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Interviews |  01 Jul 2019 12:52 |  By Namrata Kale

I am not afraid of failure: Anuradha Pal

India's first professional female Tabla player, Anuradha Pal’s prowess and relentless efforts towards women empowerment has endowed her with a President Award. She has also been featured in ‘51 Indian Women Role Models’ this year.

Pal, who is also the founder of Stree Shakti - India's first all female percussion based Hindustani Carnatic music band, has an interesting story to tell. In an exclusive interview with Radioandmusic, she shares struggles that made her beat odds and come out as one of the prominent Indian classical musician, who took her art to the global platform.

What would you say on been bestowed with the title of being India's first professional female tabla player?

The Limca Book of records in 1991 declared me as the first female professional Tabla player based on the fact that I was accompanying various vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers, performing tabla solos and was also the director and composer of three bands.

However, I always acknowledge Aban Mistry as the first female Tabla player chronologically.  Since I pushed the envelope further with my classical and fusion work as well as collaborated with international musicians and dancers, I am considered as the first professional female tabla player.

You are one of the important torchbearers of Indian classical music. How do you feel being one?

Getting awards and being acknowledged as a torchbearer of Indian music is a big honor and responsibility, which goads me to raise the bar, riyaaz and innovate. I was delighted to be included in a book called ‘Torchbearers’ along with other incredible maestros like Shankar Mahadevan, Mandolin Srinivas, Kaushiki Chakraborthy to name a few. A college student called Harsh Meswani did a brilliant job of articulating about the music and the musicians that Amitabh Bachchan and Zakir Hussain released in 2016.

Can you tell us more about your journey?

I belong to an academic-oriented, highly accomplished family of pharmacists, artists, doctors, and engineers. My grandfather M.T. Vyas was a well-known educationist, who was awarded with Padmashri for creating a new era of education through 35 schools around India. My Parents Ila and Devinder Pal gave me a very well-rounded exposure in diverse fields from science to medicine, painting, writing, music, sports and inculcated strong ethics and hard work as foundation principles. I grew up listening to my mother singing semi-classical music and great masters like Jasraj, Ustad Vilayat Khan as I started learning classical music from the age of seven.

When did you aspire to learn tabla?

To develop a strong foundation in laya and sur, I expressed a desire to learn tabla. The teacher refused saying that ‘Tabla is traditionally a male preserve as it is a physically demanding instrument and hence cannot be played by girls’. I persisted, learnt on my own, and finally convinced the teacher and started performing concerts from the age of 10.5 years old.

Throughout my school days, I was laughed at and ostracized, which pushed me further to do intense practice schedules called 'Chilla' of 40 days. It’s a ten hour practice done every day, which I did throughout my summer vacation.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My mother Ila Pal was a well-known painter and writer and my father Devinder Pal was a doyen of the Pharmaceutical industry. My parents inspired me to learn and practice with dedication and passion and not give up, no matter how much I had to struggle. My legendary Gurus late Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain also inspired me.

What keeps you going against all odds like gender bias, nepotism, etc?

Being a girl in a male-dominated field and not belonging to a musicians’ family, meant increased challenges of discrimination; chauvinism, nepotism, favoritism and unfair politics and sometimes. I feel pained to see how talent is denied opportunity. But my boundless love for tabla/ music and ever-increasing passion for excellence motivates me, to keep working against all odds. This journey keeps me on my toes and ever humble and willing to learn and unlearn all the time. I multi-task and compartmentalize myself to become my biggest critic, friend, and cheerleader to guide and motivate myself and keep redefining and refining.

Your relentless efforts towards women empowerment bagged you a President Award and you also made it to the ‘51 Indian Women Role Models’ this year.

I received the honour for being the first Indian female musician as well as the youngest to perform in two of the biggest festivals in the World – Woodstock and WOMAD festival.

When did you feel the need to stand up for women empowerment?

I believe that ‘you have to lead from the front and be the change you want to see’. When the Limca Book of Records acknowledged me as the ‘First female Professional Tabla player’ in 1991, I felt inspired to do something for other women, who may have also faced discrimination, nepotism and chauvinism.

