The Tabla Tarang, of Kamalesh Maitra is a melodic percussion instrument consisting of between ten to sixteen tuned Dayan drums. In a tabla ‘pair’ instrument, the dayan is the treble drum and the bayan is the bass drum. Tarang means “waves”. By hitting with the hand at the center of the different dayan drums -known as syahi- notes of different pitches are produced. The player is able to perform melodies based on several rags
The Last Emperor of Tabla Tarang
Born in 1928 in the East Bengali part of North India, the musician, composer and teacher, Pandit (Master) Kamalesh Maitra, has been living in Berlin since 1977. He may be the last and greatest master of the tabla tarang, a nearly forgotten classical instrument from North India. He has played with musicians as eminent as Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Trilok Gurtu, Charlie Mariano and Giora Feldmann.
Kamalesh Maitra may be the last master of the tabla tarang from North India. In the long history of Indian percussion, it evolved rather late but, in spite of its magical sound, has not shared the public appeal of complex “classics”. It is made up of 10 to 16 single tabla-drums, tuned to the traditional raga scales and placed in half a circle in order of rising pitch. Tarang means waves and aptly describes the sounds evoked by the drummer. Quickly and suggestively, notes group into melodies and continually new cadences. The tabla tarang sounds rather like a marimba with a hint of gamelan and the resonance of a deep vibraphone.
Already well known as a tabla player, Kamalesh Maitra applied in 1950 to join the famous Uday Shankar Ensemble, claiming to be able to master any instrument within half a year. He was accepted on condition that he learn the rare and difficult tabla tarang. He kept his word in soon becoming a master of it and was then encouraged by Uday Shankar to develop it both technically and musically. He strikes its drum-skins with an exceptionally fine feeling for nuances and is certainly the last living musician able to give a full length concert on it.
Kamalesh Maitra has always wished to synthesise melodic-rhythmical units in classical Indian music. He remained a member of Uday Shankar s ballet and dance group for more than 20 years, travelling with it to the USA, China, Africa and Europe, firstly as its master-drummer and then as its artistic director. While working for Uday Shankar, Maitra also studied the sarod with Ali Akbar Khan. He has since played with many eminent musicians like Uday Shankar s younger brother Ravi and Ali Akbar Khan as well as with many well known jazz, rock and pop groups.
In 1974 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison took him on the highly acclaimed world tour of the Musical Festival from India, and two years later he was invited by Walter Bachauer to the legendary Meta-Music Festival in Berlin. He moved to the city in 1977 and has since taught classical Indian song and instrumental music here.
In 1980, inspired by working with international musicians, Maitra founded the Ragatala Ensemble, with which he plays even today. The group has enabled him to fulfil his old dream of having his compositions played by a mixed European-Indian orchestra. The pieces follow the rules of classical Indian music but are deliberately fused with elements of European classical music, jazz and new music. Hence the ensemble includes Indian string, wind and percussion instruments but also European instruments like the double bass, transverse flute and violin. The Ragatala Ensemble has now been building musical bridges between the Indian sub-continent and the occident for more than 20 years.
Following commercialisation, the interest in Indian music has waned, so in recent years Kamalesh Maitra has seldom been invited to perform. His great dream is to find a disciple eager to adopt and develop his artistry. May his dream come true and the tabla tarang be saved from extinction.