News & Events
Please scroll down to see all of this page
One World Festival at the Ashmolean
on 17 and 18 November
There were many aspects to this festival as can be seen from the caption on the poster below:-
'Explore how light, dance, music and stories connects communities and faiths. Discover a dazzling array of activities, talks and craft for all ages.'
Please scroll down to see programme details
Photo by NK
We didn't get to this weekend event but we do have a flavour of it on our 2017 News & Events page. To reach this click on
and scroll to
"At the One World Festival on 18 and 19 November" – "Alive in the Museum."
Please see the following from the Ashmolean's events page:-
ONE WORLD FESTIVAL – SING!
Saturday 17 – Sunday 18 November 2018
This was a special FREE weekend of faith, folk and song celebrating the communities
A dazzling weekend of activities, music, storytelling, talks and craft for all ages.
Saturday 17 November
Bollywood Dance Workshop by Jay Kumar & Dance Asia team
Scottish Herbal Magic and Community Traditions with artist and herbal storyteller Amanda Edmiston
Drumming & Cultural Dances by Nepalese Community Oxfordshire
Chinese Folklore Stories by Ling Peng
Anashmita Saha dances Krishna stories
Ghummar (Indian Folk) Dance Workshop
Sunday 18 November
Panel Discussion: ‘The role of songs in my tradition’ 12–1pm
Persian Music with Delnavez and Rumi Hour
Joined up Singing Community Choir
Adele Moss telling the story of Serakh - from young seeker to wise seer
Book making: The names of God
Below is a full events programme, followed by a very colourful and eye-catching flyer issued by the Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project.
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At Milton Court Concert Hall on 27 October
During this concert Sanju Sahai performed a scintillating tabla solo and Tanmay Deochake supported him very dexterously and brilliantly on harmonium. Please see below my review of it followed by a You Tube link and more photos.
Very willingly we were in the Milton Mount Concert Hall on 27 October. This was for the wonderful occasion of Sanju Sahai’s solo tabla performance, accompanied by Tanmay Deochake.
In words of introduction Sanju remarked that he had never given a solo tabla concert at 2pm in the afternoon before. He of course joked about this because it felt so strange to him to be saying 'good afternoon friends' instead of 'good evening.' This occasion was part of the Darbar festival and it was also a rather special pre birthday celebration for Sanju himself which he had no knowledge of and neither had we until after the concert.
Always joyful to be playing tabla, this time Sanju was quick to point out his nervousness before performing because within the short space of time allocated to him he had to try to show the full scope of this wonderful and complicated instrument – as he put it '...in solo – to show tabla in its full form.' Indeed he feels a duty to do this but the pressure would be on because in India he is given several hours to showcase tabla – maybe even all night. But in England he has to present the whole thing in just over an hour and at a rather unusual time of day to boot!
The hall was packed with very excited musicians, students and some quite famous musicians. Sanju acknowledged them all. He said he had wanted to play in Dhamar – a time cycle of 14 beats. However because he wanted to play as many of his forefathers compositions as he could fit in and these were all in Tintal – they are all in a time cycle of 16 beats – he sadly had to forget Dhamar. Some of these compositions were composed by Pandit Ram Sahai himself so they are about 200 years old and Sanju’s Guru always said that just one of these needs to be practiced a million times in order to perform it once. These compositions are mostly very rarely heard so Sanju says they must be heard at every opportunity.
Accompanied by Tanmay Deochake, who is remarkable and played an amazing introduction on harmonium before settling into the Tintal lehra, Sanju launched forth into the most marvellous tabla playing you could ever hear – always keeping his audience riveted on the instrument from beginning to end. Never leaving his audience guessing, he talked them through the variations, patterns and even tricks he was inventing – ever creating new ideas and rolling together compositions hitherto kept totally separate. This was an astounding hearing experience for those with a background of tabla.
Of particular note was a typical Benares composition he was playing – a Kayada – during which Sanju drew in rela phrases I have never heard before played within this composition, which sounded like longer and shorter fluttering of bird wings. Beautiful. We understand that a tabla composition, for instance a Kayada, can expand in different musical directions and you choose one of them and complete. However Sanju isn’t so restrictive – what he does is to follow the improvisational path some way but then sometimes reverts to the original theme in order to expand this in a different direction altogether. He is still though playing the same piece. There are many pathways to nirvana – it really doesn’t matter which path one chooses and it also doesn’t matter changing paths – they all lead to the sun! Influences of other famous tabla players such as Pandit Kishan Maharaj came into his playing and Sanju always acknowledges them… it is like saying Namaste to those who came before.
Sanju describes the compositions as “the jewels of Benares” and he played a kaleidoscope of different compositions all of astonishing variety. He showcased compositions also showcased by Pandit Sharda Sahai, his Guru, and ended with amazing fast relas influenced by Pandit Samta Prasad Mishra.