Hence I formed Stree Shakti, the worlds’ first all-female Classical Indian band in order to provide a platform to other talented women and girls, so that they could perform on a level playing field and get equal opportunity, promotion, and inclusion into the music industry. People laughed at my idea. Many a times, families would not allow their girls/ women musicians to go out and perform because it was a social taboo or so that family members were not inconvenienced to do household work etc. Often I had to give them extra money to convince them to stand against society’s dogma.

How have you managed to take your art to the global platform?

I started performing on national television and public concerts when I was ten. I started accompanying young and senior musicians from the age of 13. I have been performing with Classical and Semi-Classical Hindustani and Carnatic music, Ghazal, Bhajan, and Fusion, presenting my three bands Stree Shakti, SuFoRe and Recharge and Tabla Jugalbandis in prestigious festivals in India, USA, UK, Europe, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Africa, New Zealand, and the Far East. All these interactions made me adaptable to collaborate further with international bands like BOND, Pan African Orchestra, Vienna Boys Choir, The Big Band of Germany as well as with diverse genres like Latin, Jazz, Flamenco, Turkish, Bollywood, etc.

Can you tell us more about your Tabla Academy and ‘Sur and Saaz’ label's efforts?

My Tabla Academy provides personalized training to students of rhythm, with emphasis on Hindustani and World percussion as well as Carnatic Taal shastras; through regular classes as well as unique, thematic Workshops at APTA, like Rhythm Speaks, Traditional compositions, Beats of Bollywood, Be in Rhythm, etc. We also provide students with a virtual learning experience through Skype and Google Hangout Classes.

I founded Sur aaur Saaz (SAS), a music label and event organization company, while in college, with a mission and vision to promote and propagate Indian Classical music amongst my young friends.

We have had the honor of presenting Legends like Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Shankar Mahadevan in numerous innovative Music Festivals and events, sponsored by corporate like L.I.C, HSBC, Axis, Standard Chartered banks, Blue Cross, and Garden Vareli; as well as conducted ‘Music for Wellness’ workshops and concerts for various corporate, educational institutions and NGOs.

What are the future plans of your academy and label?

At Sur aaur Saaz, we plan to organize thematic, Quarterly Music Festivals and monthly Baithak Concerts featuring upcoming talent from diverse genres like Ghazal, Semi Classical, Classical along with shayari (poetry) and other allied fields. All workshops and concerts would be webcasted to a worldwide audience.

We would like to develop Anuradha Pal's Tabla Academy (APTA) into a dedicated Music academy and Gurukul with teaching and performances by visiting great masters as well as practice and residency facilities for Indian and overseas students. I am looking to collaborate with like-minded corporate/ organizations to construct a state of the art. Institute with an extensive library, for training and research in the performing arts. We will have online classes and sessions for students across the globe.

How do you fit effortlessly from being traditional to being trendy?

While I am traditional at heart, I am extremely open-minded and adaptable to new things be it food, technology, cultures, people or experiences.  My wide exposure and interest in everything ranging from science, art, sculpture, poetry, and sports along with very strong Indian values inculcated by my parents Ila and Devinder Pal, makes it possible for me to want to embrace the world of opportunities and experiences with innocence and spiritedness. I am not afraid of failure and nor do I live with preconceived ideas or emotional baggage. I take every day as it comes and hence I enjoy being trendy, absorb change and live in the present.

What do you think about the current classical music industry scenario?

Classical music has always been a niche market, which for centuries relied on the largess of the Maharajas and rich people with classic, regal taste. The scenario changed 10- 15 years ago, when corporates with an emphasis on CSR, became sponsors. Left at the mercy of event organizers’ and rampant politics in the field, many deserving musicians, unfortunately, do not get opportunities unless they are able to generate sponsorship. Also, Bollywood, sports, fashion, food events dominate Classical Music, dance and culture in India. We, classical musicians, perform a lot abroad too, as people there have realized the futility of modern life and have reverted to a more classical approach.

Earlier, classical Music and dance was the only form of entertainment but now the social fabric has declined; people have a million distractions and there is too much work pressure, to attend concerts, due to competing priorities.  Lack of audience attendance has further reduced concert opportunities in India.

A message to aspiring musicians?

Indian music is very spiritual and even seven lifetimes are not enough to understand its beauty and depth. My life is my message. I am always restless to practice, introspect and learn. It’s when the going gets tough that the ‘Tough and get going’. I believe that every obstacle is the best means to grow and find oneself.

Games