You’ve read about the Festival of Tabla coming up, now let’s learn about the person who made the festival happen. A personal journey shared with India Current’s Heritage Arts Initiative.
Meet Rupesh Kotecha, a music enthusiast, student, teacher, compassionate listener and avid follower of the Pandits and Ustads who bear an enormous influence on his life. His love for Taal led to the Festival of Tabla taking place in LA on 28th and 29th July 2018.
“My passion for Tabla started at a very young age when I was ten years old, living in Leicestershire England, with much impact of cultural activities around us. As a curious learner, I would take pots and pans to make interesting sounds. Well, interesting to my ears anyway, not sure about how it appealed to my families’ ears! I would pound away on them to make unknown rhythmic sounds, which made sense to me.
My parents recognized the tapping on the “dabbas and dubris,” (kitchenware) was more than mischief. They, in fact, saw the internalized pattern coming from my mind which soothed my curiosities. Just before we moved to the USA, my father purchased my first set of Tablas in 1980 when I was 14 years old. At the same time, I convinced my dad to buy me a record featuring Ustad Thirakwa Khan and Ustad Amir Hussain Khan (unaware of who they were).
Rhythms of India became a part of my daily routine, I would repeatedly listen to the record, absorb the intricacies and I then, I tried to reproduce the same sound on my tabla. It remains, to this day, one of my most favorite albums. The Gurus I found later in life were all from the same Farrukhabad tradition, and my Gurus taught me the compositions which I had heard on the very same album. I met my first Guru, Saleem Hai, in 1981 when I was 15, at the time he was learning with Pandit Taranath Rao.
I met Pt.Taranath Rao at Shreemati Anjani Ambegaokar’s kathak dance recital where Zakir ji was playing. Immediately after the concert, I asked Zakir ji if he would teach me tabla. When I said I lived in Southern California, he pointed to the harmonium player and told me ‘learn from Panditji, he is the best teacher you will ever find.’ I turned to his reference being none other than the great Pandit Taranath Rao. I immediately went to Panditji in the green room, bowed to him and asked to learn from him; he said ‘Shaabash…when can you come?’ My journey began and led to eight years of training under Taranthji . I experienced the true Guru Shishya Parampara with his care, kindness, acceptance and unconditional offering of knowledge.
When Taranathji departed this world in 1991, my heart was broken, but I needed to stay connected so, I reached out to his nephew, Pandit Ravi Bellare. I studied closely with Raviji until 2006. This second phase of my Talim was a journey into the depths of all instrumental, tabla, poetry, age-old compositions, visual art and creative thinking. He was a master of north and south traditions.
With Raviji’s passing I continued my lessons with his twin brother Shashi ji. This was another unique learning curve as Shashi ji’s playing was more spontaneous in nature. His style merged gharanas; Farukhabad, Dehli, Ajrada and Banaras, with a strong influence from Pandit Kishan Maharaj Ji. I learned new compositions and learned to relax and play with spontaneity to harness my own creative output.
Training under twin brothers was remarkable because they had different playing personalities and styles of teaching. Over the years, I’ve learned some fine compositions and I have collected a treasure trove of Shloka Parans which were taught to me by Ravi Ji. One will rarely ever hear tabla artists recite the poetry and then play the chalan that flows with the poetry/shloka. I was very fortunate for such a guide.
Currently, I am learning the intricacies of the Banaras Gharana with the wonderful Guru Pandit Shashanka Bakshi. The style is different from what I am used to, but it has helped me see differences in each Gharana and appreciate the nuances of accompaniment.
From the Joy of Learning to the Joy of Giving……
After years of learning and experiencing the growth processes involved in gaining Talim alongside variable life situations and with different Gurus, I felt inspired to champion a friendly platform as a sacred gathering place, the Festival of Tabla.
What Drives You?
Driven by love! Love for music, learning, knowledge and the future generation. I do this because nobody did it for me. In the many years of learning tabla, I can’t recall ever being invited to present a solo in front of hundreds of receptive people except at my Deeksha ceremony with my Guru. My wife and I feel we have a mission that was given to us by my Gurus. I suppose in some ways I am fulfilling a personal void and that’s why I feel precious about what we have established. It’s special, very special. When I see the young students play here, the festival’s purpose is reaffirmed.
All the ‘whys’ are answered when Gurus show their support and young people show their excitement for the discerning opportunity. My wife Mona, and I recognize the need to move forward without resisting the call to grow. We are proud to say our platform is hospitable, warm and encouraging in its truest sense aligned for our art forms.’
How does your family feel about your compelling passion?
My family is very supportive, and my sons have also taken leadership roles. Friends, community and sponsors see the value in this platform. They see my faith in our music and culture to launch the unique Festival of Tabla in the USA.’
What are your key aims and what is the impact of your activities?
The organization and festival platform aims to continue the tradition of imparting knowledge of the Indian classical arts, specifically Taal Vidya. We aspire to influence and play a significant role in the purists of the next generation. Our activities include informative Baithaks, archiving of educational material in the form of print, audio and video, providing a safe, non-judgmental space for young students who show promise of the Talim mindset for the upkeep of parampara. We interlace the relationship of visual, dance, sound and word. This illustrates the complete picture of how interconnected heritage art forms apply to our lives and support vital relationships, which act as catalysts and allow creative, critical, courageous and elevated thinking.’
What are the key takeaways you wish for the younger participants?
I want the youngsters to understand how important their contribution to learning is. I want to help young people feel valued, appreciated for their commitment, individuality and love of learning to learn. They need to be given a sense of belonging in the correct environment and be safeguarded from the diversions of precarious platforms which may interpret the philosophies of Talim as a form of entertainment. It is very rare for anyone, especially a young tabla player to be presented an opportunity to perform a tabla solo in front of a learned, knowledgeable, receptive and blessing audience. They should take full pride in this moment and practice diligently. I told all the participants to have a 40-day chilla!
How did this become a family project?
One day I came up with the idea to arrange a Festival of Tabla in memory of my Gurus! It was like the idea had possessed me! Mona and I started unveiling resources and before long, I was arranging logistics and musicians. Our son created a beautiful poster, which immediately brought the Festival alive. Passion speaks louder than any language, well, besides bol paranth!! The entire family just went along with the wave, not knowing if people would even show up. As nerves set in, prayers to Lord Ganesha and Sathya Sai Baba became higher in frequency! Well, our prayers are heard, and with the blessings of all our Gurus, the intention and need for such a platform has manifested with growing support.
Stay with the beat and follow the festival with us!
See the artist line up: http://www.festivaloftabla.com
Direct ticketing site: https://festivaloftabla2018.eventbrite.com