Sanju ended his performance with the most remarkable relas – one introducing the deer theme – when the deer is scared and does a series of leaps over hedges… all depicted in the drumming and if this were not enough there were other amazing compositions in very fast Teental to end…
There was no end! We found ourselves in a surprise party with a huge cake for Sanjuji to cut and pass around – wow what an honour to be there.
CAROLINE HOWARD-JONES (TAPP) ©
Here is a YouTube link to a short video of Sanju's 27th October concert:-
Post concert party photographs are in the slideshow below. All photos by NK
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Moushumi Bhowmik was
in Oxford on 16 & 17 October
THE SOUNDS OF SOUTH ASIA SERIES WROTE ON FACEBOOK:-
'We are really thrilled to be kicking off the academic year with two amazing events featuring the folk singer, writer, and music researcher Moushumi Bhowmik on the 16th and 17th of October.
On the 16th Moushumi will be giving a talk as part of the research colloquium in the Music Faculty (University of Oxford) at 5.15pm entitled 'Migration, Memory and Music: Field Recordings from Bengal and the Diaspora.
This will be followed by a concert at St John's College the next day at 7.30pm.'
AND FOLLOWED UP BY SAYING:-
'Moushumi Bhowmik, singer, writer, and music researcher from Kolkata (Calcutta) will sing and talk about her art of listening and making music. She will be joined by her long-time colleague, British composer and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Weeks. Moushumi sings in Bengali but presents her work in English, with translations of her songs.
This performance will draw on Moushumi Bhowmik’s long-standing research project, The Travelling Archive, which shares with readers and listeners selections from a growing collection of folk music of Bengal, recorded in the field by herself and Sukanta Majumdar from 2003.'
The following is an extract from the excellent review by Faruck Haidar of Moushumi's concert:-
'The programme commenced with Rabindranath Tagore’s Jibon Jokhon Shukaye Jay (When Life Runs Dry) from his Nobel Prize winning Gitanjali (Song Offerings) and included songs from Lalon Fokir, the 19th century mystic poet of Bengal, Hariprashad Kushari commemorating the man-made famine during WWI, Pir Majiruddin of Sylhet of early 20th century, a traditional song announcing the arrival (agamani) of goddess Durga (quite appropriate as goddess Durga is being worshipped now) and a few well-known songs written and composed by Moushumi Bhowmik herself at different times. She was accompanied last night on Guitar and Piano by her long-time colleague, Oliver Weeks, a highly talented and qualified British composer and multi-instrumentalist.'
We believe that Moushumi's talk and concert were well received by her audience. Regrettably we were not in attendance for either - alas!
At The Nehru Centre on 26 September
KHYAL: MUSIC & IMAGINATION
Photo credit: NK
We were very delighted to attend a truly remarkable concert on 26 September showcased by the vocalist Rahul Mishra and the tabla player Dhiraj Sahai Mishra, who are first cousins and also descendants of Pandit Ram Sahai, the founder of the Benares Gharana of tabla. This was a rare opportunity for us (Oxford Tabla) to see our friends Rahul and Dhiraj performing together, for while Dhiraj (Ashish) is a frequent visitor to the UK Rahul is not… but we do hope he will be in the future.
The occasion was very special to Rahul because it was his debut concert in London and it was also his tribute offering to his guru Vibhushan Girija Devi and to Pandit Sharda Sahai, his maternal grandfather, who had taught him tabla as a child.
Rahul made his introductions and later said: ‘If something goes wrong... something I make... some little mistake big or small whatever, pardon me for that is because I am still on the step, walking to make it happen better and better.’ Then he conveyed what his teacher had once told him – that there is no way you can accomplish learning Indian classical music in this one life... it takes seven or ten lives! Rahul added: ‘…this is my first life so I’ll need six, seven more to accomplish this!’ (Audience laughter)
Rahul had a wonderful and natural rapport with his audience and this in part was helped by his very engaging smile. Painstakingly and devotedly he talked us through each piece before he sang it and touchingly added comments while performing when clarity was needed. After the main items he actually asked which of two lighter pieces should he sing - was it to be dadra or a bhajan? Everyone was unanimous in the choice which he fulfilled with joy – he sang a bhajan that Rajan and Sajan Mishra had taught him.
The audience were wowed by his command and skilful rendering of khayal which he called “imagination” and also by his ability to sing in many other lighter genres, all of which present their own intricacies and difficulty. It is to Rahul’s credit that at only 32 years old he is such a master of this immensely difficult vocal tradition of Indian singing.
Dhiraj was supportive throughout with a continuous tabla thread (as his guru and grandfather Sharda Sahai would say 'providing the railway track to support the melody') throwing in various fast tabla sounds whenever he had the opportunity and smiling frequently – he and Rahul’s performance as a team was altogether delightful, while Nafiz Irfan was consistently excellent in support on harmonium and it was also a very professional touch to see Rahul accompanying himself on his swarmandal (suramandal). Most certainly Rahul captivated his audience and the applause at the end of the concert was very well deserved. Jay Visvadeva’s eulogy of Rahul’s performance was tremendous and he also praised Dhiraj and Nafiz for their excellent support as musicians in their own right.
