By Somrita Ghosh
New Delhi– He recently thrust India into the limelight on the global music stage by bagging the prestigious Grammy award — and Sandeep Das credits the guru-shishya parampara, or the teacher-disciple lineage, for how it shaped his life. Even after a long stint in the US and performing abroad, Das maintains that “you can take the Indian out of India, but not India out of an Indian” and is all set to perform in three cities in the country.
For him, the instrument that he plays — the tabla — has become an inseparable part of his life and is, in his own words, “a way of life”. He said the way he was taught music was such that most of what he learnt were “lessons of life and not just music”.
“Under the tutelage of my guru and tabla maestro, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, I learned the value of discipline, hard work and respect — which are the virtues that help me today to connect to the world in many more ways than just playing an instrument,” the 46-year-old tabla maestro told IANS in an email interview.
Das won the Best World Music Album at the 59th Grammy Awards this year for “The Silk Road Ensemble – Sing Me Home” with American-French cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Born in Patna, Bihar, Das started taking classes under his guru from the age of nine and shifted base to Varanasi.
He recalled his early days which he says holds a lot of similarities with the movie “Dangal”. “I belonged to a simple, middle-class family and yet my father thoroughly encouraged me to go ahead with music. Delayed by hours of trains, difficult early mornings to late night travels, balancing education with learning the tabla — it often turned difficult,” he recalled.
Despite facing numerous taunts of relatives and friends, Das said that his passion for music remained undaunted. And why not if you look at his illustrious career, which had humble roots when he began in Delhi under the guidance of vocalist Shubha Mudgal and then went on to perform along with her across the country.
And then one door opened another and opportunities never ceased. “Thereafter I met Ustad Shujaat Khan, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons. And from every artist I met, I continued learning a lot,” he said.
He fondly remembers his first international trip to the US — with Ustad Shujaat Khan. He also performed in Trinidad and Tobago and, since then, has not looked back. It was also during one of his international trips when he first met artist Yo-Yo Ma. Little did he then know that some day he would collaborate with the celebrated cellist and bag one of the most coveted music awards.
“And my life took on a different path; more meaningful than just being a tabla player,” the musician added.
Out of his experience of performing abroad over the years, Das stated that Indian classical music is highly regarded around the world and has always impressed audiences and continues to do so.
“Indians have a global footprint and music has no language, it transcends boundaries and the artists have been performing and wooing audience for hundreds of years now. They have even influenced composers of the Western classical genre,” he added.
Although a follower of the Banaras Gharana, Das never believed in confining his genre just to classical music and kept the doors open to mingle with any form of music.
“Music is not confined to any form or language. Music, like most other things, is same when you try to understand the others’ perspective and then you find common ground. And if you have good training or learning in any one genre, the product that comes out of such collaborations is of a certain standard,” he quipped.
The artist has been living mostly in the US and performing abroad but he is set to perform in India — for the very first time after his Grammy win. He will be playing in three different cities — starting off with Delhi, then Kolkata and finally Mumbai. So, what made him return to the country to perform, after so many years?
“You can take the Indian out of India, but not India out of an Indian. You can achieve almost everything that is possible as an artist but the urge to play in your own country, in front of your countrymen, is always very special,” Das responded.
Das was recently caught in a controversy for stating that, before he achieved international fame, he didn’t get any recognition in India. The artist, however, denied having made any such statement.
“I never said I didn’t get any recognition. Anyone who knows classical music at its best knows me very well. My question was why does the Indian media only jump into action when someone gets recognition of any kind in the West? People who love music of a good standard have always recognised my art and loved me,” he said.
Das had, however, told IANS in February: “It’s a sad fact that when anybody (an Indian) gets a global prize… India wakes up then. It is also very unfortunate that the media is obsessed with cricket, Bollywood and models. Nothing is bad about it, but our obsession with very few things is definitely very sad. Where are the art and culture pages that we used to have in newspapers when I was growing up?”
“Where is the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award or any award… I have never got any award in my country…and this was my third Grammy nomination,” he had added.
Even so, Das has a long list of favourite artists with whom he plans to collaborate for an album in the near future. Shubha Mudgal, Rajan-Sajan Mishra, Debu Chaudhury, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Shujaat Khan, L. Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurthy Subramaniam are among those he would like to collaborate with.