Bengaluru: Sandeep Das was a restive 15-year-old driving to a Pandit Ravi Shankar concert with his guruji, Pt Kishan Maharaj, when he learned, much to his horror, that he would be accompanying both maestros on stage that night. “All Maharaj-da told me was to pack my tablas, I simply assumed he needed a spare,” laughed Das, two days after he won his first Grammy Award.
Back home in Boston in the aftermath of the feverish, post-Grammy excitement, Das is inundated with calls from journalists across the world.
It was the year 1985. And Pt Maharaj announced, almost prophetically, to the audience, that Das would be one of India’s greatest percussionists. “He told me that if he saw fear in my eyes, he would throw a shoe at me! It worked, I can play at Carnegie Hall right now and not worry about a thing!”
Today, Das, widely considered one of the leading table players in the world, is part of Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble which won the 2017 Grammy in the World Music category for the album, Sing Me Home. "I'm very happy to have won the award and even happier because it's an acknowledgment of our culture and music," said Das, on Tuesday evening, speaking to DC on the phone from Boston, where he is based. "I have never diluted what I do. Strong classical tabla is being recognised."
The most important thing, he said, is to "know one thing well and deeply enough." With 12 years of classical training, Das went on to play with the likes of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Ustaad Shujat Khan, following his debut with Pandit Ravi Shankar. "Indian musicians today are very keen on forming bands but they don't realise that this depth of knowledge is necessary. It teaches you discipline and respect."
The latter was hard to come by in the Indian classical scene, as maestros jostled one another and swept younger musicians to the side in their rush to find the spotlight. "Tabla players' names are not mentioned, photographs are not carried, we're made to stay in different hotels. I'm not used to the hierarchy. I come from an educated middle class family - you give respect and expect it in return."...