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Tabla player’s journey from classical to fusion

Bobby Singh’s speech shifts fluently between a perfectly polite Punjabi and a thick Australian English. This smooth shuttling also reflects in Singh’s work as a musician, reports Purva Mehra.

mumbai Updated: Feb 09, 2010 01:33 IST
Purva Mehra

Bobby Singh’s speech shifts fluently between a perfectly polite Punjabi and a thick Australian English. This smooth shuttling also reflects in Singh’s work as a musician.

He has been receiving classical training in tabla since he turned seven, but has spent most of his professional years as a ‘fusion’ artist. He attributes this to life in Sydney.

“I had two options. I could either play classical music as a hobby and get another job or stick to the music and make it work,” said Singh at the second edition of the Indian music convention, Baajaa Gaajaa, held in Pune from February 5 to 7.

Singh has no formal education outside his musical training at Mumbai’s Sangeet Mahabharati, an institute started by tabla maestro Pandit Nikhil Ghosh.

Following the counsel of noted sarod player Ashok Roy, Singh took an offer to play tabla for a fusion trio.

“I didn’t mind because it paid and more importantly kept me in contact with my instrument. My passion is classical, but there is an audience for fusion in Australia.”

The 35-year-old artist has performed at music festivals across Australia and has shared the stage with the continent’s celebrated artists. Singh even performed briefly with his own electronic/fusion group, DHA.

He has worked with a range of genres such as jazz, drum ‘n’ bass, gypsy, Balkan, Turkish, swing and pop rock.

“I was purely a classical artist before I moved to Australia. Back in England (his birthplace) I would accompany ragis in Gurdwaras. But this journey has been incredible too. Indian artistes tend to have a certain pride about their musical lineage, but fusion has taught me to be very open to different types of music,” said Singh.

But the student of tabla maestro Aneesh Pradhan puts considerable effort in acquainting the West with the classical.

For every well-received fusion concert, he makes sure to add more people from the audience to his mailing list for the baithaks that he hosts.

“Those are the real deal. Two-and-a-half hour concerts, those who attend have to leave their footwear outside. It’s very traditional because classical music is where my heart lies.”