I have known Rahul and Dhiraj for many years and so they are like my own family members to me. Long ago when i visited the Sahai house in Benares everyone was talking about how well the child Dhiraj was playing tabla and what his future might be. Someone had shot a video of him playing tabla when he was very young and I used part of this in the introduction to the Oxford made video Play Tabla (see our Play Tabla page). When he became a teenager he ventured forth to stay with his grandfather in Southall to learn tabla and many times I went to visit the house. We both studied for the Prabhakar exam together and helped each other and since that time we have always stayed in touch and practiced tabla together whenever we can. We continue to swop ideas and keep each other informed. Rahul I remember from times I stayed in the Benares house – for instance a memorable auto rickshaw drive somewhere with the younger members of the family crowded in or standing precariously and hanging on for dear life to the outside. There was Rahul next to me, just back from a few weeks in Calcutta, singing one thing after another with happy enthusiasm during the dusty ride.
Rahul’s concert programme:-
Raag Madhuvanti - Vilambit Ektaal - Moko neend na aave Teentaal - Goving Goon Gao
Thumri in Mishra Khamaj - Kaare matware mann har lino shyam, Mad k bhare tore Nain.
Tappa in Raag Kafi - Omiyaan ve Jaane wale.
Dadra - Ganga Reti pe Bangla Chavayeda More Raja aave lahar Jamune Ki.
Kajri - Ghir aayi hai Kari Badariya Radhe bin lage na mora Jiya.
Bhajan - Janani Main Na Jiyu Bin Ram.
The venue, the Nehru Centre, built in the first half of the eighteenth century is a remarkable building in a very graceful part of London. It always feels very special to be there. The downstairs provides a large open space for current exhibitions of arts and craft to look at if one arrives a little early for a concert. Some refreshments are always provided. When a concert is about to start people drift up the magnificent staircase to the concert hall which although of good size is intimate enough to feel quite close to the musicians wherever you sit. It is interesting to note that a former owner, Adolphus Frederick, the seventh son of King George III, said everything three times! This reminds me of a certain mathematical concept frequently heard in Indian Music!
CAROLINE HOWARD-JONES (TAPP)©
Our Event at the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM)
on 15 September
Our return of 'Hands on Tabla' to the PRM on 15th September happened to coincide happily with the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. We brought in a copper image of Lord Ganesh to witness our event – see photo below.
When we arrived Andy said it was quiet in the museum. However intake picked up and when we had finished he very cheerfully reported that 75 people had come by to listen or join in so he was very happy.
Our programme featured a tabla solo by Caroline Tapp, accompanied by Neil Kensit on keyboard. Caroline also showcased different accompanying styles during the singing of a Sikh shabad by Neil and his rendition of part of a very rousing Qawwali song in fast keherwa. Afterwards we spent an hour teaching basic strokes to many – young and not so young.
Oxford Tabla have an enduring memory of a very interested youngster who managed to learn all the basic tabla phrases we had introduced. Even after an hour she was still engrossed and even after the tablas had been put away in their cases she continued to play on two small stools – see the photo!
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Photo credits: Andy McLellan (of PRM), Carolne Tapp and Neil Kensit
We played at the Rose Hill Community
Centre on 9 September
We happily accepted our friend Chinta's invitation to perform a tabla solo on 9 September during the interval in the Oxfordshire Hindu Parivaar Prayer Session.
When we reached the venue, a large room in the Rose Hill community centre, our audience was very welcoming and friendly and soon we were setting-up in preparation to perform and while we were doing so there was an unexpected and priceless moment – a young child enthusiastically launched forth to have-a-go on Caroline's tablas, as children sometimes do when they see our drums.
After our performance we were plied with delicious Indian fare, but there was other wonderful food in the offing because after prayers the Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project celebrated its tenth anniversary with the cutting and eating of a commemorative cake.
Please see below a video snatch by courtesy of the OHTCCP, which shows us performing – Caroline on tabla and Neil accompanying on keyboard – and some photos taken of proceedings by Krish and Neil.
We enjoyed playing for the OHTCCP. Thank you Chinta for inviting us.
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We played at the Elder Stubbs Festival
on 18 August
All the photos below are by Guy Henstock, except for the one of us in 2014
We were looking forward to performing at this festival again as it had been a while, actually four years, since we had last played at Elder Stubbs and on that occasion we were first to play in the line-up, which probably resulted in our audience being two sound men, two performers, our friend Suresh and one other person. We were on before most people had even arrived! Sad – but on a more positive note, I remember that one of the sound men was very appreciative of our playing and said he loved tabla and gave us a lot of advice re mics. That time was a very happy one as we had our dear friend Sanjeev Bhai, singing Indian vocals with Neil and playing Flamenco guitar with us. Since that time he has established a very successful music school and place to perform back in India for musicians’ world-wide (Baithak - The Art House).
