Moving my blog over to

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:

I hope to see you over at!


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.

United Nations of Indian Classical Music

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

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.