Meet the tabla musician who is keeping the flame of classical music alive

Aditya Kalyanpur

If you recall the popular 1990’s ‘Wah Ustaad’ commercial of Taj Tea, you would remember the young boy who sat alongside Ustad Zakir Hussain, playing the tabla. That young kid is now a tabla maestro, Aditya Kalyanpur. Having embarked on his musical career as a protégé of Ustad Allah Rakha Khan, Aditya has come a long way in the Indian classical music scenario, both, in India and internationally.

Kalyanpur mastered the intricacies of the tabla at a young age who had the privilege to accompany music legends such as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and A.R. Rahman, to name a few. His forays into music have led him to collaborate with international musicians like Keith Richards of ‘Rolling Stones’, Katy Perry, Larry Coryell and John Popper. His latest collaboration is with Cello artist Brent Arnold, a jugalbandi so rare, it is sure to pique the interest of any music aficionado.

Alongside his musical ambitions, Kalyanpur is also doing his best to make sure the flame of our rich music tradition does not flicker with the establishment of the Shyamal Music Foundation – a non-profit organisation, set up with the aim of raising funds for cancer patients through the benefit concert series ‘DISHA’, which also gives a platform to younger artists helping preserve and promote Indian Classical music. He is also the founder of the ‘New England School of Music’ in the United States, which trains budding artists and keeps the tradition of Indian Classical music alive.

We caught up with the maestro for a quick tete-a-tete to know more about his love for tabla, his memorable performances and his advice for young musicians.

How did your love affair for tabla start?
I was drawn to it ever since I was two and half years old. I was told that I had an innate talent towards rhythm and would naturally start playing the tabla whenever I saw it.

Which is your most memorable performance?
It’s difficult to pinpoint any in particular. All my concerts are extremely memorable. However, performing with legends such as Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Dr. Mrs. N Rajam always remains very special from the Indian classical music realm and with Bollywood stalwarts such as A.R. Rahman and Shankar Mahadevan, just to name a few.

Who do you like collaborating with?
The legends I have mentioned above and the newer generation of legends-in-the-making, such as Amaan Ali Bangash, Ayaan Ali Bangash, Rahul Sharma, Rakesh Chaurasia, and many more. From the world music realm working with musicians such as Larry Coryell, John Beasley, and recently, cello maestro, Brent Arnold, from New York.

Any advice for people who want to learn tabla and want to make it big as tabla artists?
I honestly feel young students of this art form should realise that Indian classical music takes several years of dedicated riyaz, taleem (learning) and patience. It’s not something you can accomplish overnight. It’s extremely important to understand that ‘sadhana’ doesn’t come easy.

You can watch one of his performances in the video below