Girishbhai – A tribute to his unwavering support and love …

Girishbhai – A tribute to his unwavering support and love...

To become a great musician requires a lot from the person who wants to become the musician. Patience, dedication, focus are requirements. Success follows if one undertakes intense sadhna. The path becomes easier if you have people who support you, encourage you and challenge you to work even harder or go that extra mile.
They are many such people in my life. People that I am indebted to for their friendship, unwavering support. They truly helped me to reach where I am today. One of these people is (the late) Girishbhai.

Girishbhai understood very little about Indian classical music, but he believed in me and my dream and had one mission: to make me one of the best tabla players around. There was a period of several years in my life where he would continually call me up and say, “Pandit you should practice tonight. Your home or my home. Let’s do this, I’ll pick you up in the evening.” (He called me “Pandit”).

As night approached, he would be at my door. I was not allowed to drive myself anywhere if Girishbhai was in town, he called himself my “sarathi”(charioteer), Guruji travelling on his own was not permitted. He would pick me up and take me to his home, where I would set myself up on my asana. Girishbhai’s seat was right across from me. I would play non-stop for 4 to 5 hours. Generally concluding around 2 or 3 in the morning.

Girishbhai would not move during my practice. He would sit there listening the whole time. When I finished, he would give encouraging comments and proceed to give me a massage, citing that my practice must have made me very tired.

After massaging my shoulders and arms, the next part of the late night was fixed. “Now you must be hungry. Tell me Pandit, what will you eat?” At this time in Ahmedabad, late-night restaurants were virtually non-existent. Only one restaurant was open and that too was a considerable distance away in the old city.

He would ask me what I wanted to eat and set off to the old city. I was not permitted to join, as he would not allow me to do anything after these long practices. He would return with hot food, which we would eat, before Girishbhai dropped me home.

These night practices happened regularly for 4-5 years. For 4-5 years, Girishbhai would pick me up, take me to his home, sit in front of me without moving for the 4 to 5 hours that I practiced, give me a massage, get me dinner and then drop me home. His motivation was one thing: to make Guruji one of the best tabla players around.

He did not understand Indian classical music, but he understood my dream and did everything he could to make it a reality. Whomever he would meet, he would speak to them of his Pandit, Pandit Divyang Vakil and the wonderful tabla he heard. That was his love. If I had any program in Ahmedabad, even if the program was close to his home, he would come to my home, pick me and take me to the venue and drop me home afterwards.

Those years have passed. Girishbhai has passed on. But I will always be indebted to him for his support and am thankful for the love that he had for me. Thank you, Girishbhai. I hope that your example will be an inspiration to others.

Great Nakkara Player – Ustad Dilawar Khan

Great Nakkara Player – Ustad Dilawar Khan

Some of my friends from Jaipur had called me up. A nakkara player, Ustad Dilawar Khan was coming to Ahmedabad.(At the time, I did not know it, but he is one of the greatest nakkara players I have heard, I highly recommend that you listen to him.)

The tabla has many influences and origins. The nakkara (picture below) has a very strong influence on tabla. It is two drums that are played with sticks. They are not a widely played instrument. It is typically just played with the shehnai. It is a rare to find nakkara soloists of this caliber. Before hearing him, I had never heard the nakkara played with such virtuousity.

The program was held in an old haveli (villa). Almost all the good musicians of the city has congregated to hear the Ustad play. Before going to program, I did not know what to expect, but my Jaipur friend has been adamant that is was not to be missed. I went to the program with a student of mine, Nitin Triparti. As I watched him tune his instrument, I could anticipate the caliber of his playing.

His solo blew me away. He played all the complex compositions of the tabla using sticks on the nakkara. His solo was set in teentaal. Similar to a tabla solo, he began with a peshkar. He produced amazing meend using thin sticks. You could see his sadhana in his playing. The speed of his kaidas and clarity of his relas. It was a tabla solo, but with sticks. It’s difficult, but try to imagine Tirakit compositions played with sticks. He played La killa (naga naga naga) with tremendous speed and power on one drum.

Everyone in the audience was amazed. Dilawarsaheb took fermaishes from the audience. Pandit Kishen Maharaj was present and requested to hear a laggi. The way he played Dha Te Na Da laggi, with amazing speed and fluidity! The concert was truly a treat for musicians, especially for tabla players.

I had always heard that tabla came from the nakkara. That evening, I could clearly see and hear the relationship between the two.

After that solo, I never heard or saw Dilawar Khabsaheb again. I searched for other nakkara players, but never came across anyone who could play his level of playing and mastery. That evening was one of those rare concerts in my life and even though there was no recording, I can hear it as clearly as I did nearly 30 years ago.

8 Things Consider when Purchasing Tabla

8 Things Consider when Purchasing Tabla

For any artist, the quality of instrument is very important. There are many factors to consider when purchasing tabla. It is only in recent times that the wide majority purchase ready-made tablas, previously, each piece was bought individually to create a pair of tabla.

Here are 8 things to consider to keep in mind when purchasing tabla:

1) Wood
Good tablas are made from sheesham or biya wood. Sheesam is black in colour. A sheesham shell will have a solid bottom. Biya, on the other hand, is yellowish is colour and is softer than sheesham. When looking at shell, it important to make sure that the shell does not have any fractures in the body and that the top of the shell is even. A good shell will have been seasoned for 3 years (or 3 monsoons) before it is used.

2) Vadhar
The thickness of the vadhar is important to consider. Thin vadhars are more susceptible to breaking, which very thick vadhars are difficult to stretch when tuning. I remember when I used to buy vadhar and soak them in butter (makhan) before using them to make a pair of tabla. This was a common practice to make the vadhar smooth and more easy to stretch. These vadhars never dried out or snapped.

