Moving my blog over to shawnmativetsky.com

Dear friends,

With the recent update of my website, I now have the ability to integrate the blog directly into the website, so that is what I am doing; it just makes sense. I will no longer be posting updates here. Thank you to all of you for your interest in my musical adventures. Please click along to my website for the continuation of this blog in the future! If you would like to update your RSS subscription, this is the new RSS URL: http://shawnmativetsky.com/blogs/blog.atom

I hope to see you over at shawnmativetsky.com!

Shawn

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Benares Chronicles, Part 3 - The United Nations of Indian Classical Music

While I was in Benares, I had asked Shen if he had any performances coming up; unfortunately, he had none booked at the time. It would have been great to see him perform. Well, Shen had a surprise up his sleeve for me. He spoke with the folks at Kashika Music Ashram and organised a performance. He was to accompany Japanese sitarist, Yasuhiro Minamizawa... AND, to my surprise... I was to play tabla solo.

The final lineup was made up of Indian classical musicians from all around the world, and so Shen had the great idea to call this concert the United Nations of Indian Classical Music. Very appropriate, and I hope that this concept will continue in the years to come.

KASHIKA MUSIC ASHRAM
presents
United Nations of Indian Classical Music

Kashika Music Hall
Near R.B. Katra Post Office
Bengali Tola Lane
Monday, 21st December, 2009 at 7pm

ARTISTS:
Yuki Taniguchi (Japan - disciple of Pt. Ritwik Sannyal) - SANSKRIT MANTRA

Shawn Mativetsky (Canada - disciple of Pt. Sharda Sahai) - TABLA SOLO
with Aneesh Mishra (India - disciple of Pt. Kanhaiyalal Mishra) - SARANGI

Yasuhiro Minamizawa (Japan - disciple of Smt. Shrabani Biswas) - SITAR
with Shen Flindell (Australia - disciple of Pt. Ashutosh Bhattacharya) - TABLA

Australia, Canada, Japan, and India ... not a bad start for the United Nations of Indian Classical Music! A few days before the performance, we all met at Kashika Music House to give press interviews. Here we are (minus Aneesh), jamming for the cameras.

When the day of the performance came around, I really had no idea how many people would show up. The Kashika Music Hall is a small, intimate performance space. The musicians perform acoustically, with no amplification, and we are extremely close to the audience. The capacity of the space is maybe 40 people; the feeling is like a house concert. At around 6:50, the hall was quite empty, but by 7:00, it was completely full, and by 7:15 all the doors were opened and people were filling the street outside!

First to perform was Yuki, singing Sanskrit mantras. Her background is in yoga and dhrupad, and she has found a great way to combine the two, in the form of naad yoga. Her voice was very calm and composed, and set the mood for the other performances to come. The mantras allowed us to focus on the musical performance taking place, and leave behind the various sounds of the nearby lane.

Next, I performed tabla solo. Opening with a Ganesh vandana, I followed with vilambit and madhya teentaal. Aneesh played beautifully; there is really nothing quite like the sound of sarangi. The audience was very kind and appreciative, and I was surrounded by the now-familiar faces of Debabrata-ji, Shen, Yuki, Hiro, Rob, Jay, Nick (another person that I have known online for a long time, but had never met before), Ghirau (Amarnathjee's sitar-playing son, who I had the pleasure of practicing with) and guru-bhais Jeff and Anjan, and that really motivated me. After a few minutes of playing, Pt. Pooran Maharaj arrived. When Shen and I had visited him a few days prior (see previous blog post), we invited him to our performance and he promised to come; well, he did! Let's just say that I felt some additional pressure at this point (!!!), but he was so encouraging and kind to me during the performance, that I really felt great and highly motivated while I was playing. What an experience!

(A small note about the Benares tabla lineage: Pt. Pooran Maharaj, aside from being the son of the late Pt. Kishan Maharaj, is a disciple of Pt. Kanthe Maharaj, making him guru-bhai with Gurujee (Pt. Sharda Sahai). Shen's guru, Ashu Babu was also a disciple of Pt. Kanthe Maharaj.)


Last on the program was Hiro's sitar performance, accompanied by Shen. Finally, I would get to see Shen perform. I really enjoyed Hiro's alap - it was very sensitive and subtle, with lots of nuance in the meends. When Hiro introduced the alap, Shen played an uthaan that I would describe as being 'deep'. His time-feel is right on, and his baya playing is very smooth and melodic; a very sweet sound overall. It was obvious that Hiro and Shen enjoy playing together, as they would often play off each other, and I really enjoyed watching Hiro's tihai challenges. :)

The United Nations of Indian Classical Music, right after the performance.

A great experience, and a perfect ending to my trip to Benares. Many thanks to Shen for organizing this concert. He opened the concert by saying to everyone that he had put together this concert just for me. Wow! I hope that we can find other occasions to musically come together again.

You can read Shen's blog post on the same subject, at his blog, Tabla in Hand.

Benares Chronicles, Part 2

On this trip, I was really happy to finally meet Shen Flindell, a very talented tabla player from Australia. We have known each other via the Internet for several years, and I have bought tabla from him on numerous occasions (and I recommend him to anyone who wants to purchase authentic, pro-quality Benares tabla, shipped internationally), but we have never been in Benares at the same time, and so have never met. After a few days in Benares, we met at BHU at one of the concerts I mentioned in my previous post. I invited Shen to come meet Gurujee and visit his house in Kabir Chaura. This day turned into quite the adventure, leading to a visit of the late Pt. Kishan Maharaj's house as well!

