt, Dtttt for 5s, DgTnkn can become ttDDtt for the 6s (not to mention DttDtt), so mix and match, and some wild and wonderful combos happen. Just remember: 2 Tetes in a row? Accent the 2nd one, HARD: teteTEte. It hurts, but it sounds very cool and adds definition. Also: Delhi Gharana = 2 finger Tete. No cheating!

The theme happens single, then tisrafied (334, 334, 46) which is my (not terribly scintillating) contribution to the proceedings, then double.

грязной Гарриет: "I know what you're thinking.
'Did he play six Dhas or only five?'
Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement
I kind of lost track myself"
Sigh. Once again, I almost blow a tire, recover, and kinda stagger into the Tihai, where I almost crash and burn completely! :P The Tihai is, quite simply, a beast. Tihais within Tihais within a Tihai…it's the Russian Stacking Doll of Tihais! A single error in this Tihai, and it's off to the Gulag for sure.

I should have played it again, and if it wasn't such a lengthy beast, I probably would have.

I have a visualization system for monster Tihais like this that involves a map of the whole Tihai in cells (see pic below) that light up as I move through them to help me keep track. Doesn't help when one of the bulbs flickers… but most of the time it works, I swear! I need to work on this Kaida more before I try to record the whole thing. But I will.


Internalizing a tihai like this, so it's felt really clearly, so the gravity of Sam exerts an inexorable pull, and the strokes flow in an aesthetic, rather than logical way, is something I'm always working on….though maybe I shouldn't be. It's more about turning things off than concentrating harder, but the visualization is helpful to get through when that's not happening yet. Plus I think that visualization can be a tool for creation, improv, performance, if your brain works this way.

Get your Tabla Geek on, Episode 2:

*Tisra Peshkar bol breakdown! Uh-huh uh-huh.

Dhin - - Dha - re Dha - Thin - Na - - - -

3, 3, 2, 2, 5 which is a nice round 15.

The beat is subdivided in double tisra (6 subdivisions/beat), giving us a total of 60 subdivisions in one cycle of Jhaptal.


So…play that phrase 4 times (3rd time Khali) and you're off to the races! Of course it goes offbeat every other time, which is a whole other conundrum.

ok, I think that's it for this video. The next one has one of my all time favourite Kaidas. Stay tuned. It's a doozy.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jhaptal solo, live, Part 1

Dear readers!

So….remember the big 'Year of Jhaptal' plans? Heh. Yeaaaaah (sheepishly scuffs his feet).

Here comes an entire tabla solo in Jhaptal!

On Aug 21/12 I performed a 1 hour solo at a très cool spot called Musideum in Toronto. The entire thing is on video, and here's part numero uno:

That is Rattan Bhamrah on Esraj, and he's SO awesome to play with, I really can't say enough. You might remember him this video, or maybe this one, or this audio clip.

We start with a lovely Alap from Rattan, and then move into an improvised tabla introduction that probably (…ok, definitely) breaks all sorts of rules. The material is drawn from a Peshkar I heard (but didn't formally learn) while I was studying with Pt Suresh Talwalkar in Pune, a Palta Theka I learned from Pt Swapan Chaudhuri and some Khanda Nadai material (quintuplets*) I learned from mrdangist Karaikudi Mani in Chennai. Any rule breaking is 100% my doing. So….it's a bit of a mixture, but I wanted something really slow and mellow to start the solo. It's maybe easier to extend the playreallyfastattheend part of the solo, so it was a personal challenge to extend the slooooow unfolding of things.

I decided to play the first couple of sections on a low tabla as I think it suits the material, plus those low drums sound so earthy and nighttime-y. Higher tabla comes into play later. The baya is clay, which doesn't sustain quite as well as metal, but it won the 'which baya?' shootout the day of the show.  Plus it's made of clay! More old-school earthy factor! All three drums are made in Kolkata by Mukta Das via Kala Kendar in Toronto.

I tried to cover as many types of repertoire as I could in the solo. Here's what's coming: a proper Peshkar->Kaida, a few Kaidas, Kaida-Relas, Relas, a Gat, some Parans, an Amad and a few Chakradars. I covered as many gharanas as possible as well: Lucknow, Farukhabad, Delhi, Punjab and Ajrada (though this last one is possibly not accurate). I'm not sure i know any Benares gharana material actually….hmm. Unless I do and don't know it? Possibly.

There's material from almost all of my teachers: Pt. Suresh Talwalkar, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, Pt. Anindo Chatterjee, Subhajyoti Guha, Sri Karaikudi Mani and my first tabla teacher, Ritesh Das. Disclaimer: Some of it isn't native Jhaptal, but adaptations of Tintal material, and I'll talk about how that works when it comes up.

I did a little talk at the beginning of the show (not sure I'll include it in the videos, as I rambled a bit, and even said 'blah blah blah' at one point 0.o!!) in case there were tabla newbies in the audience, and it was an interesting challenge to try to talk about this incredibly complex and obscure artform in a concise way. I came with a simple way of describing a solo that I think works:

A tabla solo is a series of percussion vignettes that all take place in a rhythmic cycle with a fixed number of beats, accompanied by a looping melody that marks the time. The solo unfolds gradually, moving through different types of repertoire, from slow to fast, long to short, improvised to composed, simmering to explosive.

