Wednesday, 8 January 2014

CD Launch of Deepchandi bleu, Ragleela's New Album

In the making for over a year, Ragleela's new CD, Deepchandi bleu, is finally ready for release! While the in-store and online release will actually take place some time in January, the band played a couple of pre-release concerts to celebrate the album's arrival. The first took place on November 27 in Val David, and the second was at the Sala Rossa in Montreal, on December 11. At both occasions, we performed all the tunes of the CD to a packed house. We couldn't have hoped for a better turnout!


For the Val David show, we played as a quartet with Uwe Neumann on sitar, Jean-Marc Hébert on guitar, Guillaume Bourque on clarinet, and with myself on tabla. At the Sala Rossa, we were joined by Cedric Dind-Lavoie on bass. Here are some photos:









Really looking forward to the online and in-store release. Soon! In the meantime, there are some short samples here: https://soundcloud.com/sitaruwe and there are some more photos posted on Facebook, here.

A week after the Montreal launch, we also played a concert in the Parc des Compagnons Saint-Laurent, on the Montreal Plateau. It was quite a bizarre experience, playing in this heated cabin, with the audience freezing outside, huddled around a fire (which was quite far from the stage). Since we were separated from the audience by these plexiglass windows, we couldn't hear the audience's applause. The feeling was similar to playing in a recording studio; we could hear each other just fine, but no connection with the audience, unfortunately, except for through our microphones. Strange, but fun nonetheless!







Thanks to Caroline Tabah for the photos!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Tabla at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention 2013

From November 12-17, I was in Indianapolis for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. And what a great time it was! I arrived in Indy on the Tuesday afternoon, and met percussionist Neeraj Mehta at the airport. We were soon picked up by Tony DiSanza, who had driven in from Wisconsin, and off we were to Butler University to meet up with Jonathan Ovalle and Dan Piccolo to begin rehearsals for Saturday's clinic/performance. We rehearsed throughout the week, and played a run-through for the students at Butler before the official premieres at PASIC.

The Saturday concert, Neeraj's brainchild, was a trio of concertos for world percussion instruments and percussion ensemble. The first piece on the program was Tony DiSanza's Time's Arc: 2nd Concerto for Darabukka, with Tony as the soloist, accompanied by Neeraj, Dan, and Jonathan on percussion. The piece opens with a duo alap on slide whistle, which is quite something to behold. The piece showcases the darabukka in a variety of settings, and blends music of the middle East with flavours of samba! Tony had quite a collection of darabukkas on stage, and brought out many subtle nuances of tone and timbre.

Tony in rehearsal with Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Neeraj Mehta.
Next was the premiere of Payton MacDonald's 4th Concerto for Tabla and Percussion Quartet. I have a long history of performing Payton's music, and am so happy that he wrote this new concerto especially for this occasion (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Concertos are all available on our CD, Works for Tabla). Many thanks to Neeraj, Tony, Jonathan, and Dan for their excellent accompaniment on marimba, vibraphone, and multi-perc setup. I especially enjoyed the interaction with Dan (who also has training on tabla), doubling the tukras on bongos and tom-toms. Throughout the opening bant improvisation, I had some great exchanges with Tony, who was holding down the fort so to speak, playing eighth notes, over which I improvise in 3:2 and 7:4 before finally arriving at the dugun (double speed) of the bant (somewhat unusual that in this concerto, Payton decided to omit the thah, or single-speed exposition of the bant). Lots of tension there! A highlight for me was Payton's pre-recorded intro (Payton could not attend, as he is in India studying dhrupad with the Gundecha brothers), which made me smile and also provided me with a C tanpura to tune to while he introduced the piece. :)
Lots of baya!
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
Always smiling! :)
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
UPDATE: Here's a video clip of the performance!



The concert concluded with Neeraj playing solo conga on Jonathan Ovalle's Three Movements for Conga Soloist and Percussion Trio. Neeraj really rocked the congas, in what was a very virtuosic and energetic performance. The piece references a number of Latin music traditions, and brings them together in a percussion ensemble context. It's a very exciting piece, and a wonderful way to end the concert.

