Contagious Drumming in Toronto

Toronto Tabla Ensemble - Weaving
Toronto Tabla Ensemble – Weaving
Toronto Tabla Ensemble (Canada)

Weaving (Naxos World, 2001)

Toronto might not be the center of the world, but people from all over the world have adopted the Canadian city as their home. The city has benefited from its array of Bengali, Punjabi, Pakistani and South Indian immigrants as well as, those from Africa countries, the Caribbean, Europe, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong and other exotic locales.

In an article with Indian Canadian filmmaker Depha Mehta, the director said that Toronto appeals to her because people can be themselves without having to lose their cultural identity. Musically, speaking, Toronto, like its French cousin Montreal can compete with Paris and Brussels in that
Toronto has grown into a mecca for world music.

It’s hard for me to believe that the snowy city (and it gets extremely cold during the winter months) attracts musicians from the hotter climes, but they arrive in Toronto and they make music that would put a smile on any city’s face. The Toronto Tabla Ensemble, which features immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants as well as, homegrown Canadians has spawned a tabla oriented scene. Led by Ritesh Das who started the ensemble in 1991, TTE isn’t just a collective of drummers, it’s a phenomenon.

Not only has TTE wowed the press with their occasional performances, but a few of Ritesh former students have gone on to form their own groups, Ed Hanley of Autorickshaw acts as one example. TTE also takes advantage of the multicultural scene in Toronto over the years has collaborated with Arabic vocalist Maryem Hassan Tollar (a guest on this CD), jazz diva Rita di Ghent (also a guest), Japanese Taiko drummer, and flamenco artist Esmeralda Enrique to name a few.

The 2001 release, Weaving (appropriately titled) features Ritesh Das, his partner Kathak dancer/choreographer Joanna Dunbar, tablaliyas Santosh Naidu, Gurtej Hunjan, Rakesh Tewari, Morgan
Doctor, Neel Punna, Anita Katakkar, Prasanna Ketheeswaran and Devin Persaud with Suhanya Ketheeswaran on keyboards. Other musical guest include guitarist/Banjitar player Levon Ichkhanian (who created soundtracks for filmmaker Atom Egoyan) and bassist Ian de Souza.

And as anyone would guest with that lineup of musicians, the songs here are eclectic. While the musicians do study traditional Indian music, they later bend that music on its ears creating provocative world fusion. But don’t expect drum machines or rave consciousness on this CD because you won’t find those ingredients. Weight features power drumming along with a vibraphone that carries the melody. Geometry and Walk follow a similar arrangement. Achchha, composed by and featuring vocalist Rita di Ghent along with bassist Ian de Souza, blends funky jazz bass with jazz improv vocals. Bablo-Lo marries Indian with Persian/Armenian music while showcasing Levon Ichkhanian on Banjitar.

Arabic vocalist Maryem Hassan Toller along with Roula Said, Yvette Tollar, Jayne Brown, Brenna McKrimmon, Jeff Martin and TTE provide another multicultural composition (Nizil Il Matar Fag’a) with stellar vocals. The titular track features a tabla choir conversing with a jazz drum kit. These exploding beats whet the appetite for the final track, Waterfall which it self sounds like carnival samba drums, an Indian drum procession and polyphonic African drums rolled into one. It’s the sort of music that awakens all the senses.

And as far as Toronto goes, the healthy world music scene will continue for the foreseeable future. Not only are groups such as TTE, Autorickshaw and Tantra garnering international notoriety, but Ritesh’s current and future students will be making their musical marks on the city. For more information visit