Sounds a little less intimidating than "ONE HOUR DRUM SOLO!! Three THOUSAND Six HUNDRED seconds of reallyreallyfast drumming!! w00t!" Which, let's face it, is not for everyone.

Then I went on and on and on forever trying to explain the cyclical nature of time in Indian music, the concept of tihais, the role of the lehara, types of repertoire, gharanas, bhari/khali, tabla language, drumheads made of goats and iron and rice…  oh my. Yeah… not going to include the pre-show talk.

The goal, of course, being to introduce a wider audience to what I think is one of the richest percussion languages and traditions on our lovely planet earth.

I'll be piling the videos on as fast as I can edit them so keep an eye out. You can always sign up with the Feedburner email thingy (on right side over yonder->), which will let you know when a new post arrives, or do the Facebook 'like' thingamajig.

percussively yours,

*In this episode of Get Your Tabla Geek On:

Quintuplets (5 subdivisions of the beat). Time to transmogrify!!….if you play a phrase of 4 quintuplets** it will take 4 beats. If you then play the same phrase straight, i.e. 4 subdivisions of the beat (aka Chatusra), then it will fit into 5 beats. And vice-versa of course….take any Chatusra Jhaptal material, play it in Khanda Nadai, and you'll be in Tintal!

So…one beat per line….eeeeeverybody recite along and clap on the first word in each line!

Khanda Nadai (5 subdivisions/beat)
Taka Takita
Taka Takita
Taka Takita
Taka Takita

4 beats.

Chatusra Nadai (4 subdivisions/beat)
Taka Taki
ta Taka Ta
kita Taka
Takita Ta
ka Takita

5 beats.

(Use DhatiDhagena instead of TakaTakita, or even Dhin-Dhagena DhatiDhagena GhenaDhagena DhatiDhagena if you want a more north-y flavour).

This works for pretty much anything: phrases of 3, 5, 7, 9 and so on. So, transmogrify away! 

PS I filmed with 4 cameras…I had a 5th that didn't record, and you can see me tinkering fruitlessly with it in the video. It was going to be a really cool shot looking up the Esraj from below. [sadface]  BUT…my video projections seemed to work, though someone, bless their nerdy nerdy mind, did notice that the kaleidoscope plugin I used in FCE gave the images 8 sides instead of 10! The horror!! Ten sides would have been ideal of course, but I couldn't figure it out. More about the video projections in a later post.

PPS Making sure quintuplets was the right word, I checked a couple places, and I love that they're referred to as 'irrational rhythm' in western music. Lol. No wonder tabla players are so temperamental!! In other news, Irrational Rhythm is a great album name. Just sayin'.

PPPS I am available for concerts, lecture demonstrations and workshops as well as classes, both online and in person. Drop me a line.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tabla Solo concert, Aug 21st, Toronto & update

Concert announcement and update on recordings:
I loves me some retro technical illustrations...
I will be performing a tabla solo on Tuesday, August 21st at Musideum in Toronto, accompanied by the awesome Rattan Bhamrah on esraj. Here's the facebook event, and here is a preview for my last solo concert:
The tabla is by far the most hypnotic, and expressive percussion instrument you will ever witness live. The term "tabla" actually refers to a set of two drums, one tuned higher, called the 'daina' that is actually tuned to a note that is related in some way to the raga being performed, and a lower pitched drum called the 'dagga'. The complex patterns and phrases played routinely on the tabla are mind-boggling! Try counting along if you dare... Hanley will be joined by Rattan Bhamrah, who will play the esraj, an Indian stringed instrument that is played with a bow. Bhamrah will likely be present largely to play a "lehera" for Hanley: this is a repeated phrase associated with a raga that is essentially 'looped', in order to serve as a stable 'marker' to be juxtaposed with the pyrotechnics delivered by the tabla player.
Jhaptal will be on the menu, including material from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and Sri Subhajyoti Guha...peshkar, kaida, rela, paran, thukra and chakradar.

Hopefully, I will get video of the entire concert, so stay tuned!

Recording update:

I have four tracks in progress, and will post as soon as I can get time to record the accompanists and finish the mixes. A tintal peshkar/kaida/rela, tintal kaida-rela and  jhaptal kaida from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, and a solo in Chartal Ki Sawari (11 beats) incl. kaida, gat, paran and thukra from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

What I've been up to:

It's been an interesting year so far: I played a tabla solo in January; premiered a Tabla Concerto composed by Dinuk Wijeratne with Symphony Nova Scotia in February (the CBC recorded the concert, and I'll post a link once the on-demand recording is up), review: 'Ed Hanley is a remarkable player, both in his musical thoughtfulness and his technical virtuosity.'; played a bunch of gigs with my band Autorickshaw, incl. trio, quartet and sextet concerts, plus our 70s Bollywood show; played a few gigs with banjo player Jayme Stone; recorded with vocalist Lenka Lichtenberg; toured with devotional ensemble Aradhna; did a couple weeks of school workshops with grade 6-8 students at 2 different schools; a Brazilan-Indian collaboration gig called Bombay Brazil (video); a couple gigs with choirs, including one at Toronto's Massey Hall (always dreamed of playing Massey Hall! w00t!); and finally, completed work on Persian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand's solo album, which I produced, recorded, edited and mixed.