This time we were scheduled to perform in the late afternoon and the organiser was excited that this would coincide with teatime and therefore many people would be around and about to unwind to "beautiful calming" Indian music. However, unpredictably the whole programme of the day was delayed… and so most people had gone home by the time we had even started. This was a big disappointment to us but our small audience didn't let us down. They really enjoyed our music and made a lot of noise to make up!
The contrast between stages was vast; four years ago we had had an actual stage and this year grass was our stage. We love grass and we had packed our small carpets. Musicians have to be flexible and even philosophical at times – and must take whatever comes…
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The photo below: us at Elder Stubbs in 2014
Photo credit: Suresh Patel
With the Sahai's for Guru Purnima on 28 July
We were very lucky this year that we were in the UK to be able to join Sanju’s Guru Purnima celebration on 28 July – mostly we are away in America and Canada visiting relations and friends around this time.
It was a glorious and happy occasion and attended by many and gave us a chance to catch up with all those who have a love for tabla.
Delicious homemade lunch we had picnic style in the garden. Afterwards there was a concert with many of Sanju’s students performing, culminating with an amazing performance from the singer Tofail Ahmed on harmonium, accompanied by Sanju, and an amazing solo tabla performance by Sanju, accompanied by Tofail doing lehra.
Photo credits: NK
At a Sitar and Sarod Concert on 22 July
With much regret we hadn't seen Mehboob Nadeem for two years, which was reason enough to go to this concert as well as to enjoy his sitar playing, the sounds of tabla and Ameen Ali Khan's sarod playing. Memorably on our arrival at the venue the weather was swelteringly hot with a temperature of about thirty five centigrade - part of the UK summer heatwave.
We were pleased also to meet Sanju Sahai and his family again - they had come along to support Sanju’s student Puish and to enjoy the performances but sadly they could not stay for the whole concert.
Ameen Ali Khan (*) was first to play, accompanied by Puish, and we soon found ourselves engrossed by their performances. Then it was the turn of Mehboob to perform. He chose Raags Bihag and Pilu but before he began his alaap Mehboob introduced Puish and conveyed that he expected to be musically challenged by him. He added, with a smile, that he in turn would definitely be challenging Puish himself and so began a musical adventure...
Afterwards we chatted with Mehboob and happened to ask him when he was going to India again and we were amazed by his reply. He said he was flying there the following day and this news made us doubly glad that we had made it to see him.
* We regret that we didn't seek out Ameen to talk to him after his performance. What we didn't know until we were back in Oxford was that he was born in the delightful green city of Bhopal, where we had been earlier in the year.
Credit for photos below: NK
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Our Event at the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM)
on 21 July
On 21 July we were thrilled to be back in the PRM again, teaching and demonstrating tabla, after an absence of eleven years. This occasion was our first "Hands on Tabla" session in 2018.
Firstly a tabla solo was presented by Caroline Tapp in a small performance followed by a demonstration of the tabla’s important role as an accompanying instrument – in this case accompanying Neil Kensit singing a bhajan “hum bache hain tum hare…” and a dadra piece “khushi ki sunshine”. Afterwards we did an hour of teaching basic hands-on tabla. Old and young attended and many questions were asked about tabla and even one on singing, which was directed to Neil about techniques for learning lyrics.
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Photo credits: Andy McLellan of PRM
In Montreal from 28 June to 10 July
We were delighted to be back again in Montreal to see our friends Shawn and Caroline and to drop in to Shawn's summer workshop and to enjoy being in this city which we absolutely love. Please see below our various photos taken during this particular visit starting with a night-time view of the cross on the Mount and concluding with photos taken during workshop evening activities on 5th and 6th July.
Within a short walking distance of McGill was a man-made oasis, actually in the side street next to the McCord Museum. This was the spectacularly photogenic and multi-coloured Urban Forest with its dangling ribbons of delicate waving leaves, colour-themed picnic areas and a beguiling upright piano beckoning budding pianists or indeed anyone pianistic or even non-pianistic to bring it music and in this instance (see photo) a chance for the pianist to practice her Chopin Nocturne Opus 9 no. 2.
One of the guest musicians during Shawn's summer workshop was Pankaj Mishra, the sarangi player who comes from an illustrious family of Indian musicians. His father was the great Sri Satyanarayan Mishra and his uncle was the internationally renowned Ramesh Mishra – both very famous sarangi players during their time.
Pankaj talked in depth about his sarangi to Shawn’s fascinated audience of students, in a special session evening, and demonstrated the instruments’ wealth of sounds. There were lingering questions concerning the painful process in stopping and pushing the strings with the cuticles and nails instead of the fingertips as in guitar. Some students got to try out playing tabla with him. It was definitely a fun session.
