In recent years, our taste in music has evolved. Not only has it gone beyond the usual Bollywood songs and pop albums but during the Covid-19-induced lockdown, many music lovers now also explore Indie, Carnatic, and Hindustani music genres. Spotify has played a massive role in the process, helping audiences explore the different musical genres. Through their Echo initiative, they’ve put many artists in the spotlight too. One of whom is veteran tabla player Anuradha Pal.
She joined fellow musicians such as flutist Naveen Kumar and sitarist Rishab Rikhiram Sharma to create the soulful Kautilya, as part of the initiative. Pal, in an exclusive chat with Showsha, opened up about collaborating with the platform, the evolution of music over the years, and her performance at the Dior Fashion Week earlier this year, among many other topics. Here’s an excerpt:
What intrigued you to be a part of Spotify’s Echo initiative?
Usually Bollywood or vocal music is promoted a lot. When Spotify approached me to be the face of their playlist and perform in their Echo project, I was thrilled to be a part of this trailblazing baithak, which aims at taking classical instrumental music to the youth, performed by those artists who have always worked on making music interactive and engaging. The fact that our track for Echo, ‘Kautilya’, has already amassed over 12 million views in a week goes on to prove that Spotify’s path-breaking emphasis on promoting India’s rich instrumental heritage will be a game changer.
On one hand, you have been busy with the Echo initiative, on the other, you hosted your first-ever concert. I read that the tickets were sold out in less than two hours. Did you anticipate such a reception?
I have always tried to give something fresh and different to my audiences, which is why, when Anuradha’s Tablas Sing Stories was announced, people immediately bought tickets and it was sold out in 2 hours! I presented a two-hour concert of just tablas, flute, keyboard, and percussions and no one even got up to take a biological break! I am indebted to my fans, for their love and appreciation!
In a space predominantly dominated by men, was breaking the glass ceiling difficult?
Yes. Since I don’t come from a musician family and I am the first female professional tabla player in the world, I had to endure a lot of discrimination, nepotism and unfairness. I do work continuously to build stronger domain knowledge so that my talent could do the talking, since I had no godfather to mentor me. Hence discipline, dedication, creativity, conviction, and commitment against all odds have been my success mantra from age 9, when I started performing live concerts!
Do you think there is a need to create an easier path for women interested in tabla to enter the space?
Catalysed by my own challenges, I created India’s first all-girl Hindustani and Carnatic music band called Anuradha Pal’s Stree Shakti’ in 1996. Over the past 25 years, I have presented and promoted over 75 women artists in over 200 festivals across 15 countries. These back-breaking efforts to provide performance opportunities to girls and similarly disadvantaged musicians have helped change society’s mindset & encouraged many young women towards percussion.
You also recently played at the Dior Fall fashion show. How did that happen?
The amazing composer, Oliver Coates, heard one of my tabla solos on YouTube where I had played an alaapi peshkar which is a special, singing composition on the tabla, and thereafter heard a lot of my fusion compositions from my album ‘Recharge Plus’. He found the spaces and pauses in my presentation and the confluence of different genres in my compositions very pregnant with possibilities of collaboration and approached me, through Dior’s representative to collaborate.
It was truly remarkable and memorable spotlighting the tabla and the depth of its percussive-melodic possibilities for this unique, first-time-ever East-West musical conversation, live with fashion at the iconic Gateway of India.
I enjoyed the process of composing my teams’ compositions based on Indian classical and folk music to collaborate with Oliver Coates conducting the Symphony Orchestra of India and time it with Dior’s, incredible Maria Churi Grazia’s fashion requirements. I was thrilled to see how our labour of love managed to convert many uninitiated, to the beauty of Indian classical music!
The response to our performance has been nothing short of overwhelming. To receive such an outpouring of love and appreciation from fans across the globe, with over 13 million views on social media and countless messages pouring in, has been truly humbling. Warm appreciation from Rekha ji, Virat Kohli, Anushka Sharma, Cara Delevingne, Simone Ashley, Anoushka Shankar, Freida Pinto, Sonam Kapoor, Karlie Kloss (to name just a few), has been truly overwhelming and humbling and something I will always treasure.
In times of Bollywood music and remixes, there are people who still are not only listening but also learning to play classical instruments. Is there any young gen tabla player that you feel could become the next big thing?
Indian classical music is amongst the best music in the world, but unfortunately, it has not been promoted properly! Thankfully a few organisations are promoting lots of diverse music and dance, but, many festivals and organisers only sponsor a few chosen top artists, leaving the middle and lower-level artists completely unsupported and discouraged. Sadly, there are some organisers who don’t even consider tabla solos worth presenting. Hence, I founded APCF to actively propagate our rich classical music and dance traditions to broader, uninitiated audiences.
Tell us about your upcoming work.
I’m thrilled to announce the worldwide release of my new single, ‘Tabla Tonic,’ which came out on September 1. This track is a mesmerising fusion of traditional tabla rhythms, interspersed with the pulsating energy of EDM, enriched with the harmonious blend of violin, bass, guitar, djembe, and drums, creating an electrifying musical journey that transcends genres and borders. Additionally, I am also working on a project that showcases environmental sustainability, through tabla rhythms and tunes.