Aditya Kalyanpur

Bollywood Goes To Hollywood

The former child prodigy studied under the late, great Ustad Allah Rakha (famed for his decades-long collaborations with Ravi Shankar), and also tutored with Ustad’s son, Ustad Zakir Hussain. Kalyanpur founded the New England School Of Music in Boston along with the Shyamal Music Foundation in Mumbai. In addition to his work in a couple of jazz-oriented bands alongside guitarist Larry Coryell, he has contributed tabla to several TV advertising campaigns in India and guest-tabla’d on numerous pop recording sessions the likes of Katy Perry’s “Legendary Lovers” from her album Prism as well as recording with the Stones’ Keith Richards and with composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire).

Kalyanpur, now an L.A. resident, grew up in Mumbai. He’s not one who can boast of a musical lineage; his parents were music lovers but not professional musicians. “I don’t have the kind of pedigree that some musi- cians of my generation enjoy,” he says. “My dad is a mechanical engineer and my mom was a computer professional.”

His family was very supportive of his fascination for the traditional classical music forms of India, and his particular interest in playing the tabla, which began when he was a mere two-and-a- half years old. “We had a tabla player at my grandmother’s place in Mumbai, and I used to go play his tabla, bang on it,” he says. At three years old Kalyanpur could reproduce several of the rhythmic patterns of the Indian classical musical styles, not yet mastering the finger techniques, of course, “but at least what I did with my hands was in sync with some of the rhythmic structures in Indian tabla.

“There are fixed rhythmic structures in Indian classical music and they are called taals,” he says. “There are different taals which comprise seven beats or twelve beats or sixteen beats, etcetera. I was very intrigued by these taals, and I could replicate at least the mathematical structure of the taal even as a child.”

Kalyanpur had been exposed to all genres of music at a very young age and was also drawn to a lot of Western-style drumming. “In fact, at one time my father said, ‘Do you really want to learn tabla or do you want to learn drum kit?’ I said, ‘I think the tabla, because it’s more complex and it’s more complicated.’ Using the fingers and all of the patterns and complex stuff, it’s not easy doing it with the fingers on the tabla.”

His studies in tabla started at age four, at classes taught by local teachers, as well as a tutor who came to the family home to teach the precocious lad the basics of the drum. Further training under Ustad Allah Rakha made a big impact on him as an educator and performer-composer.

“He always believed that tabla was a performing art,” he says, “and that the technique, the presentation, the style, and the repertoire had to be conveyed through the performance, more than through the philosophical aspects of Indian classical music. It was more a practical playing and learning of complex rhythmic structures, complex traditional compositions, specific and mathematical musical devices such as the tihai, a pattern repeated three times at the end of the 16-beat taal metric cycle used in raga and other types of North Indian music.”

Kalyanpur’s particular area of expertise is in the Punjab gharana style of tabla play. “In India, the tabla has six different gharanas or schools of tabla playing,” he says. “The origin of the tabla is believed to be in Delhi, and Delhi gharana is considered the father of all gharanas, so from Delhi came all the other branches of tabla playing. My guru was born and brought up near Punjab, and he studied with a teacher who belonged to the Punjab gharana.”

Punjab gharana, like the various other gharana styles, has its own “language,” a musical sensibility influenced by the local languages’ vocal speech patterns and rhythms. It’s also influenced by a percussion instrument called the pakhawaj, which is considered the father of the tabla. Played sideways, the pakhawaj has loads of resonance and is generally played with a very loud and robust vocal style called the dhrupad, the oldest North Indian classical musical form. The tabla that followed the pakhawaj was better suited to the kal vocal style, which employs closed-ended rather than open-ended vocal phrasings.

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