The following day it was a treat to hear Pankaj in the role of accompanying Shawn’s solo tabla performance – the sarangi plays a huge role in accompanying tabla and accompanying tabla is a difficult art in itself. Indeed Ramesh was frequently flown all over the world in order to accompany famous tabla players… Shawn’s performance that evening was outstanding. A nice touch was when he played a somewhat rare composition called Gat – the very one he had been teaching his advanced class especially so that they could hear it in concert.
Pankaj reminded me when we chatted after the concert that we had met before, about twenty years ago, at his uncle's house in Kolkata. Then I remembered. I had travelled to Ramesh's house with my Guru, Sharda Ji, to visit Ramesh Ji his relative. We were carrying some of the first ever fibre glass tabla cases as gifts.
It was actually the mesmerising sound of the sarangi that first attracted me to Hindustani Classical Music – and an idea took hold that I would like to accompany it one day on tabla if I ever got the chance to learn tabla! The album which so influenced me was the famous one called “Master of the Sarangi” by Ram Narayan with Suresh Talwalkar on tabla and Om Segan and Neil Sorrell on tanbura. It was recorded and produced in 1975 by David Lewiston. There is an interesting quote from the album sleeve:- 'Ram Narayan, who started his career as an accompanist to famous vocalists, found this traditional role of the sarangi player too restrictive for his temperament; committed to the instrument, he chose to devote himself entirely to developing its solo capabilities. Thanks to Narayan’s efforts and mastery, the sarangi has today achieved the status of a solo concert instrument of great distinction.'
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The sarangi is a bowed instrument said to be out of all instruments the most closely resembling the human voice. When I heard it the first time I also discovered the ondes martinet for the first time which produced another almost unearthly “vocal” sound, but this was electronic. One of the reasons for the sarangi magic is that the bridge of this squat and oddly shaped instrument supports about 35-37 sympathetic strings arranged into 4 sections, as well as supporting the three main gut strings. All these sympathetic strings need tuning – a lengthy task as can be imagined, because for each different raag the main swaras of the raag may change and so the sympathetic strings have to be re-tuned. Tuned well the sarangi played is said to “sing” “sob” “cry” “mew” “hum” and “plead” supported by heart stopping echoing effects.
The instruments tabla and sarangi seem to complement each other in many ways and they sound well together. They are both sophisticated instruments in the way they are made and they both have a vast repertoire and the unusual playing technique of both takes a long time to master… I was especially interested that apart from the magic sound of sarangi itself it even has a drum skin (goat parchment) covering its lower resonance chamber.
All photographs by NK
At Spring Sangeet on 18 May
We were in the audience for this and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was so much going on: performances by students and professionals; lots of dance, music and poetry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and including of course tabla by Riaz Hussain and vocals by Shoma Dey. We had first met Riaz and Shoma in January, when they performed ghazals, thumris, taranas and a variety of tabla sounds at St. John's College (*).
Thank you OXSAAS for organising this event.
* Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more on Shoma and Riaz.
The Mysore Brothers played
in Oxford on 8 May
The Holywell Room was host to the famous Mysore Brothers, Carnatic violinists from India, on 8 May, and the following day a very happy Sounds of South Asia Series group announced:-
'We had a phenomenal concert with the Mysore Brothers last night, along with a very interesting talk led by Oxford graduate Alice Barron. We'd like to thank all who were involved in making the event happen and to our very lively and passionate audience.'
Oxford Qawwali Night on 6 May
We didn't know about this one until it was too late so we didn't go but we did enjoy the short video below by Oxford Pakistan Society of this event. Blissfully it was still daylight at the time and the gardens do look great and the music is wonderfully Sufi.
Oxford Pakistan Society announced on 30 April:-
'After the success and popularity of our last event, we bring Qawwali to Oxford once again!
Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music originating from South Asia. The night promises a soulful performance by Chand Ali Khan Qawwal & Party, in the beautiful gardens of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.
Extending the 700-year old genre of Qawwali, Chand Ali Khan Qawwal & Party are able to perform at a high level of intensity for several hours. The lead qawwal, Chand Ali Khan, is widely credited for his virtuoso talents in Qawwali and Bollywood to a range of international audiences, particularly in the UK.'
We said goodbye to Elisha on 24 April
It is always fun to share tabla and Oxford Tabla wishes Elisha well in whatever field his studies in medicine take. He will always have a love for tabla and I have no doubt he will carry on learning as he has a very good hand for it.
A lasting memory is his shining face just before he left to go home, when the sun was out and the skies were blue all day long – he didn’t know there could be days as glorious as this in England.
Photo credit: Elisha
For more on Elisha please scroll down to our entry on Shruti Jauhari for 27/28 February
Chinta Kallie invited me to play tabla again at this year's dinner – I accepted and played a short solo with Neil singing lehra.
Photo credit: Kashmira Patel
Photo credit: Neil Kensit
Oxford Tabla played at the OIWF Dinner
on 16 March
On 5 March we went to the tabla
maker's shop in Bhopal
Sanjeev and Rajendra took Neil and I to the tabla maker's shop, where we bought various things for the tablas back home.