With the giant statue of Ganesh playing pakhawaj at Pt. Kishan Maharaj's house.

Led by Gurujee's son-in-law, sarangi player Pt. Kanhaiyalal Mishra, we all purchased malas (flower garlands) and sweets and headed off to Pt. Kishan Maharaj's house, which is just down the street from Gurujee's. Kabir Chaura is full of Indian classical artists everywhere you turn; numerous famous vocalists, instrumentalists, and dancers live in the area. Our "tour group" was made up of Shen, his Australian tabla student Rob, Dr. Frances Shepherd, Anjan Saha, and myself.

A view of the music room.
In the foreground is one of Pt. Ram Sahai's (the founder of the Benares gharana) tabla.

We started by visiting the music room. This is a huge space that is often used to host concerts. The walls are covered with paintings and memorabilia representing parts of the history of the Benares gharana; it was like visiting a Benares tabla museum. There was another room dedicated to Pt. Kishan Maharaj, with numerous photos, memorabilia, awards, and press clippings.

An amazing colour portrait of Pt. Ram Sahai and the horse saddle that Pt. Bhairov Sahai once rode.

We ended the visit with a small offering to Pt. Kanthe Maharaj and Pt. Kishan Maharaj. We were graciously hosted by Pt. Pooran Maharaj as well as Pt. Kishan Maharaj's daughter and her husband.

Pt. Kanthe Maharaj

I also very much wanted to visit Ashu Babu's (Shen's guru's) home. I was fortunate to go there a few times to meet Shen. The first time, Shen was giving his daily tabla class to his Australian students, Rob and Jay. I enjoyed watching Shen teach. He is very enthusiastic and passionate about tabla, and his students definitely feel that from him. I really appreciated his teaching style - very firm, not letting any mistake pass and encouraging slow, deliberate practice; and also with a sense of humour and much love for his students.

The yellow building up at the top is Ashu Babu's house.

Shen teaching his students Rob and Jay.

The next time, I met Ashu Babu's son, Dr. Debabrata Bhattacharya. He, Shen, and I sat and played together for a few minutes, which was great fun. The music room is full of historic photos and had an amazing view of the Ganges. What a great place to learn and practice tabla! (Thanks to Shen and Rob for this photo.)

Rob and Shen on the rooftop of Ashu Babu's house.

Taking in the great view from the rooftop of Ashu Babu's house.

For some additional reading and photos, click here to read Shen's blog post, entitled Benares Gharana historical excursion.

More to come in my next post - The United Nations of Indian Classical Music!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Benares Chronicles, Part 1

Immediately after my semester of teaching ended at McGill, I hopped on a plane (several, actually) on my way to see Gurujee, Pandit Sharda Sahai, at his home in Benares (or Varanasi, if you prefer). As always, my goal was to practice, learn, attend performances, and to interact with as many Indian classical artists as possible.

When Gurujee is in Benares (he spends about 9 months of the year in London, UK), his house comes alive with family, chelas (disciples), and visiting artists. It goes without saying that I was very well taken care of, with countless great meals and I don't know how many cups of chai. It was great to see everyone that I had met on my previous trips; it has been 3 years since the last time I was in India, and so it felt like a lot of time had passed. As always, I was warmly welcomed back to Gurujee's home as if it was my own.

Sitarist Pt. Amarnath Mishra, Gurujee's oldest friend,
with myself and Gurujee at his home in Benares.

The Faculty of Music of Banaras Hindu University hosted a music festival when I arrived, so for four days in a row, my afternoons were spent at BHU, watching a variety of artists perform. Violin, sitar, vocal, dhrupad, a couple of tabla solos, and Bharat Natyam dance (kathak dance had been scheduled for the last night, but was cancelled for some reason). The highlights for me were Pundlik Bhagwat's tabla solo and Pt. Amarnath Mishra's sitar performance. Incidentally, Amarnathjee is Gurujee's oldest friend. They live around the corner from each other in Kabir Chaura, and performed together for many years. Every time that Amarnathjee visits, it is a great pleasure to see him and Gurujee reminiscing about old times. I was also fortunate to pick up a 4 volume CD set of Amarnathjee's performances (available at UP Cottage Emporium, off Vishwanath Gully, for those of you in Benares). Bhagwat's tabla solo, in 11 beats, was very powerful and dynamic and was a genuine example of the Benares tabla tradition. He is a disciple of Pt. Ishwarlal Mishra, and also had some training with the late Pt. Kishan Maharaj.

Pundlik Bhagwat's tabla solo and Pt. Amarnath Mishra's sitar performance, accompanied by Kuber Nath Mishra at BHU

I was able to get my kathak fix the next evening at Tridev Mandir. This performance opened with numerous (perhaps a few too many) children performing music and dance, followed by the main artists. First a tabla solo by Ram Kumar Mishra accompanied by Pt. Santosh Mishra on sarangi, followed by a performance by kathak dancing twins Gaurav and Saurav Mishra (who are also Pt. Amarnath Mishra's sons). They also danced with their guru's (Ravishankar Mishra) son; unfortunately, I didn't get his name. The live musicians included kathak guru Ravishankar Mishra on tabla, along with Ram Mishra on tabla as well, and a couple of others on sitar and harmonium.