Neeraj Mehta rocking the congas! With Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Tony DiSanza.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
Later that afternoon, another idea of Neeraj's came to fruition: the world percussion panel discussion, with the topic of Practice to Performance: Taking World Percussion Traditions from the Field to the Ensemble Concert. Moderated by Neeraj, the panel was made up of Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Michael Spiro, all legends in the world of percussion... and me! It was truly an honour to have been invited to participate. Each panelist represented various world music traditions, and I was involved because of my experience with North Indian classical music and the McGill Tabla Ensemble. Numerous relevant and throught-provoking subjects were brought up. The common thread revolved around how we can present world music cultures authentically, and with respect for the source cultures, without compromising the integrity of the music, or the cultural context in which it is found. It was unanimously felt that cultural education is as vital as musical education, and that one should not happen without the other. The session was extremely well attended, which is rare for panel discussions; especially for ones taking place at 4pm on the last day of the convention! 

Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Many thanks to Neeraj Mehta for these two great ideas, making them a reality, and for having involved me in both of them!

During PASIC, I also had a chance to meet David Yovino for the first time. David is the inventor of the TransTabla, which is a new tuning system for tabla. I have one, and use it quite a bit with Ragleela. It's especially handy in the wintertime (which is soon upon us), when I need to detune my tabla before going outside, and then quickly retune again once inside. David actually redesigned the mechanism somewhat since the early version that I had purchased, and offered to upgrade mine. The new version is even easier to turn, and it's a real pleasure to use. Thanks, David! It was also a great chance to see and try out some of David's other innovations, such as his new tuning hammer and plexiglass screen for playing tabla in high-volume situations.
Chatting with David Yovino.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
A great week, full of wonderful interactions and enriching musical experiences. Until the next one!

Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
If you'd like to see more photos, please check out my Facebook album.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Return of the Attar Project

You may have noticed that since the release of The Road Ahead, and a few launch concerts in the Toronto area, the Attar Project has unfortunately been somewhat quiet. Parmela (Attariwala; violinist) was completing work on her PhD, and so had limited time available for performing. Now that she has completed her PhD (congrats!), we're back in action! Last Wednesday, we performed a concert of Canadian works for violin and tabla at the Espace Cercle Carré in Old Montreal.

First on the program was Paul Frehner's Oracle, composed for violin with congas and bongos, which I'm not sure the piece has actually ever been played on! When I first heard the piece premiered by violinist Nadia Francavilla, with D'Arcy Gray on percussion, D'Arcy played the piece on frame drum. That's what gave me the idea that the piece might work well on tabla, and it does! It's a high energy, technically difficult piece (especially the violin part), which works really nicely as an overture of sorts.

Next was Meiro Stamm's The Melody of Rhythm. This piece combines aspects of Mozart's style, with North Indian tabla drumming vocabulary. Yes; Mozart and tabla! The multi-movement work presents variations on the principal theme, through varying time signatures - 2, 3, 5, and 7. We then followed this with Nicole Rampersaud's The Road Ahead... which is principally improvised, via conceptual instructions and fixed structure with certain melodic and harmonic motives being specified by the composer.



We ended the first half with Christien Ledroit's Never the Twain Shall Meet, for violin, tabla, and fixed media (pre-recorded electronics). The composer's alter-ego as a punk guitarist is certainly evident in this piece, as kaida-palta in Jhaptaal are accompanied by distorted guitars and other processed sounds. A nice way to end the first half with a bang! Coincidentally, all the pieces in the first part appear on our CD, The Road Ahead.

Parmela opened the second half with her solo dance piece, Frank, in which she dances while playing the violin, accompanied by a very subtle, eerie backing track of bowed temple bowls and crotales. Her movements are slow and deliberate, swaying back and forth like a blade of grass.



I then followed with a short tabla solo in Teentaal, perhaps around 10 minutes long. I opened with uthaan, and played a famous Benarsi bant through subdivisions of 4-5-6-7-8, and then into a rela. I concluded with a few of my favourite tukras. I'm definitely looking forward to playing a more extended solo, hopefully some time soon!

We ended the concert with the now classic LA, by Robert Rosen. Fortunately for us, Robert now lives in Ottawa, and so was able to attend the concert. It's always a pleasure to have one of the composers in the audience, and especially one so enthusiastic about our performance of his music! 

Looking forward to the next concert!