until next time,

Friday, January 27, 2012


Pandit Suresh Talwalkar on the importance of technique:
(full screen it so you can read the subtitles, unless you speak Marathi)

I find this video to be incredibly inspiring, not only because he hammers home the importance of technique, but also because he seamlessly slides into talking about style...individual style. In my humble experience, we tabla players spend so much time working on technique, learning material and imitating/emulating our teachers and heros that we often don't develop our own voice. (welcome to the wild generalizations edition of 52 Kaidas!)

Hands up tabla players if you've ever thought: "I have to play this exactly like I was taught".

To a point, that's true. The preservation of such a rich and complicated musical tradition does depend on the information being passed accurately from teacher to student. It takes time...a long time....forever, understand the intricacies of technique, tala, form, the myriad of different repertoire etc. But! Tabla is an oral tradition, and like the old broken telephone game, subtle variations are introduced with each passing. Over time, those subtle variations magnify, and a transformation begins to take place. Evolution.

I have certain repertoire (the Dhadhagegenage Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida) that is a good example of this. The version I have was taught to me by Ritesh Das, who had learned it from Pandit Shankar Ghosh. When I was researching that blog post, I found out that Gnan Prakash Ghosh is credited with that particular version. So, 'my' version is the 4th generation, minimum. I've probably, over time, introduced baya inflections, accents etc etc that are my own, either through my physical limitations (what actually sounds good with my hands) or my choices of the path I take through the material, the relationships I hear between strokes etc (and I continue to refine it each time I play it) and what I like. Similarly, Ritesh probably injected his own personality when he taught it to us, and so on down the line.

I have played 'my' version to a few different tabla players, and each time, an interesting thing has happened: "oh, that's good, but the correct version is this" and they play a different version of the same composition. The soul of the composition is the still has the same groove, flows well at the same speed, BUT, some of the strokes are different, the accents are different, the structure is different, and because of this, the variations, the pathways for improvisation are necessarily different. I was taught to play a sur stroke for the phrase that starts the second half (TageTete). None of the other versions I've heard have TageTete in them, and none of them use a sur stroke anywhere. It's all kinar. Now...I like the sur, I've worked on it a lot, and it's something I do well, if I can say that. So, naturally, I'm going to focus on, and expand on the variations that show my strength.

And this is my main point: That's ok.

I'm not saying neglect anything that's hard, or doesn't come naturally, but it's ok to specialize in certain focused areas of technique, repertoire, or sound production because that is what makes us unique...that is our 'style'.

Both Swapan Chaudhuri and Suresh Talwalkar told me almost the exact same thing at different times, and I'll paraphrase:

Don't imitate. If you imitate, you will never 'own' what you do, because it's not yours. You will always be weaker than the person you're imitating. It will always be a facsimile of the original. Carve your own niche, and you'll automatically be the best within that niche.

I think that the fact that tabla, with all its strict rules and freakishly hard technique, has room within it for everyone to contribute their own voice is a testament to the richness of the tradition. It's not frozen in time. It's evolving right now, as we speak, with each and every person who is practicing or performing at this very moment. That's why there are thousands and thousands and thousands of different compositions, each different from the other, and that a single kaida (for example) is a universe unto itself.

To be honest...knowing this makes it easier for me to practice. Drilling something 300 or 1000 times is daunting, boring, hurts-physically, but also mentally, and is frustrating at times. But practicing something to make it my own, rather than trying to sound *just* like X or Y tabla player is way easier. I can play, in the little kid sense of the word. I can do what I like over and over again, and I don't even notice the hours going by.

So...technique is important! You must practice!! (sound of a whip cracking). But practicing is hard! It's no fun! (sadface) BUT...if you introduce 'style' to that equation, then practicing will be easy, and technique will automatically follow.

Also...practice with other people. It really helps.

/end gooey inspirational post

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another video

The 2nd video from my solo concert on January 15th at Musideum.

This is a live version of the Sankha Chatterjee Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida I previously recorded and wrote about in the Four-in-one super-special mega-simul-post extravaganza!:

Another video from this concert:

And an audio recording:

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until next time,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Live in concert #1

What?!? Two posts in two days? Madness I say... Madness!!

Here's a live version of a (previously posted) Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida, recorded on Jan 15 2012 at Musideum in Toronto:

Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida Live by Talawallah

Check out the timed comments, and feel free to leave your own if you're a Soundclouder.

I wrote a fairly big post about this in July 2010 when I posted the studio version. You can read about it here:

There's video of this concert here, in yesterday's post (never thought you'd see those words, didya?) :

Not everything was videotaped, but there are a couple more clips coming eventually.

Here's a pic of the show, and my poster design:

Floor seating!