On this trip, I got my tabla from Imtiaz. His tabla are very good quality, and his service was reasonably fast. Basically, there was no fooling around - every tabla that he showed us had a great sound. All that was needed was some slight syahi work for fine tuning. Not bad at all, considering some past experiences with other makers...

At Imtiaz's shop with guru-bhais Jeff Deen (visiting from Miami) and Deepak Sahai.

From the second week, Gurujee organised group practice sessions for all his students. It was great to get together and play, under his guidance, and along with some of his senior disciples including Pt. Kishor Kumar Mishra, Pt. Shiam Kumar Mishra, Deepak Sahai, and Dinanath (Dinnu) Mishra. Like myself, many other disciples were in attendance from outside India, including Jeff Deen (Miami), Anjan Saha (London), and Dr. Frances Shepherd (London).


More to come soon! In the next blog posts - meeting Shen Flindell, a talented tabla player from Australia, and our concert, the United Nations of Indian Classical Music.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Performing Tabla in Celebration of 50 Years of Electronic Music in Canada

Hard to believe it was only 50 years ago, but November 30, 1959 was the first performance of electronic music in Canada. To celebrate this milestone, the McGill University Digital Composition Studio (formerly the Electronic Music Studio) hosted a concert this past November 15 in Tanna Schulich Hall. The first four pieces on the program were purely electronic, pre-recorded pieces, composed by past directors of McGill's EMS - Istvan Anhalt, Hugh LeCaine, Paul Pedersen, and Bengt Hambraeus. I was invited to perform the final piece on the program - alcides lanza's ontem, with Meg Sheppard (voice), and alcides lanza himself, manipulating live electronics. The full concert program can be downloaded here in PDF format. It contains some interesting (old) photos, and a scan of the 1959 concert program. alcides opened the evening with a talk and slideshow about the McGill EMS, and the evolution of synthesizers and samplers.

Warming up at the dress rehearsal.

Interestingly, ontem was my first commission for a 'Western-classical' contemporary piece for tabla, and this was the 10th anniversary of the piece. My setup includes two pairs of tabla, 3 tom-toms, 5 temple blocks, a log drum, 3 crotales (though nowadays, I use Sabian Resonating Bells instead), and bamboo chimes. Hard to believe that I used to perform this piece standing up (what was I thinking?). I much prefer this new seated configuration, as it allows me to play the tabla better, and the setup is much less cluttered.

Myself, composer alcides lanza, and singer Meg Sheppard after the performance.

Special thanks to Sean Ferguson, director of the McGill DCS, for the photos.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

New Tabla Solo Clip on YouTube

I decided to post a short excerpt of my tabla solo performance from this past October 1. In this clip, I play a common Benares bant, with palta improvised through subdivisions of 4, 5, 6, 7, and finally 8. This is followed by a rela, with a couple of gat-in-rela (one Punjabi gat and one Benarsi gat), concluding with a tihai. Cello lehra is played by Jacob Charkey.


Sunday, 25 October 2009

Performance with Sudeshna Maulik and Janaki Rangarajan

This afternoon, I had the great fortune to present my first performance for Bharatiya Sangeetha Sangam. When I first began to learn about tabla and Indian music, all the Indian music concerts in Montreal back then were organised by BSS. To be performing for them now is a big honour. The programme was organised by BSS in collaboration with Sinha Dance and Manijeh Ali's new QuebeAsia dance series. This was a dance recital featuring Bharata Natyam dancer, Dr. Janaki Rangarajan, and kathak dancer Sudeshna Maulik. Sudeshna was accompanied by Jacob Charkey on cello, and myself on tabla.


The performance opened with an invocation to Shiva by each dancer; first Janaki Rangarajan and then Sudeshna Maulik. After this, Janaki performed three Bharata Natyam pieces; her own choreographies. This was followed by Sudeshna's kathak solo, accompanied by Jacob Charkey (cello) and myself on tabla. Jake performed a short alap, followed by my short tabla uthaan in vilambit teentaal. After this, we accompanied Sudeshna through vilambit, madhya, and drut teentaal. After this, Sudeshna danced a piece relating to the festival of Holi.

For the curtain call, Janaki and Sudeshna asked Jake and I to accompany them for an impromptu dance duet. While it was certainly brief, I was very happy to at least be able to accompany Janaki and Sudeshna together for that short time. While I am certainly not an expert on Bharata Natyam, I can say that Janaki is a Bharata Natyam dancer of the highest calibre; her movements are very clear and crisp, she is very rhythmically precise, and her performance was filled with great subtleties.

Of course, you have already seen me write about Sudeshna's performances; we have been performing together quite often since our first performances together in June of this year. As always, she danced amazingly.

I would also like to write a little about QuebeAsia. There were performances held every evening, from October 22 through 24, plus the above performance today, October 25. October 22 was a presentation of dance forms of Islamic inspiration by Manijeh Ali, Amrita Choudhury, and Sudeshna Maulik. October 23 was focused on contemporary interpretations of Indian classical dance forms, with performances by Sonia Lopez (the poem Chitrangada, interpreted in Odissi dance), Sudeshna Maulik (her kathak piece, Mystical Water), and Manijeh Ali's interpretation of Janaki Rangarajan's choreography, Thandavum. Unfortunately, I missed the contemporary dance performances on October 24 by Roger Sinha, Reena Almoneda-Chang, Manijeh Ali, and Justine Ricard. All in all, a great initiative by local dancer, Manijeh Ali. I look forward to future editions of the QuebeAsia series!

