Tabla player Anuradha Pal Talks About Narrating Stories Through Her Music

Tabla player Anuradha Pal Talks About Narrating Stories Through Her Music

She also speaks about being a successful woman in a male-dominated field

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Friday, February 02, 2024, 10:01 PM IST
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Anuradha Pal |

Having explored global fusion on her albums Get Recharged and Recharge Plus, tabla virtuoso Anuradha Pal takes the concept to another level. On her latest video Tabla Tonic, she fuses tabla beats with the pulsating energy of electronic dance music (EDM). “I always like to adapt to the changing tides, and connect with the youth. This track has a youthful zing,” she says.

The video was released on January 13 by actor Anupam Kher at the Arpanotsav concert at the Birla Garden, Juhu. On it, Pal plays tabla, HandSonic, djembe, tabla tarang, kanjira, udukku, udu and darbouka, with accompaniment on violin, bass, guitar and drums. “The focus is on the traditional style of tabla. The title stemmed from what I wanted to express, that tabla is tonic for the soul,” she points out.

Pal says that in her experimental projects, she tries to maintain a balance between traditional and contemporary. She elaborates, “All our music is rooted in traditional styles. Thus even if I use modern instruments or styles like drum-and-bass to add flavour, I stick to the style I have learnt from the beginning. My focus is on musicality, rather than speed and technique.”

A disciple of the legendary Ustad Allarakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pal gave her first performance when she was nine. Besides numerous concerts as an accompanist and a solo artiste, she has helmed the all-woman group Stree Shakti, which fuses Hindustani and Carnatic music.

“There’s no point being a Xerox, or repeating what everybody else has done. I want to try out different things for different audiences, specially in the younger generation. These will be through methods that they will relate to more easily,” she says.

One such concept is that of Anuradha Pal’s Tabla Sings Stories. She explains, “It began when one member of the audience met me after a show and said, ‘tumhara tabla gaata hai’. That just made me think that rather than simply play different movements, I should structure my concert in the form of a katha. I had even done that at one of my college functions, realising that the crowd was not ready to listen to serious music. The principal insisted that I play, and I decided to create a story. The response was fabulous.”

Though she is trained in the Punjab gharana, Pal has studied the features of six tabla schools. She says, “That helps me use newer styles in my compositions, specially when it comes to Tabla Sings Stories. Over the years, I have added new elements to this concept. So it could be a story revolving around a mother’s conversation with her daughter, or it could be about the daily ritual of an officegoer, from the time he leaves home to his travel to his reaching office and meeting his boss to the time he returns to his family and sleeps at night.”

As part of the story-telling exercise, she has formed the Anuradha Pal Collective. Here, she will present narratives from the epics or from Indian folklore, transcending boundaries of language and culture. One of the projects is titled Ramayan On Tabla, which was released on January 22. This is an audio-visual storytelling experience of rhythmic poetry, using the concept of musical theatre and including percussion, instrumental and vocal music. She has also worked on the concepts Krishna Ke Taal and Shiv Shakti, besides Bharat Vandan, a tribute to the folk music, culture, languages and traditions of different parts of India.

On the struggle of performing in the male-dominated field of percussion, Pal says, “It’s an ongoing process. But my advantage is that I take things positively. I also try to keep evolving. The audience doesn’t want to see the same thing again and again.”

Taking the example of Stree Shakti, she says that though the tabla plays a dominant role in the sound, the other instruments keep changing. “If I use a ghatam in one concert, I may be joined by a pakhawaj player in the next. The melody instruments vary from concert to concert. That way, the dynamics keep changing and the audience gets something fresh each time,” she explains.

Pal says the concert season is back in full swing though it took some time after the Pandemic. As such, her schedule is packed. On January 13, she was joined by the Kedia Brothers on sitar and sarod at the Birla Garden. The show paid homage to Ustad Allarakha and her parents Ila and Devinder Pal. More performances of Ramayan On Tabla are lined up, besides a Basant Ke Prakar show and a concert featuring harp, flute and tabla.

Pal has also set up the Anuradha Pal Cultural Foundation with the multiple objectives of creating environmental awareness, preserving traditional Indian art and culture, organising musical meditation and therapeutic events, and promoting women’s empowerment. “By constantly adding new things, I enjoy what I do,” she concludes.

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