Thanks to Caroline for the photos!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Musica Masala II in Quebec City

This past October 5, I had the great pleasure to perform in Erreur de Type 27's production Musica Masala II, a concert of new music inspired by India. The concert took place at the Salle d'Youville, in Quebec City's beautiful Palais Montcalm, which is quite a prestigious hall, along the lines of Montreal's Place des Arts.


The concert program was made up of works by mostly Canadian composers, with varying levels of inspiration from Indian music and culture. We opened up with Payton MacDonald's Farmaishi, which is a sort of tabla concerto, accompanied by flute, clarinet, marimba, and contrabass. The tabla materials are traditional, based on a famous Benarsi farmaishi tukra, and also including Benarsi theka, and some famous Benarsi kaidas/bants. Next was the world premiere of Courants, for flute, clarinet, tabla, marimba, and contrabass; a new piece by Pierre-Olivier Roy, commissioned by E27 especially for this occasion. Here, the tabla writing is not at all traditionally-inspired. Still, the tabla (along with the bass) takes on the traditionally timekeeping role, grooving along through quickly changing metric structures.


The next piece was a special arrangement of a traditional Carnatic piece, Mokshamu Galada, for cello, accompanied by myself on tabla, along with drones provided by bowed vibraphone and contrabass. I'm not really used to accompanying Carnatic music, so we took more of a North-South fusion approach to the materials, with Gabriel Dharmoo playing in traditional Carnatic fashion, and me playing in a more typical Hindustani accompaniment style, with the addition of tabla tihais at the ends of sections, as a mridangam player might do.


I then performed a solo tabla piece, Frictions, written for me by Quebec composer Patrick Saint-Denis. It is a particularly challenging piece to play, as it does not make use of any of the usual phrasings found in Indian classical tabla playing. The 'friction' is the use of the tabla in this very 'non-tablaistic' (or non-idiomatic) way. Though I find the piece to be extremely challenging, the piece got an excellent reaction from the audience.

We ended the first half with Christien Ledroit's Elementalities, for flute, vibraphone, and tabla. This is a piece that I have played numerous times since having commissioned it in 2000. It is truly an excellent piece; one that I believe is quite significant in the contemporary tabla repertoire. It is actually the opening piece on my latest CD, Cycles.



After the intermission, the concert continued with Gabriel Dharmoo's Ainthu Miniyeccars for flute, vibraphone, and tabla. This was only our second time playing the piece, the last time being its premiere during the first edition of Musica Masala back in 2011. This was followed by the only piece that I did not play on: an improvisation led by Gabriel Dharmoo, inspired by the nine rasas. The concert concluded with a new arrangement of Pandit Ravi Shankar's Aube Enchantée, which is normally performed on flute and harp (or guitar, or marimba). We came up with our own arrangement for flute, clarinet, marimba, contrabass, and tabla; a combination that works really, really well.

And what a great gang of musicians to collaborate with - Marie-Hélène Breault and Geneviève Savoie on flute, Marie-Julie Chagnon on clarinet, Etienne Lafrance on contrabass, Isabelle Tardif on marimba and vibraphone, and Gabriel Dharmoo on cello.

I was extremely happy to see that the hall was absolutely full. It's not easy to fill the hall for contemporary music concerts! The team at Erreur de Type 27 did a great job in spreading word of the concert, and Marie-Hélène Breault did an exceptional job in coming up with the concept and the programming. For those of you who missed the concert, we'll be presenting it again twice in Montreal, on December 10 and 13 at the Maisons de la culture Cote-des-Neiges and Plateau Mont-Royal!


Marie-Hélène being congratulated for her years of work as Artistic Director of Erreur de Type 27
In preparing for the concert, aside from numerous rehearsals in the month leading up to the concert, we were very fortunate to be in residence at the Salle d'Youville for a couple of days before the concert. During this time in Quebec, I was very happy to present a tabla masterclass at the Conservatoire, graciously hosted by percussion instructor Anne-Julie Caron and the conservatory's director Louis Dallaire. Quebec City is such a lovely city; not at all a bad way to spend a few days!



