Yoshika Sangal | March 22, 2016
Anuradha Pal is a tabla player, multi-percussionist and music composer. She started playing tabla at the age of ten. She has been a disciple of legends like late Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Who’s Who Journal of the World and the Limca Book of Records (1991) have listed her as the first professional female tabla player. She is also the youngest and only female Indian musician to have performed at the prestigious Woodstock Festival in 2008 and at the WOMAD Festival in 1999. Apart from live performances, she composes music for short films, documentaries and theatre. The background score she composed for MF Husain’s film Gaja Gamini was highly appreciated.
Being from a family of academicians, what or who influenced you to become a tabla player: Apart from studies, music, art and culture were an important part of my upbringing. A lot of artists often visited our house. My parents took me to concerts at a very young age. This exposure drew me towards learning classical music.
How did interest in vocal classical music turn into an interest in tabla: Singing classical music made me realise that I was more inclined towards rhythm. The rhythmic aspect of a song naturally came to me without anyone telling me. Hence, tabla became an adjunct to my singing.
Any challenges: Initially my teacher refused to teach me as I was a girl and tabla was considered a physically demanding instrument. But that did not stop me. My brother was already a tabla player, so I decided to learn it on my own. After a couple of months, my teacher was surprised to see me play and eventually decided to teach me.
How it feels being in a male-dominated field: When one breaks new ground and establishes a new tradition to existing norms, society does not accept it. People have their hardwired thinking. I have faced discrimination and cynicism. I had to work really hard. I didn’t have any godfather. This industry is hierarchical and I was a new person.
Your inspiration: My audience was a great support. When they come to praise me, I feel all my hard work gets paid off. Girls often tell me that they get inspired by me to pursue their dreams in various fields. This change that I bring in the lives of other people is a big inspiration for me.
Your gurus: To listen to tabla maestros and learn from them was an honour yet it was very difficult. But I thrived on challenge. They have supported me unconditionally. I learnt under the strict ‘guru shishya parampara’ and I feel that this is a brilliant system. You learn not only music but about life and discipline. You learn to deal with many things.
How can women be encouraged to join this field: I feel inspiration doesn’t come just by talking about it. You have to do something. I formed my Stree Shakti band in 1996 so that I could provide a platform to provide equal opportunity to women who are not able to showcase their talent.
Any other passion besides tabla: Wildlife and reading
How do you stay fit: By performing yoga
Favourite production: My original composition of tabla jugalbandhi. It is a combination and synthesis of traditional and contemporary.
Anything you want to change in the world: Violence. People have to find the calm in themselves. I feel music is a binding force. It reduces stress and connects people. I feel that exposure to music should be made compulsory in schools and colleges.
As told to Yoshika Sangal
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