Friday, 23 October 2009

iLehra Software

As software for Indian classical music is somewhat rare, I am happy to spread news of the release of Prasad Upasani's iLehra for iPhone and iPod Touch. Unfortunately, I don't own either of these, so I am unable to do a hands-on review. (Prasadji has also programmed a great-sounding iTanpura software.)

Previously, for students of tabla and dance, one would need to buy a costly Nagma machine, or program lehra melodies into a music sequencing program. iLehra is a fully-featured lehra program, with built-in tanpura and lehra. It is possible to set the pitch, tempo, and instrument of the lehra.

Features list from the iLehra website:

Features include:

  1. Lehras in all common taals including Teentaal, Ektaal, Jhaptaal, Rupak, Dadra, Keherva, Chautal and Dhamar (more coming soon)

  2. Choice of instruments including harmonium and violin (more coming soon)

  3. Extremely accurate tempo tested to within 1 milli-second

  4. Each lehra has three variations for slow, medium and fast tempos for more natural-sounding lehras

  5. Beautiful tanpura auto-tuned to pitch and raag of lehra

  6. Wide range of tempo from 30bpm to 300bpm (bpm = beats per minute)

  7. Automatic range selection (vilambit, madhya, drut) based on tempo slider

  8. Extremely precise control of tempo by clicking on the slider endpoints (- or +). Every click changes the tempo by 1bpm

  9. Displays current matra being played

  10. Full octave of pitch adjustments from C through B with precise fine-tuning of pitch


Can be used with speakers, headset, or the internal speaker. A high-quality speaker dock is recommended for maximum effect.


The YouTube video gives a pretty good idea of what the software is like. It appears to be quite simple to use. The sound quality is decent, but can probably be improved in future versions. I'd really like to hear a nice sarangi sound. Another feature I'd like to see is the ability to program new melodies, save them, and be able to share with other users. In any case, I am personally unable to use this software since I don't have an iPhone or iPod Touch. I'd really love to see a version of this software for Blackberry! Any programmers up to the challenge?

For those tabla players and dancers with the required hardware, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this software. Available for purchase in the Apple App Store.



Monday, 5 October 2009

Radio Interview - de bouffe à oreille

Last Saturday, September 25, I gave a live interview at Radio Canada Première Chaîne, which is Canada's national French-language radio network. Host Jacques Bertrand of the show La tête ailleurs invited me to speak about tabla, Indian music, and Indian cooking for a segment entitled De bouffe à oreille, which roughly translates to "from food to ear." Guests are invited to present some type of food, along with music that one might associate with that food. In my case, it was simple - tabla and daal!

They've chosen to include my interview in their 'best of' archives (yay!). To hear the interview (in French, of course!), please follow this link.

So far, one reader of the Radio Canada website commented that she liked the interview, but wished they had posted my recipe for daal! Maybe I will work on writing it down... Not that it's anything unique. I am just trying my best to copy what I have eaten numerous times at Guruji's (Pandit Sharda Sahai's) house.

October - A busy month for tabla in Montreal!

Wow, October is looking to be a great month for tabla in Montreal! Here's a rundown of events this month:

PREVIOUS

Oct. 1 - I performed at Tanna Schulich Hall (McGill University) with kathak dancer, Sudeshna Maulik, and cellist Jake Charkey. We opened with Jake performing Raag Durga; a composition set to Jhaptaal (10 beats). I then followed with a medium-length tabla solo of about 30 minutes in vilambit and madhya Teentaal (16 beats). After a short break, Jake and I accompanied Sudeshna through vilambit, madhya, and drut Teentaal.

Oct. 3 - I performed with sitarist Uwe Neumann at a house concert in celebration of Diwali. Somewhat early for Diwali, but it was great fun and the audience was so receptive to our performance. What a pleasure!

UPCOMING

Saturday, October 10 at 6pm - Performances by sitarist Shakir Khan (son of Ustad Shahid Parvez) and vocalist Esha Bandyopadhyay, accompanied by Hindol Majumdar on tabla. Kathak dancer Sudeshna Maulik will open the evening with a short performance as well. Ecole Saint-Henri Auditorium, 4115 Saint-Jacques West, Montreal. Tickets are 15$ and 10$.

October 19-29 - Ok, not quite a concert or performance series, but worth mentioning - Cinema du Parc is again presenting its popular series, Made in India. Ten days of Bollywood movies on the big screen!

October 22-24 - The QuébéAsia dance festival, featuring numerous dancers from Quebec, and representing a wide range of Asian dance forms. Participants include Manijeh Ali, Reena Almoneda-Chang, Amrita Choudhury, Sonia Lopez, Sudeshna Maulik, Janaki Rangarajan, Justine Ricard, and Roger Sinha. Each evening's performance is entirely different, and will feature different artists and different styles. All activities are taking place at Art Neuf, 3819 rue Calixa-Lavalée in Montreal. There are also a few workshops being offered for dance professionals and amateurs alike. (I think that this new dance festival is a great initiative, and I hope that it will continue in the years to come. The only unfortunate aspect in my opinion, is that as far as I know, none of the dancers will be performing with live musicians.)

Saturday, October 24 at 5:20pm- Drummer Steve Smith and percussionist Pete Lockett will be giving a drumset workshop at the Montreal DrumFest. They will be speaking about the application of Indian rhythms (Hindustani and Carnatic) to drumset and other percussion. For more information on their session, click here. All events are taking place at Salle Pierre Mercure, 300 de Maisonneuve East, Montreal.

