Guitar, saxophone, drums, clarinet…the London Underground thought it had seen them all.
But as young women pour in at the Leicester Square station after the day’s Christmas shopping, they find their feet tapping to pure drut teentaal of the Benaras gharana, played on the tabla by a wiry 37-year-old.
Born in Angola to a Portuguese father and African mother, a computer programmer by education and Londoner for the past 19 years, he is the only busker (street musician) playing an Indian instrument in the London Underground, a spokesperson for the Tube confirmed. But Rodrigo d’Orey, who now has a 10-year-old love affair with the tabla, says he has just crossed infancy. “I can just make it sound okay,” he said.
He gave up his software job to play the Indian instrument. “I am earning less but I am with my love. I just need to cover my rent and an annual visit to India to pick up further lessons,” he said. D’Orey learnt the tabla when he visited Benaras in his early 20s, and followed it up with lessons from guru Sharda Sahay in London.
“I play for money. I have to play catchy and faster beats, which is not the beauty of Indian music,” he said. Booking a performance slot in the London Underground is free and online. But playing involves keen competition as there are about 400 buskers performing in the Tube. Says the musician who lives in suburban Hertfordshire: “Hopefully, I will match the masters in 10 years.”