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Suphala, Savoring the Beat of a Different Drum

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Suphala, Savoring the Beat of a Different Drum

Suphala, Savoring the Beat of a Different Drum

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, you can read what you like into the words of an accomplished musician. We sometimes listen to musicians in their own words, and this morning we meet a percussionist who specializes in the tabla. That's a pair of small drums of Indian origin, and this young percussionist learned from Ustad Allarakha, the tabla player who worked with the popular Indian musician Ravi Shankar. She's taking what she learned to unlikely venues like Afghanistan and on tour with a group called Porno for Pyros. The young tabla player's name is Suphala.

Ms. SUPHALA PANTANKAR (Tabla Player): There are two drums, and they're meant to be played together as if it's one drum. The low end, we have these closed sounds.

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: And the open.

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: And, you know, by bending with your hand...

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: ...you modulate and create different tunes. And on the other drum, you also have all these closed type of sounds, depending on which area you play in. And then you have the open sounds.

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: So together, you have even more.

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: I studied with Allarakha in Bombay. I go there every winter, so I was with him for about eight years or so. Sometimes with Allarakha, we'd just sit in the balcony in the morning time and have some chai and he would start counting, start thinking of something in his mind and then recite it to me. You know, everything has a verbal connotation; it's a language. So he might recite a rhythm--(imitating rhythm)--like this, or whatever came to his mind. And I'd have to learn it and memorize it, and then I'd go back to my room and practice it on the tabla. (Imitating rhythm). This would sound like...

(Soundbite of Pantankar playing the tabla)

Ms. PANTANKAR: These Indian instruments were designed to mimic sounds in nature, but technology is very much a part of nature.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: And so the beat you're hearing I've created here in this program called Reason. And Reason has drum machines and samplers and loop players, and this is where the high-tech, modern element comes in.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: The common element is rhythm, the thing that ties music from everywhere together. But you know, my inspiration comes from the tabla.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: I draw from my knowledge and I apply it to making electronic beats.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: I went, in late January of 2005, to Kabul, Afghanistan. To my surprise, I apparently was the first artist to come from outside of the country in about 20 years.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. PANTANKAR: The tabla players there were followers of my guru's style. We had that common language immediately.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: One man knew Urdu, which is just like Hindi, so we could speak a little bit. But what we found was between me and the tabla player, we could just start speaking rhythms. It wasn't necessary to speak anything else.

(Soundbite of music; people imitating rhythms)

Ms. PANTANKAR: So I try to create sounds that are pleasing to my ear and to kind of have a surreal experience.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PANTANKAR: That's what music can do, is transport you and take you into this other world. So even if it's just me sitting in my studio, that's where I want it to take me.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: The tabla player known as Suphala. We heard from her as part of the series Musicians in Their Own Words. To hear how tabla music has evolved, you can visit npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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