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Interviews |  02 Jan 2017 17:03 |  By Kavita Yadav

I want to prove to Indian audiences that women can play percussion: Aditya Prabhu

MUMBAI: Sailing with the tide is the easiest, but going against it is challenging. Aditya Prabhu, founder and owner Gladpeople Management Company is a man who stands against the tide. The world warned him against organising a drum festival, but he remained adamant and managed to attract 7,000 people at the India's first drum festival - the Dumru Rhythm Festival. This number later increased to 15,000 in four years. In an age and time when everyone is going EDM and Bollywood, Prabhu decided on standing by what he believes in most, Indian music.

In December 2016, he took a step further, this time more challenging and decided on promoting women percussionists by bringing in ‘Women Of Rhythm’. He knew there wouldn’t be many takers for a niche genre like women percussionists, but he took the plunge anyway. Now, he plans to continue doing it every year and is hopeful that it will turn out to be a success like ‘Dumru’.

In a candid conversation with, he talks about his roller coaster ride and vision ahead.  Excerpts.

How did ‘Women of Rhythm’ happen?

Five years into Dumru, we figured that in our entire line-up we never had women. Except when Suresh Talwalkar played with his daughter Savani Talwalkar -- who happens to be one of the best tabla players in India -- played with him. She was the only female artist we had, but she was not the main artist. Her dad (Suresh Talwalkar) was the main artist.

Was that negligence, rude, unresearched? I think it was all three. I knew Anuradha Pal (tabla) and Rimpa Siva (tabla) then but they did not fit in my curation.

Is this why you skipped Dumru in 2016 and dedicated it to 'Women of Rhythm'?

We did Dumru last in 2015 so we thought of skipping 2016 and dedicating this year's edition to women percussionists. This was to cover up for all these years that we missed out on the awesomeness of these percussionists. Dumru usually is a three-day festival, but ‘Women of Rhythm’ is a day long festival. This will cover up for at least one year of all those years that we have missed on bringing in women.

How did you bring these women percussionists together?

I started researching on them a year ago. I wanted to know if these women percussionists were good enough. I did not simply want to bring in a percussionist who could just play the instrument. They had to be good. Dumru as a festival curated percussionists who are very good. If they are even slightly mediocre, we don’t get them onstage. We wanted to maintain the same quality in ‘Women of Rhythm’.

Why did it take this long for a festival around women percussionists to arrive?

There are amazing drummers around the world who have become drummers for big bands. For example, Sheila E is a drummer from the US who has played for Prince for 20 years. There is a drummer called Cindy Blackman who is Santana’s drummer. People don’t think twice before choosing a lady drummer in their band across the globe. In India, it is considered taboo. 'How will the nimble fingers play such big instruments?' was a question asked by the gurus of tabla and pakhawaj. They never allowed their own female children to learn percussion. They allowed them to learn dance, play piano, sitar, but percussion was always for men.

The scenario changed in 1970 with Dandamudi Summathi Rammohan Rao. She is our first lady percussionist. She has been playing the mridangam for 46 years and nobody knew about it. A violin guru would choose a great mridangam player but why not Rao? She is as good. She was not chosen because that taboo, that women don’t play percussion is still there. I want to prove to the Indian audience that women can play percussion that is why I have got these percussionists.

Will you be limiting ‘Women of Rhythm’ to Indian percussionists?

Going forward, we will get international percussionists like Cindy Blackman, Sheila E and many more. We will make it an annual event. We are also taking this concert to Bengaluru and Goa. The Bengaluru concert will be in March on Women’s Day, and the Goa one in May. There are other percussionists who will be joining us in both these places. A few  from the Mumbai concert will be repeated -- Anuradha Pal (tabla), Dandamudi Summathi Rammohan Rao (mridangam), Sukkanya Ramgopal (ghatam), Chitrangana Agle Reshwal (pakhawaj), Rimpa Siva (tabla) and Shiksha Bali (drums) performed in Mumbai.

The Mumbai event did not witness a huge turnout. What were you expecting?

We sold 100 tickets online, but a few more people walked in. The next year, I expect at least a 1000 people to attend it and in the 10th year I know I will have 10,000 people watching it. Life is unpredictable, but if I am around there will be 10,000 people. I got the event covered so there were no losses.

If we had even one big name like a Kaushik Chakravarti or a Shubha Mudgal we would have had a bigger crowd, but they are connected to Bollywood.

Tell us a bit about your company. How many drum festivals do you organise?

Dumru Rhythm Company now has four festivals - Dumru Rhythm Festival, Dumru Emerging Talent, Dumru – Women of Rhythm and Dumru Tabla Festival, where we get the gharanas together. We are completely a rhythm oriented company. We do not do anything but rhythm. Rhythm is life. Till rhythm is alive, we are alive.

Drums is a niche industry. How do you manage to pull the crowds in?

It’s a niche industry but given the fact that we have 10 to 15 thousand people coming to watch Dumru, it's not niche anymore. We have arrived. It will take four more years to have more sponsors. We want 170 days of drums a year. I want to do a show every day, but we need sponsors. We are a small company that's taken a huge loss in three to four years. We are down about 1.5 crore upees. We hope someone comes along. We have event management firm, EMARS on board for now.

Drums seem to be really close to your heart.

Drum festivals followed us, but who knows them? It’s because they don’t work with passion. I work only with passion. I want to showcase talent. I want to bring them to the forefront and this is what keeps me going. I am married to rhythm and Dumru and this marriage will never end.