Saturday, October 24 at 7:30pm - The Kabir Centre presents sitarist Irshad Khan, accompanied by Hindol Majumdar on tabla. Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke West, Montreal.

Obviously there are too many things happening on October 24!

Sunday, October 25 at 3pm - Bharatiya Sangeetha Sangham presents an afternoon of Kathak and Bharatanatyam dance with Sudeshna Maulik and Janaki Rangarajan. Sudeshna will be accompanied by myself on tabla and Jake Charkey on cello. The performance will take place at Champlain Regional College, 900 rue Riverside, Saint-Lambert. Tickets are 15$ and 10$

Monday, October 26 at 7pm - KoSA Academy is hosting percussionist Pete Lockett for a workshop on the application of Indian rhythms to drumset and other percussion. KoSA Centre des Arts, 5325 rue Crowley, Montreal. Tickets are 30$.

So, as you can see, October is a great month for Indian culture in Montreal. Time to go out and enjoy some performances!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Kathak at ZaZen

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you will remember that I perform a few times a year at the ZaZen Athletic Spa. This space is great for Indian classical performances, as we are able to perform in a great acoustic, and with no amplification. We are up close and personal with the audience. All together, this makes for a great evening with a warm vibe, which is very inspirational in performance.

Last Friday, September 25, we tried something new - a kathak performance at ZaZen. The space is certainly smaller than the average stage, but Sudeshna was able to make it work. These performances always have the feeling of a house concert.

The evening began with Jake Charkey performing a composition in raag Durga, set to Jhaptaal (10 beats). Very appropriate, since we are not far from Durga puja time. I then performed a medium-length tabla solo (30 minutes) in Teentaal (16 beats). After a short break, we moved off to the side, to clear the 'stage' for Sudeshna Maulik. We accompanied her in vilambit, madhya, and drut teentaal, followed by a Ram bhajan set to Rupaktaal (7 beats).

Vanessa Muri from SweetSpot.ca reviewed the performance for her Sweetlife blog, Montreal Musings. Click here to read her article and see some pictures as well.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Tabla Classes at Bharat Bhavan

I am happy to announce that as of September, I will be offering group tabla classes at Bharat Bhavan in Montreal. These classes are offered in collaboration with the kathak dancer, Sudeshna Maulik, under the banner of our new school - Sangeet Academy!

Both tabla and kathak classes will be held on Thursday evenings. All ages are welcome. Please contact me directly for more information, and to sign up. Bharat Bhavan is conveniently located; just a one-minute walk from St-Henri metro.

On a related note, here is a short clip of excerpts from a recent kathak performance with Sudeshna:




Monday, 22 June 2009

Crossroads

This past June 12 and 13, I had the pleasure of participating in the Crossroads project at the Gesu in Montreal. It was a dance performance, combining Kathak and Odissi with live music (though at times, the dancers used pre-recorded music).

Sudeshna Maulik, kathak dancer, began her training in Kolkatta under Pt. Chitresh Das, and then went on to study at Bharatiya Kala Kendra, and at the National Kathak Institute with Pt. Birju Maharaj. Based in Windsor, Ontario, Odissi
dancer Enakshi Sinha studied with Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and Smt. Sharmila Biswas.

The programme began with Stree Shakti, an evocation of the eternal female creative force, through Kathak and Odissi dance. Enakshi Sinha (Odissi) and Sudeshna Maulik (Kathak) performed their own choreography, with pre-recorded music that they developed in India.

Performing with Jake Charkey, cello. Photo by Ulysse Lemerise-Bouchard.

This was followed by Hands and Feet, which was the traditional Kathak item, which Sudeshna danced solo. Jake Charkey played nagma on cello, and I played tabla. We opened with the very famous Ganesh vandana (bol paran), followed by thaat, amad, and then numerous compositions (tukras, parans, gat nikas, etc.) in vilambit, madhya, and drut. The item ended with a brief sawal-jawab between Sudeshna and myself. You might notice from the photo that I have two dahinas. I played on a low-C in the vilambit and madhya sections for a pakhawaj-like sound, and used a standard C for the drut section.

Myself and Jake Charkey accompanying Sudeshna Maulik's kathak performance. Photo by Ulysse Lemerise-Bouchard.

The next item was Glimpses, an Odissi solo that Enakshi Sinha choreographed and performed, with pre-recorded music. This was then followed by Footprints of Rhythm, an Odissi-Kathak duet, with pre-recorded music and drumset, which I played live. The idea was to combine traditional music of both Odissi and Kathak with another, non-traditional element. So, tabla, pakhawaj, and drumset. Though I am not a big fan of playing along to a pre-recorded track, it was fun to play drumset from a tabla perspective, and to be able to interact with both dancers in their respective idioms.
Jake then performed a short solo; a rendition of a song by Tagore. This created a bridge to the last piece, Tagore Revisited, which is a collection of three choreographies, again combining Kathak and Odissi dance, with pre-recorded music.

Of course, I would prefer to have more live music and less pre-recorded music, but in the dance world, this is very common. Sometimes, choreographies are attached to pre-set structures, and it is often cost-prohibitive to hire enough musicians to accurately reproduce the recorded music. In this case, we would have needed to add a sitarist and vocalist, and perhaps a keyboard player as well.
From left to right: Jake Charkey (cello), Enakshi Sinha (Odissi dance), Sudeshna Maulik (Kathak dance), and myself. Photo by Ulysse Lemerise-Bouchard.

