Saturday, January 1, 2005

Tryst with the tabla

This NRI teenager taps magic with his fingers. Minna Zutshi chats up Rohan Bhogal, the youngest artiste at the recently held Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar.

Rohan Bhogal
Photo: S.S. Chopra

Hot, peppy numbers may well be passť. At least for Master Rohan Bhogal, the youngest performer at the 129th Shree Baba Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan, a musical festival with the unbroken tradition of being organised annually at Jalandhar for the past 128 years. The 15-year-old youngster was born and brought up in the Canadian city of Edmonton. But it was the very Indian sound of tabla that fascinated him, even when he could barely understand the finer nuances of music. "Tabla beats have a rhythm that taps at your heart. You can work magic with your fingers and create enthralling music," he says, flicking his fingers as if pattering on a tabla.

The snow-smooched mornings of Edmonton have him practice diligently for hours together on tabla. The vigorous beat of tabla breaks the morning stillness for this youngster, who has been a pupil of Ustad Zakir Hussain since the age of eight. "I go to San Francisco every summer to study tabla under Ustad Hussain," he says, with a touch of pride.

Though his visits to India have been few yet he finds Indian culture rich and varied enough to merit "spontaneous admiration". "Itís a rare honour to be given an opportunity to perform at Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan, where maestros give their performances," he tells us.

Reams may have been written about the Indian diaspora, but he dismisses all talk about "alienation, identity crisis and discrimination" as something which does not impinge on his music. "I think people in Canada are open to exploring different cultures. And music, no matter from which culture, automatically touches your heart. You may not understand the intricacies of music, but you cannot remain uninspired by it," he sallies.

He has already bagged a string of awards. He won the junior Talent Explosion contest of Northern Alberta in 2002. He was invited to play at the Big Valley Jamboree, which incidentally is a western country-music festival. At the Edmonton Kwanis Music Festival, his tabla-playing skill received rave reviews. He has accompanied music maestros Ustad Shujaat Khan and Ustad Aashish Khan too.

"I canít have enough of tabla. Practice I must, come what may. Music is not about having arrived; itís about exploring your limits," says this young tabla-player. When back home at Edmonton, he would like to give final touches to his first compact disc of tabla solo. He plans to release the disc early next year. His dreams are all tabla-centric ó he has no time for snazzy music or glitzy performances.