Concert with Pandit Bharat Bhushan Goswami

Last weekend I had the good fortune to accompany a renowned maestro of the sarangi Pandit Bharat Bhushan Goswami-ji at his Melbourne concert.

Sharing below links to the video recordings of the concert.

First half:

The first half featured bada and chhota khayals in raga Puriya Kalyan, followed by a light piece (I believe it was a Dadra, not to be confused with Dadra taal of tabla).

Second half:

The second half featured a traditional Thumri of Benares, followed by a folk item known as a Chaiti. I’ve had very little experience playing with light classical genres so this was a learning experience for me! I had to learn the Jat Theka for this performance which is used for Thumri accompaniment. It is essentially a variation of slow Teentaal.

It was a wonderful experience to accompany such an august and senior musician. Panditji plays sarangi in the Benares style. His repertoire includes core classical material (khayal) as well as light classical genres such as thumri, dadra, chaiti and others. His mastery of the instrument and the various genres of classical music were evident.

Further information about Goswami-ji can be found on his website:

http://bharatbhushansarangi.com/

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Memories of Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan

Ustad Shaukat Hussain was an excellent and well-known tabla player from Pakistan, known as a guru-bhai of Ustad Alla Rakha and as the guru / ustad of Ustad Tari Khan. He was also the guru of UK-based tabla player Shahbaz Husain.

Some years ago I came across a well-written essay by Pakistani journalist Ally Adnan sharing memories of Ustad Shaukat Hussain. I am sharing the essay here in PDF form for those interested:

Memories of Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan by Ally Adnan

“The Art of Tabla Playing” book by Prof. Sudhir Varma

Prof. Sudhir Varma was the head of the faculty of percussion at Bhatkande College of Music, Lucknow and was the student of Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa for 15 years. He has written a book “The Art of Tabla Playing”. It contains information about the general basics of tabla, however also contains a number of compositions given in different taals.

I am sharing a PDF copy of the book here for those interested:

The Art of Tabla Playing by Prof. Sudhir K Varma

Prof. Varma is the person seen sharing memories of Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa in the YouTube video provided in my previous post: The 3 Types of Tabla players according to Utd Ahmedjan Thirakwa.

Posture and technique for good tabla playing 

The below video clip of my guru Pt Abhijit Banerjee illustrates a good example of ideal posture and technique for tabla playing:

The angle of the video clearly shows that Panditji’s left shoulder is doing a lot of the work when playing the bayan. This is an important point. Many beginners struggle to get good volume and tone out of their bayan. One of the reasons for this is the incorrect assumption that tabla is played with fingers and hands alone – this is not true. 

Fingers and hands alone do not have much strength and power. For good tabla playing the ideal technique is to use the muscles of the back and shoulders to generate most of the power, which is transmitted by the fingers and hands to the drum. 

If one watches and observes Panditji’s movements closely one can see his shoulders (and ultimately the muscles of the upper and lower back) are generating most of the force and power. By contrast, the fingers and hands are relatively relaxed. 

One can also note the overall solidity and steadiness of his seated posture. There is very little extraneous movement when he plays – only the arms and shoulders are moving. This is another core principle of good tabla playing – efficiency. Making the minimum movements required to play the strokes, while generating maximum power by use of the shoulders and back. 

(Would like to acknowledge my guru-bhai Farid for posting the above video to YouTube)

Pandit Sankha Chatterjee

Pandit Sankha Chatterjee is a very senior tabla player, currently in his 80s, who had the distinction of being the disciple of both Ustad Karamatullah Khan and Ustad Masit Khan of the Farrukabad gharana, as well as Ustad Alla Rakha of Punjab gharana. 

In a series of 3 videos, he has shared a lifetime of wisdom and experience regarding music and tabla, which are well worth watching:

Video 1:

Video 2:

Video 3:

He has a very engaging and humorous style and discusses a range of topics from the traditional way of teaching tabla, the differences between gharanas, tips for good tabla accompaniment and many others. 

The 3 types of Tabla players, according to Utd Ahmedjan Thirakwa

Some time ago I came across a video on YouTube of a Professor Sudhir Varma and a few of his companions reminiscing about Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa. The video contains several interesting and amusing anecdotes about the life and character of Thirakwa-saheb, unfortunately it is all in Hindi and there are no sub-titles. 

However, one of the interesting tidbits from this video is the description of 3 types of tabla players by Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa. To paraphrase the quote: 

“When I was a young man, there used to be tabla players. However, nowadays there seem to be three types: Tabliya (tabla players), Hatheliya and Hisabiya!” 

This is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek observation by Ustadji. What he means by this is that in the modern era, in addition to Tabliya (tabla players), there are also: 

  • Hatheliya (“hard hitters”) – those who hit the tabla extremely hard, play at excessive volume and/or at excessive speed 
  • Hisabiya (“calculators”) – those who are obsessed with mathematical calculation, complex tihais and the like 

What is interesting about this is that Ustadji feels that the latter two categories are detrimental developments in the art of tabla playing. Playing with excessive force and volume is frowned upon by him, as is overzealous mathematical calculation. 

I was personally quite surprised to learn that the older generation of tabla players were, apparently, not enamoured with mathematical complexity, as this is nowadays a commonplace feature of tabla playing, perhaps most notably exemplified by Ustad Alla Rakha and his sons and disciples. 

Reflecting on this, my conclusion is that Thirakwa-saheb and his contemporaries felt that the “effect” of good tabla playing upon the listener is ultimately subtle, which is more important than dazzling listeners with ear-splitting volume or mind-boggling mathematical calculation. It can be noted that one doesn’t hear long and complex tihais, which are often pre-rehearsed, in Thirakwa-saheb’s tabla. 

I think there is probably a useful parallel to be drawn with Hindustani vocal or instrumental music. Here also we see many performers attempting to dazzle audiences with long and drawn out taans, arriving at the sam in spectacular fashion, or in some cases singing at excessively loud volume etc. Yet the important thing is (or should be) the effect on the listener, which is generally achieved through gradual and careful elaboration of the raga, staying in sur etc. 

Thirakwa-saheb was well-known to be steeped in not only tabla but also in vocal music, one can often hear him singing along to the lehra in his tabla solo recordings. Therefore one can expect that he brought the ethos of raga and vocal music into his tabla playing: gradual and careful elaboration, staying in sur and creating a subtly enchanting effect upon the listener, rather than attempting to overpower them with forceful playing. 

That said, it’s perhaps also worth pointing out the flip side: in the modern, commercial era without the benefit of state or royal sponsorship, musicians (including classical musicians) have had to cater to the tastes of the mass audience out of necessity. No one has done this better than Zakir Hussain, who greatly popularised tabla playing and brought it to the attention of the masses. So we must give credit where credit is due. 

For those of us (I include myself in this category) who are interested in looking beyond just mass appeal, however, it can be helpful to look to the stalwarts of the older generation such as Thirakwa-saheb for inspiration and guidance on the traditional form and essence of classical tabla playing.