All photographs by: N. Kensit
iam BHOPAL of 5 March - #1
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On 4 March Oxford Tabla performed in Bhopal and on the same night, elsewhere in Bhopal (in Bharat Bhavan), the illustrious musicians Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and his son Rahul staged their own performance -
Oxford Tabla played in Bhopal on 4 March
Please scroll down to see photo slideshows
BAITHAK NOT RIAZ
Caroline Tapp ©
We had been missing our dear friend and fellow performer Sanjeev since he left England for Seville in 2016. Musicians come and go but It was different with Sanjeev for our ideas and thoughts chimed and developed so a friendship grew. When he finally settled back in India we had the idea that if the chance came why not try to visit him. That chance came when we needed to go to Shanghai very early in 2018 and so we decided to extend our itinerary.
After a somewhat exhausting journey from London to Shanghai and then on to
India, we were invited to perform at the inaugural concert of “Baithak – the Art House”. This is a new music space set up by our friend Sanjeev for learning music and dance and from which to run concerts and performances in the heart of Bhopal – the second most greenest city in India and in March full of bright spring blossom and birdsong. Indian music being the main source of inspiration, the spirit of Baithak also sets out to draw in other musical cultures world-wide, as in for example flamenco guitar and also dance and indeed musicians from other parts of the world and to host and promote other art forms...
The invitation to take part in the concert, even though at such short notice, we were delighted to accept – in actual fact our performance had been advertised before we even knew about it! So what could Neil and I offer with no tablas and no aide-mémoire notes? The only instruments we had on board was a Hohner airboard and a small Chinese flute called….Cucurbit flute (Hulusi), a delightful companion on which I had had just one lesson in the Chinese music shop in the musical street (Jinling Lu) on the way to the Bund in Shanghai.
We were looking forward to our first meeting with Sanjeev’s friends Surekha Kamble, Ranjit Nicose and Rajendra Vishwaroop. Sanjeev had already told us that Surekha is a Dhrupad vocalist and Rajendra is a surbahar player and that both of them are disciples of Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and had lived with him, according to the guru shishyaa tradition, for 8 years. When we did meet Ranjit we learnt that he is a professor of mechanical engineering (and head of department) at the local RKDF University.
Surekha and her husband Ranjit had invited us to dinner and so we set off from our hotel to their home, where we would also meet Rajendra. With Sanjeev accompanying us and Ranjit as our driver, we arrived in their street to discover a fiercely burning bonfire in the road and a whole crowd of excited locals celebrating Holika Dahan around it. They made way for us and Ranjit gingerly circumnavigated the bonfire to park beyond. The fire represents the burning of Holika, the demoness of Hindu Vedic scripture - the story of Holika’s death signifies the triumph of good over evil. We chatted with the happy and animated locals and there was a lot of talk about music around the bonfire and the word Bollywood kept coming up as it seems to be the young people’s interpretation of Music whenever vocal or dance is mentioned. Yes yes they are learning dance, they say happily – which kind? Kathak or Kathakhali? - No - Bollywood dance! The gathering gave another opportunity to advertise the concert on 4th March - a chance which Sanjeev took, inviting the crowd and encouraging them to listen to something different and only when we entered the house of Surekha and Ranjit did we realise that one of the people from the crowd was actually Surekha herself.
Surekha’s food was as delicious as Sanjeev had promised and the evening turned out to be a hilarious exchange of musical stories – stories using the making of food to prove a musical point and failed remembrances by Neil and me of ragas learnt or remembered partially. On a more serious note we heard tales of how music had cured some of us from various ailments arising from accidents and health issues. The musicians had hoped to collaborate with us for the concert but it soon became obvious that there would not be enough time to rehearse and so it was decided that this time both groups would present a separate performance. Sanjeev was an excellent translator for Surekha and the laughter and banter that evening was interspersed by the visits of a much beloved pet turtle, who wandered about freely from room to room.
The next day we went to “Baithak - The Art House" and we were amazed at how big this was and how prettily decorated in soft colours of pink, yellow and green with a tall Neem tree growing next door. It is quite a tall property and while the ground floors are reserved for rental accommodation the upper floors are all designed for music and other activities – there is a large dance area which can also be used for concerts and there are several rooms leading off for private lessons or study and a wonderful rooftop presently used for evening yoga but also to be used as a larger concert area. We were treated to tiny cups of tea either made by Surekha or bought from the local market. The tea was always black and full of delicious perfumed spice – not like a masala tea but more like a tea version of double expressos – a tiny cup was thirst-quenching in itself. We missed it coming back to England.
