Categorized | Culture

The Toronto Tabla Ensemble Brings Music, Diversity And Culture To Our City

Posted on 25 February 2011 by admin

By Priyanka Jain
Toronto

‘If somebody takes interest in an arts organization who’s dedicated to our culture, and doing it in such a way that we’re helping the younger generation to do something with it, then by giving us the sponsorship, more will come. They will be doing it for the right reasons; the grassroot reasons,’ said Das.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever retire. Artists don’t retire, it’s our creative juice. The day you retire is the day you die.’


I sat down with Ritesh Das, Artistic Director and tabla teacher at the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, a narrow building in a tight row of stores lined up on College St., in the midst of Downtown Toronto.
Das was born and raised in Kolkata (famously known as Calcutta), India. Das’ parents were the first to open a music and dance academy in Kolkata, which allowed Das immediate exposure to music and tabla at a young age. When Das was 22-years-old, he moved to Los Angeles, USA, to be a part of the AMAN Folk Ensemble. While in L.A, Das was also travelling back and forth to San Fransisco, where he was studying tabla under his guru, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, who he still remains close with.
In 1987, Das moved to Toronto and married kathak dancer Joanna De Souza. Together, they both wanted to open their own centre, where they would combine both their talents.
‘The Ensemble came out of soul searching. I wanted to do something for me and my voice,’ said Das.
Das and De Souza began performing at small venues such as mandirs and community events, and because the response and feedback was so positive, people began inquiring about classes. For a few years, Das and De Souza travelled to peoples’ houses, churches, high schools, under the Toronto Tabla Ensemble name, just so they could accomodate their students who were widely spread out.
A few years later, Das and De Souza decided it was time to have a more stable environment for their students, and concentrated on finding a Downtown location. In 1991, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble had opened up at 335 College St.
‘I believe that tabla fits with every culture, every genre of music. So Toronto is a beautiful place to do that, we have everyone here,’ said Das.
At the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, Das both teaches tabla, and leads the ensemble. Students that show dedication have the opportunity to be a part of the ensemble.
‘I said in my last show- many hands have come, and many hands have gone, but the music will always go on.’
Das’ main emphasis at the Toronto Tabla Ensemble is to individually nurture each one of his students to their full potential.
‘In order to be a good teacher, you will have to understand and care for your students. It’s like you are their dad, their friend, their shrink. You’ve got to care,’ said Das.
Das aims to bring to his students every reason possible for them to develop a passion for the tabla.
‘I have students that come and go, but they come back for the learning, and the spiritual reasons; not to perform. If you only want to do that, it’s the wrong thing to do,’ said Das.
Although Das is an experienced and renowned tabla player, he still strives to be better everyday.
‘Musically speaking, artistically speaking, I’m very happy, but I’m always going to take it to the next level,’ said Das.
The Toronto Tabla Ensemble does receive some government funding, but it is not enough, according to Das.
‘This is doing so much for the community. If somebody takes interest in an arts organization who’s dedicated to our culture, and doing it in such a way that we’re helping the younger generation to do something with it, then by giving us the sponsorship, more will come. They will be doing it for the right reasons; the grassroot reasons,’ said Das.
Das also explains that it isn’t the amount of funding you get, instead it’s whether or not one deserves that amount to further develop what they’re doing.
‘I think the people on the panels [deciding funding] should actually physically be here. They should say I’m gonna give you money, but I wanna check you out first,’ said Das.
Despite this ongoing problem, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble have still gained a good reputation in the Toronto community. They have performed at numerous jazz and folk festivals, and have also appeared on CBC News World and Much Music. They were also top ten in Now Magazine after their first concert in 1991.
‘I see the results of joy in them when they play something or they perform somewhere. That motivates me to keep going; the happiness in others.’
The focus of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble is to collaborate with other instruments and sounds, and to make unique and diverse music. Their first collaboration was with the taiko drums, and they have also collaborated with jazz, flaminco, rock and roll, and much more.
‘Collaborating with another kind of music brings both audiences to watch. By doing this, the ensemble members and the audience understand each other,’ said Das.
Das continues to share his knowledge and tabla technique with his students. He has learnt a lot being under the guidance of Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, not only about music, but about life in general.
‘You have to have a focus, you have to have a vision, and above all that, you have to have patience. If you have all of these things, you can achieve anything, not just music,’ said Das.
Das opens the doors of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble to absolutely everyone. He describes the art of music so simply, yet meaningful, by saying ‘Music goes on. It has nothing to do with looks, age, showmanship, it’s music.’
He mentors a diverse group of aspiring musicians, and is always looking to expand and extract talent out of his students.
‘The difference between universities and this place is that you go to university for four years and you’re out. Here, you’re never out.’
As of right now, ’this is a dream come true’ for Das, and he continues to share his love of music and tabla with people.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever retire. Artists don’t retire, it’s our creative juice. The day you retire is the day you die.’

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