The performances were very well attended, and we all got some great comments from the audience. We are hoping to book future performances of Crossroads in the rest of Canada and perhaps even internationally. Sudeshna and Enakshi are both immensely talented, and it was a true pleasure to accompany them. I am very much looking forward to our future collaborations.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Passing of the great maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

This morning, I learned of the sad news that the great sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, has passed away. He was one of the all-time greats of Indian classical music, and was instrumental in bringing Indian classical music to the West. Here are a couple of excerpts from the press:

From DNA India:

Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan died in San Francisco in the US today after a prolonged kidney ailment, according to a family friend here. Eighty-eight-year-old Khan died at his music centre at 10 am IST, Rabin Pal, the secretary of sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar, said. He is survived by wife Mary, three sons and a daughter.

Pal, a family friend of the maestro, said he was informed of Khan's death by the ustad's family in San Francisco. Khan's secretary in Kolkata, Ashish Roy, said the maestro was on dialysis and had been ailing for over four years. His condition had deteriorated in the last four months.

A recipient of the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, Khan had been a colossus in the world of Indian classical music for the last five decades. He became court musician for the maharaja of Jodhpur and continued for seven years, till his patron's death. The state of Jodhpur bestowed on him his title of "ustad".

At the request of violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, Khan visited the United States in 1955 and performed at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

He founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Kolkata in 1956. In 1965, he began teaching in USA, later opening a branch of his college there, and in Switzerland. In 1997, Khan performed at a programme in the United Nations to celebrate the 50th year of India's independence.

He also composed music for films, creating the musical score for Chetan Anand's Aandhiyan(1953), Merchant-Ivory productions' The Householder, Tapan Sinha's Khudita Pashan, Satyajit Ray's Devi and Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha.

Khan married thrice. His son, Ustad Aashis Khan, is a sarod artiste of repute. The maestro once said: "For us, as a family, music is like food. When you need it, you don't have to explain why, because it is the basis of life."


"Kolkata (PTI): Hailed by violinist Yehudi Menuhin as 'the greatest musician in the world', Sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, who died on Friday, had many a first to his credit in taking Indian classical music to the West.

88-year-old Khan, who had settled down in San Francisco in the US, was admired by both Eastern as well as Western musicians for his brilliant compositions and his mastery of the 25-string instrument.

The illustrious son of Ustad Alauddin Khan, he was once described by Menuhin as 'the greatest musician in the world'. He was the first to cut a long play record of Indian classical music in the US and to give a sarod recital on American TV.

Khan was also the first Indian musician to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1991 and was nominated for Grammy Awards five time between 1970 to 1998.

Born on April 14, 1922 in Shibpur village of Comilla district, now in Bangladesh, Khan took up music at the age of three, learning vocal music from his father and percussion from his uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin.

His father also trained him in several other instruments, but Khan decided to concentrate on the sarod and on vocals.

A recipient of Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan, Khan gave his first public performance in Allahabad at the age 13 and made his first gramophone recording in Lucknow when he was in his early twenties."

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tabla at the Festival international de jazz de Montréal

For the past several years, because of touring or tabla workshops, I have tended to be out of town during the Montreal Jazz Festival. This year, I am here, so I am paying particular attention to the lineup. I thought it would be nice to do a rundown of all the tabla-related performances this summer. Unfortunately, I won't be performing tabla in the festival this year.

July 1, 2009 at 6pm
Gesu, 1200 rue de Bleury
From the JazzFest program - "French trumpeter Erik Truffaz opens his three-night stand in the style of his triptych Rendez-vous, lining up high-calibre collaborations. In Benares, the first of three "cities" visited in this wholly original series, we're ushered into an Indian salon where Indrani and Apurba Mukherjee await us, alongside Truffaz and Malcolm Braff. Vocals, piano, trumpet and tablas conjure the clamour of an India bathed in dusky light, car horns and dust, in a rhythmic whirlwind of a fusion of the Middle-East and the western world."

July 2, 2009 at 6pm
Gesu, 1200 rue de Bleury
From the JazzFest program -"On the second stop of his musical pilgrimage, Erik Truffaz welcomes electronica artist Murcof, one of the most freespirited of his generation, to fold his airy rhythms around the trumpeter's soaring, dynamic runs. They engendered a longdistance exchange via the Internet, weaving a sonic tapestry true to Truffaz' boundless sense of invention and musical curiousity. It's a radical, impressionistic proposition; and here they are together, playing music enhanced by the percussion of Talvin Singh, unquestioned master of the tablas and the Asian underground sound."

Personally, I don't see the connection between Talvin and Mexico, but hey, why not?

July 4, 2009 at 9:30pm
Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts
From the JazzFest program -"Miles goes Indian… or vice-versa? The Festival presents another concert homage to the legend, this time with a major musical project spiced with a delicious touch of exoticism. Inspired by the double album of the same name, Miles from India is a musical fusion of Indian and American cultures. Two groups, one composed of elite Indian musicians, the other of American jazzmen who’ve previously collaborated with Miles, unite onstage for a Subcontinental, spiritual celebration of the master’s music."

