Classical tabla virtuoso Pt Subhankar Banerjee compares musical performances to paintings on canvas. Taking tabla as his forte, both as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment, he can rearrange rhythmic creations for any musical performance. His scintillating and versatile way of playing and masterful improvisational dexterity gained him acclaim across the globe. He is also a composer and singer, with three solo albums to his credit.
The maestro recently came to Dhaka to conduct a three-day tabla workshop for both solo and group recitals. Bengal Foundation invited him to conduct the workshop at Bengal Boi, where around 40 Bangladeshi tabla artistes participated in two groups. “I want to come here again in November and December to instruct the Bangladeshi talents and conduct the workshop for three days, each month,” said Pt Subhankar Banerjee.
At the age of three, the musical prodigy, born to singer-composer Kajalrekha, was trained under Pt Manik Das, Benaras Gharana. He went on to learn music from Pt Swapan Shiva of Farukhabad Gharana for 25 years. Many of the greatest stalwarts consider him as one of the most brilliant tabla players today.
His wife Nivedita is a classical singer, while his two children Aahiri and Aarchik, are shaping up as a fine vocalist and a tabla exponent, respectively.
Among other programmes, he has performed in the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, Festival of India in Brazil and South Africa and Asian Fantasy Concert in Japan. His performance in London with the Symphony Orchestra is also noteworthy. He also collaborated with renowned musicians such as John McLaughlin, Chico Freeman, Gil Goldstein and Ross Daly. Tabla Tale, The Art of Tabla, Heart Beat, and Calcutta to California are some of his many music albums.
Banerjee also worked in Hollywood films such as Night of the War and Dark Streets. His latest creation, Sacred Drums of India, is one of the most successful rhythm bands performing all over the world today.
According to Banerjee, the presentation of the raga depends on the demand of the artiste, while the gharana, the mood of the bandish, and a terekete must radiate different hues. The mix of tabla and bayan, their volume control, the making of zamin (groundwork), layakari and lachak (swaying moves) also vary in performances. At the same time, Raga Darbari and Khamaj are not the same. “What can go with Rashid Khan cannot apply in the case of Pt Venkatesh Kumar,” he shares. “Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, Shujaat Husain Khan and Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, all belong to one gharana. However, their requirements differ vastly.”
He further spoke about composing his own music. “I started playing and composing my own pieces, but I did not step beyond my gharana,” explains Banerjee. “Ustad Zakir Hussain once acknowledged that my playing style has its own specialty. That was a huge blessing for me. I believe in telling stories by creating different aural and rhythmic sounds.”