Thanks to Caroline for the photos! I have posted many more on my Facebook page.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Elsiane at the Cabaret du Mile End

This past Saturday, September 7, I had the great pleasure of playing with one of my favourite bands, Elsiane, at the Cabaret du Mile End in Montreal. Elsiane is made up of Elsieanne Caplette, who is an amazingly talented singer and composer, and drummer Stephane Sotto, who has a super-solid groove, and loads of serious creativity in his playing. I highly recommend checking out their website, and having a listen to their two albums.


I was invited to be the opening act, and then later to play with the band as a guest musician. Other guests were violinist Stéphanie Caplette, oboist Annick Beauvais, and bassist Patrice Agbokou.

For the opening tabla set, I wanted to do something completely different from my usual tabla solos, and something that would fit with the Elsiane sound. Elsieanne generously composed two amazing backing tracks for my opening tabla set. The first was an elaborately textured drone, over which I played introductory materials, including Benarsi theka, followed by angrusthana. The second track had a drum groove in a medium 12-beat cycle, which I matched with an improvisation in Ektaal. This then transitioned into a duet with Stephane, which we had great fun in creating and in performing! We were eventually joined by Elsieanne and her quijada (a percussion instrument made of a donkey's jaw; the ancestor of the modern vibraslap), and began the Elsiane portion of the show with their song, Paranoia. I got a serious baya workout with the groove that we worked out for this tune, which has got to be one of my favourites that we collaborated on.

Tabla solo!
Elsieanne
Stephane 
Stéphanie, Annick, Elsieanne, Stephane, Shawn
I re-joined the band at different points in the set to play tabla on Distance, Underhelped, and In the Shadows. The tabla fits their music so well, so naturally. I'm sincerely looking forward to more collaborations with the band in the near future!

I was really impressed with how dedicated Elsieanne and Stephane are to their music, and the incredible team that they work with. Rob Heaney making everything sound so good, amazing lighting and stage design by Karine Gauthier, and also people helping out with hair and makeup (for those with hair, hahah!). When Elsiane puts on a show, it's not just a concert; it's an experience.

Thanks to Caroline for the photos!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Kirtan at the Wanderlust Festival in Mont-Tremblant

Mont-Tremblant is a beautiful ski resort in the Laurentians, about 90 minutes north-west of Montreal. When I think of Tremblant, I think of outdoor sports, like skiing, showshoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and so on. But yoga? Not really. But somehow, it happened. This past weekend, the Wanderlust Festival was in full swing. The village itself was the same, but rather than seeing the usual mountain bikers and hikers, the pedestrian streets were full of people with yoga mats strapped to their backs. There were vendors with coconut water, kombucha, fresh juices, yoga clothes, etc. The whole vibe of the village was quite different from the usual. Tremblant was most definitely transformed.

Big yoga class outside!
I was there to accompany Lea Longo for a kirtan, along with Rad Crasto on guitar, Marcelo on bass, and Genevieve on backing vocals. Though there were numerous yoga classes and activities going on all around, when I walked out in my white kurta-pyjama (traditional Indian clothing) for the kirtan, I could feel that many curious eyes were upon me. I was definitely feeling somewhat out of place, as no one else was wearing Indian-style clothing (aside from a couple of Indian families that joined in the kirtan), but rather, athletic-style yoga clothing was the primary outfit of choice. Aside from the few odd looks I received, people were very open-minded, and there was a very strong sense of community at the festival. During the soundcheck, people started to gather around, and once we started, more and more people came and joined in. After about 30 minutes, I'm sure that there were at least 150 people around the stage, with most of them singing along. Not bad!
Taking advantage of the silence to set up and tune! :)




We had fun, and people enjoyed! Until the next time!

Thanks to Caroline for the photos!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Bansuri Concert with Chloé Bennett at H-OM

Before Chloé headed back home to India, we decided to organize a second concert for her (you can read about our first concert, at Sivananda Yoga, here), this time at H-OM Yoga in Vaudreuil-Dorion, just West of the island of Montreal. We were warmly welcomed by Heleen in her spacious yoga studio. We played acoustically, which surprisingly doesn't happen that often! The space has a very clean acoustic, with not much reverb. You can really hear every detail of the sound.

If I remember correctly, the raags included Puriya Kalyan in Jhaptaal and Teentaal, and Desh in Rupak.






I really enjoyed these two concerts with Chloé, and looking forward to her next visit to Montreal!

Thanks to Caroline for the photos!