Nicholas Payton • Trumpet
Robert Irving III • Keyboards
Bill Evans • Tenor Saxophone
R. Mahanthappa • Saxophones
Darry Jones • Bass
John Beasley • Keyboards
Badal Roy • Tabla
U. Shrinivas • Mandolin
Lenny White • Drums
Ndugu Chancler • Percussions
Vince Wilburn • Drums
Anantha Krishnan • Mridangan
Hidayat Khan • Sitar
V.K. Raman • Flute/Vocal
Selvaganesh • Khanjira

July 9, 2009 at 10:30pm
Gesu, 1200 rue de Bleury
From the JazzFest program -"Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition is turning heads internationally in both the jazz and world music scenes. Rudresh, an innovative alto saxophonist, along with guitar virtuoso Rez Abbasi and tabla star Dan Weiss, blazes new trails into the future of jazz, synthesizing jazz with the astutely improvised musical forms of South Asia. Their debut album Apti, on innova Recordings, has received rave reviews in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Downbeat."

Dan Weiss is famous for his incredible Tintal Drumset Solo. It'll be nice to hear him on tabla.

Overall, quite a lot of tabla this year. If you attend any of the concerts, please post a review!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Symphonie du Sud-Ouest

From February to mid-April, I was involved in a very interesting project, the Symphonie du Sud-Ouest. This series of workshops on musical creativity and improvisation was initiated by guitarist/composer, Tim Brady. The project involved 20 musicians from the community at large; more specifically, those living in the south-west borough of the city of Montreal. Tim Brady, saxophonist Jean-Marc Bouchard (from the Quasar saxophone quartet), and myself met with the group every Wednesday night over the course of two months.

The participants were of mixed age and background, ranging from 16 years old to 70 years old, and with varying amounts of musical experience. Instrumentation included voice, piano, guitar, bass, electronic drumset, recorder, clarinet, and saxophone. My setup included tabla (of course!), darbouka, a couple of cymbals, and a milltone drum.

Each week, we would begin with a short presentation on a musical style or compositional technique. Topics included melody, harmony, orchestration, register/dynamics/density, improvisation, composition, theme-and-variation, Indian music (of course!), etc. Then, we would break off into our three groups, led by Tim (guitar and voice), Jean-Marc (winds), and myself (percussion). My group, though loosely labelled the percussion group, actually included African percussion, electronic drumset, slam poetry / vocal sound effects, piano, and my setup that I mentioned earlier.

Over the course of seven workshops, we worked on creating our symphony for a performance at the Maison de la culture Marie Ugay on April 15. The final structure was:
I - Group improvisation, directed by Tim
II - Guitar / voice group soli
III - Wind group soli
IV - Percussion group soli
V - Group "comprovisation", composed/directed by Tim

It was fun to see everyone push their musical boundaries far past their pre-conceived notions of music and music-making. The concert was well attended, and enthusiastically received. We are currently planning a second edition of the workshop, which should begin sometime in mid-June! If you are a resident of the Sud-Ouest borough of Montreal and would like to participate in the second edition of the Symphone du Sud-Ouest, please contact the Centre Culturel Georges-Vanier.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Upcoming performances

I thought I should mention some upcoming performances of my own, and others in the area. 

On May 2, Crudessence, Montreal's top "living food" restaurant is putting on a party called Bollywood Express. There will be a bollywood dance demonstration, and a DJ who will play all your favourite Bollywood tracks, so you can dance the night away. But before everyone gets down, Jake Charkey and I will open the evening with some North Indian classical music for tabla and cello. Yes, cello! How to explain it? It's just like Indian violin, but lower! :)

May 2, 2009 at 8:00pm
Espace Reunion, 6600 rue Hutchison
Montreal, Qc
Tickets cost 15$ in advance, 20$ at the door.

If you are in the Ottawa area, the Ragamala Association of Ottawa-Carleton is presenting a concert with sitarist Ustad Shahid Parvez, accompanied by Subhajyoti Guha on tabla. May 2 at 7:30pm. Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. Tickets are 20$ to 100$.

Later in the month of May, the Kabir Cultural Centre is presenting a semi-classical vocal concert with Shafkat Ali Khan, from Pakistan. He will be accompanied by Pandit Ramesh Mishra on sarangi. The concert is on May 16 at 7:30pm. DB Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve West, Montreal, Qc. Tickets are 15$-50$. Unfortunately, I will be missing this performance, as I will be in London, UK at the time, but I will fortunately be seeing Ramesh-ji in performance with Shri Sanju Sahai on May 9 at the South Bank Centre! Ramesh-ji is an incredible sarangi player, and I would highly reccomend attending whichever performance you are able to! :)

Mark June 12 and 13 in your calendars for Sudeshna Maulik's Crossroads project, which will take place at the Salle Gesu in Montreal. This will be a full performance of kathak and odissi dance, with Jake Charkey on cello and myself on tabla.

Monday, 20 April 2009

New releases

A couple of recordings that I worked on last fall have just recently been released. These aren't groups that I regularly perform with, but they were looking for some Indian flavour for specific tracks on their albums.

The first recording is with La Nef, a group whose music is extremely varied and defies categorization. Generally speaking, they perform both early music and world music. This recording, as the title suggests, is of music inspired by desert cultures. I perform santoor (yes!) on the second track, Rub al Khali. The other performers on the track are the very talented Pierre Hamon on bansuri, Carlo Rizzo and Patrick Graham on frame drums, and Andrew Wells-Oberegger on oud. Pierre and Carlo had flown in from France for this occasion. The rest of the CD is extremely varied, with voice, various flutes, numerous frame drums and percussion instruments, oud, saz, guembri, and jaw harp.

