Kamalesh Maitra: the last master of tabla taranga
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.
Events at the HKW:
5th November, 1993
Tarang - Classical Music from India
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Author: Gabriele Stiller-Kern
Kamalesh Maitra was born in 1928 in the east Bengali part of India. As an Indian musician he is unusual in not belonging to a dynasty of musicians going back several generations. He was taught the tabla by various masters, and the sarod, a non-fretted string instrument, by the legendary virtuoso Ali Akbar Khan at the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta.
In 1950 he joined the Uday Shankar Ballet Ensemble, with which he remained for 20 years, firstly as a master drummer and composer and since 1956 as the artistic director. As part of the Indian government´s cultural delegation, Maitra has toured China, Europe and North Africa and performed as a tabla tarang soloist in China, Japan, North Africa, the USA and Canada.
In 1974 he toured Europe and the USA with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. In 1976 he came for the first time to Berlin, where his playing was warmly received at the Meta-Music Festival. Uday Shankar died at about the same, so Maitra settled in Berlin in 1977, though he has since left the city several times to give concerts all over the world. From 1983 to 1988 he took part as a musician in the Nada Brahma - the whole World is Sound project from Joachim-Ernst Berendt; in 1989 he invited Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to perform in Berlin; in 1992, as part of the Indian Festival, his works for orchestra were performed in the House of World Cultures; and in 2000 he took part in the Festival of Vision - Berlin in Hong Kong by going to Hong Kong as a tabla tarang soloist.
Pandit Kamalesh Maitra has made many recordings and taken part in many other productions. In 1969 the label HMV India released his first tabla tarang record Magnificent Percussion of India. In 1986 there followed Ragas on Drums, in 1993 Masters of Raga: Kamalesh Maitra - Tabla Tarang - Ragas on Drums, in 1994 The Voice of Sarod from the Strokes of Drums - Tabla Tarang by Kamalesh Maitra, in 1996 the CD Tabla Tarang Melody and Drums, and in 1998 the CD TARANG - Kamalesh Maitra Live at the House of the Cultures of the World. With the Ragatala Ensemble, he recorded several albums in the years 1984, 1986, 1998 and 2000.
Raag Puriya Dhanashri
Ragatala Ensemble, KAMALESH Productions
Kamalesh Maitra - Ragatala Ensemble - Tabla Tarang
TARANG - Kamalesh Maitra Live at the House of the Cultures of the World, KAMALESH Productions
Tabla Tarang - Melody on Drums
Masters of Raga: Kamalesh Maitra - Tabla Tarang - Ragas on Drums
Tabla Tarang - Ragas on Drums
Kamalesh Maitra und sein Ragatala-Ensemble
Nada Brahma - Die Welt ist Klang
with Joachim-Ernst Berendt, Wergo
Ravi Shankar´s Music Festival from India
Dark Horse Records
Kamalesh Maitra - Tabla Tarang - Magnificent Percussion of India
In September 2000 Kamalesh Maitra was awarded the special price of "Musicale Vitale" in the "Werkstatt der Kulturen", Berlin/ Germany