I was also introduced to a set of tablas but the tabla was very out of tune and the bayan itself did not ring out at all. I would have to work at them and fingers crossed all would turn out well. There was no tabla hammer in Baithak to tune them with but I had fortunately packed a hammer into my luggage as well as some talcum powder, which we use to protect the tabla from moisture, so I was equipped. What was promising was that both tabla and bayan were heavy so professionally made for performances. The day was the 2nd March and Holi itself so a happy mood prevailed and Sanjeev did not mind me taking the tabla set away to our accommodation.
That evening and most of the next day Neil and I dedicated ourselves to practicing for the concert on the 4th. I worked on the tuning of the tabla and it started to sing, as did the bayan. It was quite extraordinary - it was high in pitch (D) and didn’t fit in with the tuning of the Hohner airboard so, for my tabla solo, Neil decided to sing the 16 beat lehra to the bols of “re” and “na” in Chandrakauns. It is a tough job to vocalise a lehra but there was no alternative as no harmonium or keyboard were kept in Baithak. Neil also was working on singing a happy bandish in Bhopali, a Bhajan possibly, and finally a song like a chant inspired by the Incredible String Band, which he had adapted for Indian style. We found out that this goes nicely into a 6 beat dadra tal, and we also had Hindi words in a translation provided by Sanjeev. Neil hoped to sing it in Hindi and then in English and then in Hindi once more.
Finally we were ready for the day and Sanjeev was constantly on the phone while we did a rehearsal at Baithak with the sound system. He was telling the Press that that night would be the first classical music night for the newly opened Centre. He was a bit worried by the fact that the great maestro of santoor, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma was also performing that night in one of Bhopal’s big concert venues, Bharat Bhavan. Very unusually Shivkumar was playing a jugalbundi with his son, Rahul Sharma. It was the first concert in an eight day event exploring how creative art forms benefit health. The date could not have been predicted or avoided since the decision to have this concert had only been made a couple of days before his concert. However, Sanjeev need not have worried because as Zakir Hussain said earlier this year at the Kolkutta Literary Festival “Indian Classical music is essentially a chamber music – it is best enjoyed in a small Baithak”. With hindsight we felt that much of the original spirit of all the music making that night would have been lost in a large hall.
We had about 75 wonderful people of all ages in our audience for the night of the 4th and there was a very festive feeling. The experience was so unlike anything we experience in England. In the UK there is so much to do and worry about that it is hard to keep focused on the performance itself. In Bhopal there were no demands on us at all except to keep an eye on the time. A car came to fetch us to the venue and a lively conversation about music in the car developed on our way. We didn’t have to worry about car parking. One of the passengers was very keen to hear us play and we requested her, in true Indian style, to be forgiven our mistakes! We didn’t have to bring our own sound system and set it up. This was all done beforehand. When we arrived in the already crowded room we were immediately surrounded by children and their parents wanting to know who we are and what our instruments were and above all could they have their photos taken with us? We were only just aware of Ravi unpacking his pakhawaj drum on the humble stage – the stage was actually on rugs at floor level so as to facilitate communication with the audience more by being on the same level.
Before we had started with the first Dha on tabla and Sa on vocals we were presented each with a beautiful red rose. It was such a wonderful idea and we greatly appreciated it.
After some introductions and a short sound test and a few words from us we began our programme. Our performance was of course improvised but following a pattern of events that we had been discussing over the last couple of days. We never know what will happen on the night of a performance and our practicing over the last couple of days was really to find my tabla fingers again and for Neil to find his voice – both a bit lost in China! There is never enough time for riaz (practice) wherever one is in the world but this was Baithak and in the spirit of Baithak, we played and enjoyed.
Afterwards we thoroughly enjoyed the performance given by our new friends, Surekha and Rajendra, whom we had now got to know quite well. Their performance was very dynamic and exciting in dhrupad style and splendidly backed up by flamenco guitar by our dear friend Sanjeev and Ravi on pakhawaj. We had a great evening afterwards talking to all and having more photos taken.
It wasn’t very late in the day but nobody had a plan to celebrate afterwards so we all went our separate ways and Neil and I had a late dinner where we were staying and suddenly while we were having supper, Sanjeev, Surekha, Ranjit and Rajendra all turned up to celebrate! Wow!
Hover cursor over image to pause autoplay
Photo credits in the above slideshow: Manoj Singh & Sanjeev Shri
Photo credits in the above slideshow: NK
Please see video below
OXSAAS presented UTSAV 2018 on 3 March
This photo is a still from the video: Kathak Vilambit - UTSAV 2018 by OXSAAS
Please see video below
We were very pleased to have invited Kiran Kowshick to play for the Oxford South Asian Arts Society, who needed a tabla player for their UTSAV 2018, and were delighted that he accepted our invitation, especially so because he is from the Benares gharana and is a disciple of Pandit Sanju Sahai.