The other recording that has recently been released is francophone pop artist Yann Perreau's Un serpent sous les fleurs. Having recently returned from India, Yann wanted some tabla on his new record. I perform on the track, Le marcheur rapide.

Future releases in 2009 include a couple of guest tracks on Marie Saintonge's upcoming funky-electronic-world CD (previews can be heard on MySpace), a compilation with slam-poet-singer Mathieu Lippé and the soundtrack for a National Film Board of Canada short film.

That's all for now! More tabla-news coming soon.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Quick Update on Recent Activities

Things have been really busy these past several weeks with many great projects. Here is a quick rundown of what's been going on.

First, in January, I performed tabla solo for the Abhilasha Project's fundraiser concert. In February, another fundraiser concert - this time, for the Montreal Heart of the City Piano Program, and a performance of Payton MacDonald's marimba and tabla duo, Jugalbandi, with marimbist Catherine Meunier. We also recorded some music by composer Luigi Allemano for an upcoming National Film Board short film.

Performing Jugalbandi with Catherine Meunier

March included a recording and performance with Francophone singer/poet Mathieu Lippé in Quebec City, a jazz performance with pianist John Roney, and Bhumi Pranam, a Bharat Natyam performance with Ginette Dion's Sattvika Danse.

My setup for accompanying John Roney included tabla (3 dahinas),
shakers, and a variety of Sabian cymbals that I played with both hands and sticks.
(Special thanks to Ji for the photo!)

Coming next are performances with contemporary violinist Parmela Attariwala in Toronto, and pop singer Yann Perreau's album launch in Montreal.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Tabla Tracks - New CD Release by Pandit Sharda Sahai!

I am really excited to annouce this news. Pandit Sharda Sahai (my tabla guru) has just released a new CD! This album is really special in many ways. It is in fact a very old recording - from 1976. Music Room - Jalsa Ghar was recorded at Pandit Samta Prasad's house in Benares (Varanasi) upon Pt. Sahai's return from a six-year residency in the United States. This recording has been archived privately all this years, and it is only now that this historic recording has been made public for the first time.

There is a special mood to this recording; it is a live performance in an intimate house concert setting. Over the course of the performance, we can hear the comments made by Pt. Samta Prasad as well as other audience members. There was immense anticipation of this concert, as Pt. Sahai had been away for so many years; everyone wanted to see how he was playing. Needless to say, the performance is absolutely spectacular and the mood is electric. The performance includes many of the compositions that have become Panditji's trademark as well as some rare compositions that are not available on any other recording released to date.

This is an absolute must have for anyone interested in Indian classical music. This is certainly one of the best tabla solo recordings of our time.

This recording has been pressed in limited edition and so will not be available from all retailers. If you are in Montreal, I have a few copies available. Audiorec will be carrying the CD for international sales (as of this posting, I don't see the CD listed online but they do have them), and if you are in London you can also contact the Pandit Ram Sahai Foundation to purchase a copy directly.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

New Feature - Tabla Tracks

I have decided to start posting small blurbs about tabla-related albums that I am listening to, in an effort to promote this great music. I wouldn't necessarily call these CD reviews; I just want to share what I'm listening to! Tabla Tracks will be a regular feature of TablaMontreal. Look for new Tabla Tracks to appear on a regular basis. This first edition features two world-fusion albums.

The first CD is from Victoria-based guru-bhai, Niel Golden. Niel is a master tabla player, whose musical travels have literally taken him around the world. It's a Journey (released in 2008) is a fitting title for this album. The album is an eclectic world-fusion mix, combining influences from Indian, African, and Latin music with elements of blues and pop.

Tabla is heard in practically all of the tracks, but it doesn't always take centre stage; but don't fret, there are definitely some tabla solos in there! Niel's use of tabla is quite tasteful, and varies from tune to tune. Each track is in a completely different style, which shows both Niel's and the tabla's versatility in accompanying different types of music. For example: the tabla tarang-like use of tabla in Maliwood Drive, the Rolling Stone cover in Paint it Black, and the modulating tabla in Blu Z. Niel is a big fan of the Swiss instrument, the Hang, which is also featured in a few tunes. Of special note is a guest appearance by Harry Manx on Mohan veena.

Favourite tracks: Bergamot, Hari OM


The next CD, is a more recent acquisition - Tibet2Timbuk2's Music is Life (released in 2009). Tibet2Timbuk2 is a project of longtime Internet friend and Benares gharana brother, Shen Flindell, who is based in Australia. Shen is a very talented tabla player, and aside from some online clips, this is the first full-length album of his that I have had the pleasure of listening to. Tibet2Timbuk2 is a trio that combines the musics of India, Tibet, and Africa. The result is a feel-good mix of upbeat world music. Honestly, every folk festival in Canada should book this band!

What really strikes me in Shen's playing on this album is his feel/groove, and above all, his truly exceptional baya playing. His baya's pitch is nicely tuned to the tonic (which surprisingly, not every tabla player does), and aside from that, he plays moving bass-lines with great accuracy. Who needs a bass player? :) The instrumentation of the trio allows each instrument to speak, with no one stepping on each other's toes.  The singer's "super-vibrato" is certainly different! Of special note is guest artist Taro Terahara on bansuri.

Favourite tracks: Beautiful Girl/Bhumo Zhema, Ama

Music is Life can be ordered through EthnoSuperLounge. Proceeds from the sale of this album go to support Tibetan Children's Village in Dharamsala, India.

That's all for now. Please let me know what YOU think of these albums!