Naturally gravitated towards Grammy-winning White Sun’s music: Tabla ace Abhiman Kaushal

By Sahana Ghosh

Kolkata–Tabla player Abhiman Kaushal, who features in the Grammy Award winning eponymous album by Los Angeles-based band White Sun, says he “naturally gravitated” towards their music — interpretations of yogic mantras.

Exhilarated at the win, the Hyderabad-born Kaushal says the honour offers a platform to Indian musicians to go beyond boundaries and seek “meaningful collaborations” complementing the nation’s heritage.

“My collaboration with White Sun began a few years ago when Gurujas, who is the golden voice of White Sun, approached me to record with them. From the initial meeting, I knew instantly that this will indeed be a collaboration unlike any I have done in the past.

“I naturally gravitated towards the music which culminated in something very special,” the Los Angeles-based Kaushal told IANS via email.

“As it is an inherent feeling for a performer that anything which touches him or her musically will deliver the same to the recipient, I felt every song is a winner and the Grammy reiterates it,” he said.

Abhiman Kaushal

The band comprising Gurujas, Hari Jiwan Singh Khalsa and Adam Berry, clinched the Grammy for their sophomore album “White Sun II” featuring Kaushal, kora player Mamadou Diabate, and the Punch Brothers’ violinist Gabe Witcher.

Dubbing the collaborators as a “family”, Kaushal went on: “This recognition does give a pedestal to musicians in India to go beyond their boundaries and seek meaningful ventures which complement the heritage while acknowledging the wide wings of collaboration.”

Kaushal represents the Farukkabad and Lucknow styles of tabla and says he was influenced by stalwarts such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, in addition to his gurus.

“I first and foremost consider myself a tabla player of Hindustani music. I began at a young age under the tutelage of my father R.B. Kaushal who himself was a disciple of the legendary Ustad Amir Hussain Khan. Later, belonging to Hyderabad, I was blessed to be accepted by the highly revered Ustad Sheikh Dawood and his senior-most successor Pandit B. Nandkumar,” he recounted.

In fact, so strong was the pull for learning tabla, that he gave up formal education.

“I began to think of tabla more seriously when I turned 14 and then it became an obsession with me which compelled me to stop education midway when I was 16 years old and pursue the path of tabla,” he said.

Kaushal recorded three albums with Pandit Ravi Shankar and toured extensively with the master throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. Besides his rich body of collaborative work, he has to his credit soundtracks for National Geographic’s “Maneaters of North India” and the movie “Zoolander”, among others.

When he is not belting out traditional and progressive rhythmic compositions on stage, Kaushal loves to teach a large and diverse student body at UCLA’s Ethnomusicology Department.

“While sustaining an active performing career, I find the role of teaching tabla at university level highly invigorating as you get to share your art form with an international body of students.

“Teaching made me more introspective about our culture and protocols surrounding tabla, helping me to shed appropriate light on the nuances of our art forms,” said Kaushal, the Director of Tabla at the department.

His students, he feels, if taught with passion, may “dwell deeper into tabla or become our future audiences for Indian classical music” in their respective countries of origin.

Basking in the Grammy glory, Kaushal is looking forward to his solo album and some major concerts. A trip home is also on the cards.

“I plan to return to India some time this year to work on various projects, some of which are classical-based and some of which are experimental,” he revealed.

He says tabla is taking a “more prominent global role” as it is incorporated into so many different genres, such as Jazz, Rock, Western Classical, Hip Hop, African, Chinese, Persian music and, of course, the ubiquitous Hollywood movies.

Kaushal also batted for inclusion of music into school and college curriculums.

“While I feel artists definitely get added attention when they win accolades on a world platform, I feel back home in India our music is thriving with many wonderful music festivals, concerts and government-supported events.

“I am optimistic more concert platforms will open up to sustain the amazing gifts of numerous artistes in India. I do earnestly hope our rich music gets into the curriculum of schools and colleges to be imbibed by a wider body of practitioners who will carry it further,” he added. (IANS)

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