The Benares gharana style of tabla playing has probably been the only style of tabla teaching in Oxford since the 80’s (or even maybe from mid 70’s) firstly through Markandeya Mishra and then from 1992 through Pandit Sharda Sahai. The Benares style was amply demonstrated by the appearance of Sanju Sahai accompanying the singer who married into the same family, the wonderful Chandan Kumar Mishra, followed by Sanju’s father and guru Pandit Sharda Sahai, who presented such a stunning solo tabla performance that there was a standing ovation, and then again by Sanju accompanying Chandan in conclusion of the concert. This was at the Holywell Music room on 29 April in 1995(?). The Benares style of playing continues in Oxford through Oxford Tabla and its continued links with Pandit Sanju Sahai as well as Pandit Sharda Sahai’s grandsons and family.
Very naturally I sought Sanju's help in finding a tabla player for OXSAAS and in response he gave me three possible links from his advanced students. Out of the three we approached it was Kiran who was available and he immediately said yes. The result of his acceptance can be seen in the wonderful video (below) of the Kathak part of UTSAV 2018 with first rate performances. Unfortunately we were in India on 3 March, and so missed being there that day but it was great to see the video.
We caught up with Kiran in the summer at the Guru Purnima celebrations Sanju had organised at his London house. When Kiran spoke to us he said that he was very happy to have gone to Oxford and that he enjoyed every minute.
UTSAV 2018 Venue: Wolfson College Auditorium, Wolfson College
Artistes in Kathak Vilambit:-
Dancers: Soumya Mishra, Karishma Vakil and Shyam Nayam
Tabla: Kiran Kowshick
Violin: Ninad Rajgopal
Bols: Sparshita Dey
YouTube: Kathak Vilambit - UTSAV 2018 by OXSAAS
Shruti Jauhari was in Oxford on 27/28 February
One day this poster attracted our attention while we were out and about in Oxford and as soon as we saw it we just knew we would have been irresistibly drawn to Shruti's workshop and talk and also of course to the concert...
but instead we were pulled many thousands of miles away.
When we got back from India we were so pleased to hear the good news from Elisha (*) that he’d made it to Shruti Jauhari's workshop, which he said had included useful tips for singers, and that he thought it was wonderful.
It's so great to see enthusiasm for Indian music once again in Oxford. May it continue and thrive.
Photo credit: NK
On 1 March the Sounds of South Asia group happily announced:-
"Sounds of South Asia Series had a terrific concert last night at the Holywell music room with Shruti Jauhari, Janan Sathiendran, and Rekesh Chauhan, (accompanied by Oxford’s own Ensemble ISIS conducted by John Traill). We also had a very successful talk and vocal workshop the day before. We’d like to thank all the artists who took part and thank everyone who braved the snow!"
From left to right: Janan Sathiendran, Shruti Jauhari and John Traill
* Elisha was a visiting student from the USA, who pursued his studies in Oxford during the first quarter of 2018 and kept in touch with tabla while he was here, by doing riaz (practice) with me.
Elisha was delighted to find out about Oxford Tabla, and was very happy to discover that I lived only a stone’s throw from his digs in Jericho and he soon came regularly to practice tabla with me. Our riaz sessions usually began with a practice of Kayada, as he had compositions that are universal although the way the palte (variations) flowed from his Gharana were rather unusual. Afterwards we would go through various styles of keherwa and dadra in which Elisha excelled.
Just before his arrival in Oxford Elisha told me that he'd been playing tabla practically all his life at church (South Asian) but had only started formally learning tabla (Punjab/Delhi gharana) a year ago. I remember wondering at this time if our two styles were compatible but on our first meeting, to my relief, I found out that he had learnt with the two fingered (RH) style typical of Benares playing so I was able to help out.
Elisha soon found a local church group in Oxford to accompany – he had done a lot of tabla accompaniment for the South Asian church – and happily returned to them again and again and even took up an invitation to accompany song at a concert in High Wycombe.
At Oxford's First Ever Qawwali Night on 28 January
Please scroll down to see all photos and videos
This was a wonderful concert by Haji Ameer Khan Qawwal in the Oriel College lecture room. Thank you Oxford South Asian Arts Society and Oxford Pakistan Society for hosting it.
Like the rest of the audience, we were happily captivated by this event.
Photo credits: NK & CT
We enjoyed an evening of Ghazals, Thumris
and Taranas on 27 January
Introduction by Oxford South Asian Arts Society:-
'Presenting a beautiful collection of live music by Shoma Dey (Hindustani Classical Vocals and Harmonium) accompanied by Riaz Hussain (Tabla) in an intimate setting. The evening will feature a selection of songs demonstrating the beauty and versatility of Hindustani Classical music including some well-loved ghazals, thumris and intricate taranas. The evening is brought to life by the intricate rhythmic patterns created by not only powerful vocals but also the tabla.'
Oxford Tabla were part of the audience for this event, which was held in The Graves Room of St. John's College.
Ghazals, thumris, taranas and tabla sounds abounded enjoyably in just an hour.
Thank you Oxford South Asian Arts Society for hosting this.
Photograph below during this concert by: N. Kensit