Event Review: Toronto Tabla Ensemble – Next Generation Concert, Palmerston Library, April 3, 2014

It’s been twenty-three years since Artistic Director Ritesh Das first unleashed his innovative Indian tabla ensemble on the city of Toronto.  Since that time, Das and the Toronto Tabla Ensemble have collaborated with a remarkable number and variety of musicians and dancers, and produced five notable recordings, including the Juno-nominated Firedance.  And now after a few years of soul searching and travel, he’s done it again. Das has assembled an outstanding new collection of young tabla enthusiasts.   The recent Toronto Tabla Ensemble: Next Generation concert not only marked their debut, but it provided proof positive that Das has not lost his touch with his beloved tabla, nor has his gift for inspiring the youth of Toronto and charming audiences waned.

The new drummers include: Bhaskar Murthy, Naushad Ali Hussein, Razak Pirani, Shamir Panchal and Aaron Fernandez.  A more diverse collection is hard to fathom, with some originally hailing from India, Bangladesh, and Mexico, one having completed architectural studies at university and one being a visual artist.  And their devotion to their craft is unmistakable.

Their fine repertoire is based on the fundamentals of the North Indian music tradition, as arranged by Das himself.  We heard the straight up traditional phrasing of Kayda, Kayda Rela and Dhati Ghene interspersed with the inventive compositions Casual, New Routes, Incline, Sare Panch and Joy.

It was refreshing to be part of a stripped-down tabla performance, with no distractions.  The essence and sheer beauty of this art form didn’t escape anyone in the captivated audience.  Novices and seasoned audience members alike were transfixed, including me. I swear I was transported to India and back, in a kind of trance-like meditative state, only to be snapped out of it with the aptly named finale, Joy.

Those of us who sometimes wonder who will carry the torch of culturally diverse music in this city and country once our world music pioneers retire, have nothing to fear.  The next generation is clearly poised to take up the rhythm and blaze new trails.

Lise Watson





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