3) Gata
The thickness and length of the gata are two important factors. The thickness of the gata affects how much the pudi is stretched when moving the gata. If they are too thin then the pudi will not be stretched enough, if it too thick then it is difficult to increase the number of vadhars on the gata and when the vadhars are increased, the pudi can become overstretched. Generally, gatas should be 1 – 1.25 inches in diameter. If the gatas are too long then gatas will not stay in line when tuning making it difficult to get that precision in tuning.

4) Ghajara
The ghajara on a new pair of tabla should even all around and in the middle. No house should be higher or lower than another. If any house is higher or lower, then that house is more likely to become imbalanced in tone.

5) Kinar
The width of the kinar determines the amount of resonance that one gets. A wide kinar makes for a less resonant sound (which is sometimes required), but in general, a very wide kinar is not recommended. If the kinar is too thin, then the kinar bols can become metallic in sound as the application of ta ends up more on the on top edge of the shell.

6) Shahi
The shahi gives weight to the pudi. A good shahi will have concentric circles and no loose “beads” or danna. When playing a tete on the shahi, it should result in a very crisp sound. A good shahi gives the best tirakita and tete.

7) Pudi Size
The pitch of the tabla changes with the size of the pudi. For beginners, a 5.5″ diameter is recommended.

7) Bayan
Bayan are generally made from German silver, copper or brass in original color or coated in chrome. I personally, I like brass bayans are they have a deep and round tone. There are two styles of bayans – tall or with a stomach. Those with a stomach have a bit more bass than the tall ones. Bayans come in three sizes – S, M, L. For a beginner, medium size is recommended. Bayans can comes with vadhars or strings. Those with the vadhar keep their stretch for longer, but they are susceptible to weather effects, while stringed bayans are not. Punjab, Delhi, Ajrada, Farukkhabad use bayans with vadhar, Benaras uses bayans with strings.

8) Tone
Tone is the most important factor to consider when purchasing tabla. All the above are factors that influence the tone of a tabla. The tabla tone should be round, have good resonance and be balanced. The bayan tone should be round and not have too much or too little bass.

Its a lot to consider, but a good instrument can greatly improve one’s practice, so take the time and spend the money to buy a good quality tabla, and remember to keep these 8 things in mind when purchasing tabla. Happy tabla shopping!

Looking to purchase tabla in the US? Taalim School sells tabla for beginners and professionals alike.

Candlelight Practice

Candlelight Practice (Jyoti riyaaz)

In olden times, many ustads and pandits used to do candlelight practice, also known as jyoti riyaaz.

Two major concepts should be kept in mind when doing candlelight practice:

1) you must play one composition until the candle burns out
2) you must stare into the flame jyoti while practicing

Candlelight practice should not be done in a very fast speed. It is better to take a taal versus a particular composition (ie. teentaal or jhaptaal theka versus a kayda).

It is also very important to have the taanpura drone and perfectly tuned tabla during candlelight practice.

Fire has four basic elements: heat, sound, light and darkness. This is why fire is worshiped in traditions around the world.

Staring into the fire is called tratak. When playing a theka and doing this, after some time (after weeks in fact), one feels that the taal and the flame elements begin to merge and drive one into unknown areas. Its a kind of experience that cannot be described in words.

Sometimes one feels that the sound of the theka disappears and reappears. Sometimes one feels that the flame appears and disappears. Sometimes one feels that both disappears and reappears. That is the time when you meet total emptiness – the gap where all secrets reside.

I strongly recommend that anyone who has the mood to go for any experience of music, but do this practice. You will not be disappointed.

Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

It was 1979 or 1980. I was working as the youngest tabla teacher of the city at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal, one of the oldest music institutes in Ahmedabad. Our principal, Mr. Ravjibhai Patel, called me and said, “We are doing a national conference of Mahavidyalaya Mandal at Valsad for three days. I am very happy with your playing now and want you to play one solo and one accompaniment during the conference. We will all go to Valsad the day before the performance in the morning train, so be prepared for this event.”

At that time in my life, I did not understand the value of being able to travel with some of the greatest musicians of Ahmedabad and Gujarat. I picked up Jhalasaheb and Ravjibhai in my student’s car and we arrived at the station at 6am to catch the 7am Gujarat Express. At the station, we met up with Pranlalbhai Shah (one of the best violin teachers of that time), Laljibhai Patel (best harmonium player), Neena Shah (Ravjibhai’s student) and many young musicians.

Once we boarded the train, I was amazed to learn that all these senior musicians took great interest in eating snacks at each station. At the first stop, someone got off to get fafda and jalebi; at Nadiad, it was gota; at Baroda, yet another snack and the list goes on. Every stop was a new treat.

The accommodations for all the musicians was in a school and that was quite the nourishing experience. In one corner, someone would be singing, while a couple of beds down, another musician would be playing the violin. It was a great energy to be apart of. I was the youngest tabla player. Everyone gave me love and respect, which just increased my confidence.

The next day, the second performance was my solo. I played pretty well and got a lot of applause from the audience. After my solo, I went backstage. There, I found internationally-known singer Pandit Rasiklal Andharia. He was so impressed with my playing that he made me his accompanying artist for his program the following day. I was not too enthused about the idea, as generally for vocal accompaniment, the tabla player only plays theka.

I thanked him for the opportunity and told him that I was not in the practice of accompanying vocal. I believe he understood why I said no because he immediately said that he wanted powerful tabla in his vocal performance and that I had the freedom to play whatever I wished.

Excited at the prospect, we decided to practice in the morning to prepare and the the performance that ensued is what I consider to be one of the best performances I have given.