Five Questions With Toronto Tabla Ensemble

Canadian JUNO Award-nominated world ensemble, Toronto Tabla Ensemble is back with their new album, Unexpected Guests.

Across the release’s seven tracks, the critically acclaimed group of artists weave a variety of instruments, from percussion to bagpipe, piano to taiko, sarod to flute, and more, with their signature sound rooted by the traditional tabla.

“This album is a simple one,” TTE Founder and Artistic Director and Roy Thomson Hall Award winner Ritesh Das says. ”Most of the tracks are in very straightforward 4/4 grooves. On our other albums, you had tracks with different time signatures that made it really intellectual and complicated.

I wanted this one to be something that anyone can sit back and listen to and enjoy.”  

Along with delivering the most approachable songs in their vast repertoire, Unexpected Guests is their latest in a series of boldly collaborative and sonically expansive works. In keeping with its eye-opener title, the immersive and diverse album finds Das and the TTE hosting a party of musical visitors: Enter The Haggis bagpipe player Craig Downie, Japanese Taiko Ensemble Nagata Shachu, singer Maryem Hassan Tollar, violinist Raaginder Singh Momi, flautist Alysha Addetia and more.

When you hear the track “Unexpected Guests,” it’s not hard to imagine why the music video features groups of Scottish and Indian dancers. Co-composed by Downie — who not only incorporated a traditional strathspey (dance tune which is named after the Spey River in north-east Scotland) and a reel (an energetic type of dance popular in Scottish, Irish, English and Quebecois folk music) — the beginning and end of the song were composed in memory of Ellen Wilkes Irmisch, a highland dancer and stage actor from the Tartan Terrors.

“In October 2019, we started by researching Scottish dance and came across some videos of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society with a branch right here in Toronto,” TTE’s manager and film director Melissa Das-Arp shares of the video’s creation. “Seeing people of all ages and backgrounds dancing wearing their tartans and sashes, we knew it could work but… Would they be open to the idea of dancing in a Toronto Tabla Ensemble music video?

Lucky for us, they were intrigued and wanted to learn more. We attended a few meetings and even participated in one of the dances.

When we played ‘Unexpected Guests’ for them, dancers between ages of 15 and 75 got up and joyfully danced around the room already beginning to work out choreography. That’s when we knew we were in business!”

Check out the music video below, and find out more about Toronto Tabla Ensemble via our Five Questions With segment.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Ritesh Das and I am the Founder and Artistic Director of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, based in Toronto, Ontario.

I’m originally from Kolkata, India, and came to Canada in 1987 and formed the Toronto Tabla Ensemble in 1991 with a few of my students. Little did I know almost 30 years later we would be releasing our 7th album.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

I take the rhythmic style of North Indian Classical Music and I try to collaborate with other world-styles or cultures.

Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?

Once the pandemic is over, we will have live concerts coming up probably at Harbourfront Centre. My live performances have been described as, “spell-bounding, entertaining, funny, daring, musical, and overall very satisfying.”

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

Monkey Tale, because there are lots of stories in it. It’s based in 7.5 beat cycle which is really hard to play and took almost a year to compose.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

Our Unexpected Guests – we have everyone in it – Craig Downie, Maryem Hassan Tollar, Kiyoshi Nagata, and Alysha Addetia.

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