Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Last Concert? Pts Sugato Nag and Abhijit Banerjee

Remember March 2020? It was a time of great change and uncertainty, as COVID-19 started spreading exponentially around Australia. At the start of the month we had heard of it on the news. By the end of the month we were in lockdown.

So, what a time for me to be organising what was intended to be the biggest Indian classical concert of the year for Brisbane: "Master Musicians of Kolkata" featuring Pt Sugato Nag (sitar) and Pt Abhijit Banerjee (tabla), two great masters who were in Australia for the inaugural Melbourne Hindustani Classical Music Festival, held on the weekend of March 7. The organisers of that festival were incredibly lucky in their timing, as it was unaffected by the virus. (Many thanks to MHCMS for their hard work!)  A week later in Brisbane, though, and audiences were too worried to buy tickets. 

In the end, March 13 saw a decent crowd at Queensland Multicultural Centre, not as big as I'd hoped, but big enough to make it work. It was the launch event for our new non-profit entity, Qld Sangeet Mela Association (QSMA), for whose support I'm very grateful. Hopefully QSMA will have the chance to undertake more activities some time next year...

It was a truly marvellous concert, and all who attended really felt blessed for the opportunity. A select few also benefited from sitar and tabla workshops the next morning. We didn't really understand at the time how golden an opportunity it was: Looking at COVID numbers in India now, I can't imagine we will be hosting artists from India for a year or two, if not much longer.

Tabla workshop with Pt Abhijit Banerjee.

Tabla solo @ The Little Big Bang

I had my last pre-COVID concert in early March 2020 - The Little Big Bang. My old friend Elliott Orr began playing African drums around the same time that I started tabla. When he moved to Brisbane in 1995, and I'd just returned from my first trip to India, we moved in together and I joined his percussion group Bubada Dubada. Since those heady days, Elliott has gone on to be the top African drumming guy around Brisbane (even having moved to Byron recently). We used to have a monthly gig called The Big Bang, but nowadays it's The Little Big Bang, held in smaller halls. There are always performances by Zormiwasa (Elliott's weekly workshop participants), and Spankinhide (the descendant of Bubada Dubada, in which I am casual shaker player).

For the 7th March 2020 edition, Elliott invited me to come and play tabla solo! It was really nice to play a relaxed teentaal tabla solo (with the great Lehra Studio app by Aman Kalyan), for a percussion audience not necessarily used to full length tabla solo. They were a really great, attentive audience, and it made me feel I would like to do more of this! Here's a snippet in a Facebook video: