The right note

Acclaimed tabla virtuoso Anuradha Pal on making a mark in a male-dominated field
The right note
Anuradha Pal

The upcoming Global Fusion concert to be held on January 28, 2012 at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel will be very special for connoisseurs of music for it features a very special artiste – Mumbai-based star tabla virtuoso and percussionist Anuradha Pal.

It is perhaps difficult to list all of Anuradha's achievements at one go! A versatile and celebrated artiste, Anuradha trained under legends like the late Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Today she is an internationally acclaimed tabla soloist and accompanist with top Indian classical, African, jazz and world musicians. Over the years she has participated in major festivals in the UK, USA, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Africa. She also holds the distinction of being the only Indian woman musician to perform at the renowned WOMAD festival in the UK. Moreover, she has performed before dignitaries like the PM and President of India and Queen Elizabeth, besides winning accolades and awards galore for her talent.

Anuradha is the founder and music director of two distinct Fusion bands, Stree Shakti and Recharge, and her mission is to reach out to as many women as possible and empower them through her music. We chatted with this amazing woman about her life and passions.

How does it feel to play live at the Global Fusion Concert in Dubai?
I am very excited and am looking forward eagerly to performing in the Global Fusion concert. It is an interesting concept and I thank Bank Sarasin-Alpen and Alpen Capital for the opportunity.

How different will this concert be from the other concerts you have performed at?
This is a very rare event as it features some of the best women musicians from across the world, all collaborating towards creating a fusion of the music of the globe.

Please tell us more about the bands Stree Shakti and Recharge and their musical styles.
My Stree Shakti is an all-female percussion-based vocal and instrumental combination ensemble, which combines the best of the repertoire of the Hindustani and Carnatic styles. Stree Shakti has performed at some of the most prestigious festivals around the world namely Womad festival for an audience of 1.5 lakh people, Rhythm Sticks festival, Barbican Hall and Cardiff Jazz festival to name just a few. I formed Stree Shakti in 1996 in order to bring about awareness about discrimination against women and create parity of opportunity and respect for them.
Recharge is basically a confluence of Indian and jazz music which features a combination of African, Latin and Indian percussion. Recharge was India's only representation at the world-famous Woodstock festival in 2008 and we performed for an audience of four lakh people.

Why don't we see many female artistes playing the tabla?
Playing the tabla is very difficult. The percussion field has traditionally always been male-dominated. Firstly, it is a physically demanding activity as it requires a lot of strength, stamina and mental agility as well as long hours of practice and years of training to be able to perform. Unfortunately, even now, women are discouraged and discriminated against and not given equal opportunity.

Was it difficult for you to make a mark in this field?
I had to make sure that I worked so hard that no one could ignore me or prevent me from making my mark. For this, I trained very hard to give my audiences and senior musicians something more in terms of musical offerings, to look forward to at each concert. Along with presenting tabla solos, I also regularly perform with a wide spectrum of vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers from the Hindustani and Carnatic styles of Indian music as well as present concerts of both my bands. In addition, I have performed with other genres of World Music like African, Latin, Jazz, Flamenco, Electronica, Hip Hop etc and enjoy the challenge and thrill of collaborations.

Which has been your most cherished concert and why?
I have had many memorable concerts over a career of 20 years. Right from the my first concert when I was 10 to my concerts at the Masters of Indian Music festival (USA), Woodstock festival (2008), to the festival of India in Brazil, Night of Virtuosos Festival (2011), every single one has been memorable.

Who are your greatest musical influence?
My gurus, tabla legends the late Ustad Alla Rakha and of course, Ustad Zakir Hussain.

How difficult was it composing music for the film 'Gajagamini'? How was it working with the legendry MF Husain?
It was a great honour working with Husainsaheb. He felt that I would be able to identify with the struggle of women as portrayed in his film, as I had gone through a similar struggle. The agony and ecstasies of this struggle for excellence against the backdrop of centuries of discrimination had to be conveyed through the tabla and I really enjoyed the challenge. I am grateful that Husainsaheb and his family actually felt that my music filled in the gaps in the film and accentuated its expression and meaning.

How long do you practise every day? What keeps you motivated?
Playing the tabla is a spiritual experience for me and practise is necessary for my very existence. If I am not travelling, I practise the whole dayit always seems too little!

Have you faced any injuries while performing? If yes, how did you get through with the concert?
Yes, I have performed despite injuries as a commitment is a commitment! Fortunately, God has given me strength to go through the pain with equanimity and resolve, and my gurus and families' blessings have helped me tide over every stressful situation.