Between the 3rd and 5th of March 2006, a unique gathering of some of India's greatest musicians took place in Leicester to celebrate the life of Bhai Gurmit Singh Virdee, who sadly passed away on 3rd April 2005. A packed audience assembled at the Peepul Centre witnessed three days of exhilarating performances involving over 50 Indian musicians, a fitting tribute to Gurmit Ji's love of life, his musical talent, his spiritual endeavours and his selfless contribution to the music scene. Since the early 1950s, Bhai Gurmit Singh Virdee had been playing, promoting and teaching tabla. Respected throughout the Indian classical music circle, he performed with world-class artists and taught hundreds of students, many of whom are now renowned performers and teachers in their own right. Gurmitji developed Taal - Rhythms of India (1987-1996) the world's first dedicated organisation for promoting Tabla. Performances included Zakir Hussain, Swapan Chaudhuri, Anindo Chatterjee, Shankar Ghosh and many others. Tablaonline launched in May 2005 world's first portal percussion website. The 2006 Darbar Festival proved to be a landmark event on the UK Indian Classical Music scene and the largest of its kind in Britain to date.
Among the main attractions of the festival were the performances of three giants in the field of North Indian Tabla playing, Swapan Chaudhuri, Anindo Chatterjee and Kumar Bose.
Kumar Bose is one of the most important tabla players of today and the standard torch bearer for the Benares Tabla gharana having trained under the great Benares Maestro, Pandit Kishen Maharaj. Kumar Bose was born into a distinguished musical family. His father Pandit Biswanath Bose was a well known Benares gharana tabla maestro who pushed his son relentlessly in a thorough and vigorous training regime. His mother Bharathi Bose was a student of Ustad Dabir Khan and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. After his father's untimely death, Kumar trained under the great Benares maestro, Pandit Kishen Maharaj, becoming his most famous disciple.
Kumar Bose first hit the headlines in the 1970s after a series of stunning performances accompanying sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar with whom he toured for fourteen years. His solo tabla performances have always been a huge attraction for Indian music lovers. Kumar Bose has been true to the tradition of the Benares gharana by subtly balancing the warm tones of the bayan with the higher pitched crisp tones of the tabla in his recitals. Over the years he has also performed and recorded in duets with his guru Pandit Kishen Maharaj.
Indian classical music is essentially a performing art; its greatest exponents have always thrived on spontaneous interaction with an informed and involved audience. The 2006 Darbar Festival provided Kumar Bose the perfect environment to display the full extent of his mastery of the tabla, and a rare opportunity to perform in front of his peers, a distinguished assembly of eminent musicians including Swapan Chaudhuri, Anindo Chatterjee and Ajoy Chakrabarty. It was an opportunity that was not wasted!
In a charged atmosphere playing to a capacity crowd, even by Kumar Bose's high standards, this performance proved to be special.
The solo was played in teentaal, the most popular rhythm cycle in North Indian music. For the recital Kumar Bose was accompanied by Sarangi maestroRamesh Mishra. The role of the Sarangi in this instance is to play lehara, a melodic motif outlining the framework of the sixteen beat rhythm cycle. It sounds straightforward, but there are few players who can accurately maintain this throughout a performance of up to three hours. Lehera playing is not simply the repetition of a fixed melody; it also serves to maintain the soloist's mood and temperament by inspiring the main performer. The subtle ornamentations play a significant role in the success of any tabla performance.
Kumar Bose began the solo by playing both Uthan (3) and Amad (4, 5), introductory compositions in the Benares repertoire which also have roots in Kathak dance tabla repertoire. Benares theka (6,7,8,9) is an elaboration and ornamentation of the sixteen beat cycle. This treatment of theka demonstrates the characteristic sweetness of the Benares style of playing.
Kayida is a theme and variation composition type, which often forms the main body of a solo. The main kayida is fixed and acts as a theme for improvisations, which are essentially permutations of the main syllables and phrases of the original composition. The extent of the soloist's imagination and musical skill is demonstrated through the improvised paltas which follow the kayida. Kumar Bose has played Kayidas from three of the six main gharanas. Each gharana boasts kayidas with elements unique to its own traditions. The Lucknow kayidas played by Kumar Bose are clearly inspired by the presence of Swapan Chaudhuri, the finest living exponent of the Lucknow gharana. The performance includes one the most famous Benares kayidas - 'dhige dhina tirakita dina' (tracks 14&15), a favourite with Benares players.
The performance continues with Chand and then moves on to Rela (2,3) which is an improvised form, less expansive than kayida, but appealing because of the drum roll like effect created by the production of rapidly articulated syllables. After the Rela there follows a series of short pre-composed pieces, tukras and chakradars, including some rare gems from the archives of the Benares repertoire including the compositions of Ram Sahai, who founded the gharana at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Many of the compositions are skilfully recited before playing in a tradition known as padhant. Tukra is a fixed and short composition of tabla that begins on the sum and ends on the sum with a tihai. Chakradar from the Hindi word charka, meaning wheel, is essentially a tukra played three times in order to reach the first beat of the cycle (sam) with the final tihai stroke.
From track 15 onwards the tempo of the solo starts to steadily increase into Madhya laya (medium) to Drut (fast) laya (20). The final kayida (18) features the tabla syllable dine gine, which is then cleverly developed into a rela. Towards the conclusion of the solo Kumar Bose demonstrates a couple of his specialities, for example, playing a variety of cross rhythms on the right hand dayan (21) while simultaneously holding down a fast repetitive beat on the left hand bayan (bass drum). 'Na dhin dhin na' is the theka articulated in fast speed, showing subtle control and balance of both drums.