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'Selecting a collaborator is like choosing a friend'

Tabla virtuoso Suphala, who will perform at the eighth edition of World Sacred Spirit Festival, reveals how collaborating with other artistes hones her skills and why she owes her success to her teachers, Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain

This Friday Jodhpur's royal Mehrangarh palace will throw open its gates to music aficionados as it hosts the eighth edition of World Sacred Spirit Festival. Organised by Mehrangarh Museum Trust the three-day-long event, will see a motley group of artistes.

Indian-American artiste Suphala will be performing at the WSSF this month
Indian-American artiste Suphala will be performing at the WSSF this month 

Traditional folk musicians from Manganiyar and Langa tribes, Indian fusion group Midival Punditz, contemporary artistes such as Ballaké Sissoko, a master of Kora (the 21-stringed African harp) and Li Daiguo, the musical polymath from China will be a part of the event.

The artiste's lineup will include Suphala, a first-generation Indian-American, who has the rare distinction of being a protégé of two tabla maestros, Ustad Zakir Hussain and his father, the late Ustad Alla Rakha and she will be performing a few of the own compositions apart from some traditional ones. The tabla virtuoso, who has four albums to her credit, has collaborated with the likes of Norah Jones, Yoko Ono, Salim Merchant and Sultan Khan.

Excerpts from an interview with the artiste:

Q. How did your love affair with the tabla begin?
A. I was interested in playing the instrument since I was three years old. I was taking regular piano lessons and by five I was playing at concerts. I was introduced to the violin, then drums, before I found my true calling in the tabla.

Q. Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain are known to be quite discerning when it comes to accepting disciples. How did you manage to convince them?
A. Alla Rakhaji and Zakirji's teachings are invaluable. One morsel of what they have taught me can be explored for a lifetime. As for how they accepted me as their disciple, they say a student has to inspire the guru to teach. Hopefully, I did something right. Zakirji, who lives in California, suggested I study from his father as I was travelling to Mumbai. After Abbaji accepted me, I went to India every winter to take lessons from him.

Q. How different are they from each other as teachers?
A. Abbaji is Zakirji's father and guru. But their teaching styles as well as artistic styles have their own identity. It's important as an artiste to find your own voice. They operate in diverse realms so you can't compare them. Both are my favourites...the same way goddesses and gods are worshipped on the same pedestal.

Q. Tell us something about your music and collaborations.
A. I create most of the music on my tracks by playing the keyboard, the percussion and finding new sounds and then manipulating them with software and electronics. I stay open to collaborations as they enrich me as an artiste. Selecting a collaborator is like finding a friend. Sometimes it chooses you and sometimes you have an unexplained connection.

Music for the soul
Mathias Duplessy, who garnered rave reviews for his quirky music in Finding Fanny, will collaborate with vocalist Mukhtiyar Ali and Bastien Charlery on the accordion. He says, "I love Mukhtiyarji’s voice. His Sufi poetry and his humanism inspire me." The Indian band Midival Punditz, who has strong roots in Indian folk and classical music as well as western electronic music, will perform with renowned flautist Pandit Ajay Prasanna and folk singers Malini Awasthi and Kutle Khan. "Apart from the collaborative pieces, we will perform songs from our upcoming album," says Tapan Raj of Midival Punditz.

Where: Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, from February 13-15
Log on to bookmyshow.com for tickets

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