Friday, April 01, 2011

Are Tabla Accompanists Becoming More Important Than Soloists in Indian Classical Music?

Just as collaborative pianists are beginning to achieve increased prominence in North American and Europe, the same thing is happening with tabla accompanists in Indian classical music, with an unintended change to the power dynamic between soloist and accompanist. Take a look at this excerpt from an editorial by Kuldeep Kumar in the Times of India:
...just as the Hindi film music has made a transition from being melody-based to becoming rhythm-based, Hindustani classical music too is slowly following suit. In the process, the centuries-old equation and relationship between the main performer and his percussion accompanist is getting warped. In the bygone era, accompanists on tabla, sarangi, violin or harmonium used to sit on the concert stage in a way so that they did not directly face the audience but facing the main performer. This arrangement gave primacy to the main artiste and enabled the accompanists to take the cue from him or her. Today, most tabla players face the audiences. They want to be treated at par with the main performer. It is not at all unusual to see listeners sitting with deadpan faces while a sitar or sarod player is probing the depths of a ragain the alap-jodjhalasection and breaking into an uproarious applause the moment the tabla accompanist starts playing.

On most occasions, it is the tabla player who receives more appreciation and applause from the audiences whenever the main artiste repeats the melodic line and allows the accompanist to play solo sequences. As vocalist or instrumentalist want to attract as big an audience as possible, they too go along with this so that the concert becomes 'successful'.
Fascinating. Who are the headline collaborative pianists that would influence your decision to attend a concert?

1 comment:

  1. I am a classical accompanist, but I am also passionate about Indian music and took a semester to study Indian music a tabla player Samir Chatterjee, and I can't agree more on the importance of a tabla player because they are in control of the tala (a cycle of a fixed number of beats repeated over and over again. There are different talas - 6 beats, 7, 10, 12, 14, etc.) ,and each tala has its different mood. I feel accompanists are usually underrated by the audience in classical music performances. A great accompanist isn't just an accompanist but a collaborator who provide the soloist security and brings the entire performance to another level.