The Tabla Affair with Ojas Adhiya

Talk about your companion ‘Tabla’ and how it has become a life companion?
Of course, Tabla is my life, it’s something I can’t live without. So, I was born in 1987, and my parents used to take me to spiritual guru’s Satsang, we belong to a small town called Aakot, they used to take me to my guru Swami MuktanandJi, I used to go there since I was born, they used to chant, and one fine day, once everything was over I was crawling on my knees, and I went to the tabla, started banging them, I was about 6-7 months and my father started saying oh he’s already banging the tablas, I was constantly around there, the influence was always there, I was always in that zone. when I turned two, the first time I played taal Keherwa without learning from anyone, my father was surprised, he realized he must take me to a local teacher, I learned the basics and I gave my first public performance when I was 4, my name was recorded in the Limca Book of World Records, as the youngest tabla player in the world. That’s how it started and in Mumbai Padma Shree Kalyan Ji Bhai Anand Ji Bhai, well-known music directors. They were starting this show called Little Wonders, a show about upcoming young talents, and Kalyan Ji Bhai suggested one of his disciples Sanjay Omkar Ji, that this boy, this young kid is playing the tabla so can you go and meet his father and the boy. So back in 1993 we met Kalyanji, he heard me live and he suggested that my future was in Mumbai, if you wanna do something for your child you’ll have to leave everything behind. My father took this decision and we shifted to Mumbai in 93, that’s when it started, I started playing in little wonders. And most importantly we had amazing singers in Little wonders, like Sadhna Sargam Ji who grew up learning from Kalyanji Bhai, Sonali Bajpayee, Javed Ali, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, I was lucky to be sharing the stage with all of them, it was lovely to learn from them, they were my guru-bhais and guru-behens. They always used to teach and guide all of us and say that you don’t just have to worry about the singing or the playing part, it is about the entire package, it’s about the performance, how do you present yourself, what kind of kurtas you wear how will your hairstyle be, how will you talk, everything in detail. I learned many things from, when we shifted, I wasn’t trained well, I just had the basic knowledge that I took from the local teacher. Then Kalyanji Bhai suggested, Nirangraj Ji, whom I got taleem from, and he became my guru, he accepted me as his disciple, we had this “Ganda Bandhan” ceremony, I started learning from him since I was 5, it’s been more than 25 years now, started playing in little wonders, performing all over in India and then we even toured in the united states and some other countries as well. God has been kind, I am really happy, I am blessed to have such supportive parents in my life, such amazing people around which only adds up, and that helps you to grow and my guru who treated me like his son, who taught me so many things and of course Kalyanji Bhai and his family, everybody.

If you had to give your view on the songs that were made in 60s 70s 80s and the contemporary songs, how do you compare them?
One has to move along with the time, earlier there were only acoustic instruments for all the songs and a live recording was happening all the time because the technology was not evolved at the time, so we had to rehearse before going in for recording. Everything was live, today it has completely changed, earlier there were so many musicians, string sections, percussion, so many other melody instrumentalists, plus the Singers male and female. The bonding between everyone was so strong, everyone used to come together, rehearse together and ate together and the synergy that reflected in their musical journey and the songs, that took it a different level, now the technology is great and today I have a small setup at home so if he anyone calls me, I say okay you have a song yeah you can send it to me I can play it and send it. But Music is something which is keeping everybody in the loop, on the same page, the style has changed, because of technology, because of sound production and influences from other genres of music like jazz blues rock, this has influenced so many upcoming music directors, but change is the only constant, so you have to accept that. It is great, I have got the opportunity to play a couple of songs in Bollywood which was a great learning experience for me,

Do you think due to of technological advancements, it somewhere it takes away the essence of music or people can still retain it?
Technology has positive effects and negative effects, for example, today if I have to play something I will play it and send it to the music director they can do so much sound production on my instruments, they can add a couple of elements to my instrument, which may sound better looking at the today’s songs, so that’s a positive thing, and the other thing is, of course, keeping the tradition in mind, that has a different feel, and some people have not lost the essence, some so many directors include acoustic instruments like table, dholak, sitar, violin and flute in so many songs. All these things are never going to change. It appeals to the masses; the most important thing is they are selecting songs which were already played 20-30 years ago. They’re taking it and re-mixing it and presenting it differently. The sound production has changed, this is the difference which is a good thing.

Who are your favorite tabla players, or your colleagues that you look forward to playing with?
I have grown up listening to Ustad Zakir Hussain Ji, Pandit Anindo Chatterji, Pandit Kumar Bose Ji, Pandit Swapan Choudhry Ji, I still follow them, I keep listening to their music, I still try to learn their style and their techniques, so many other elements. My guru taught me from zero, I belong to the Hajrada Gharana, which is a traditional school of tabla, and they didn’t just teach play me solo, they said if you have taken this up as a profession, you must know how to play solo you must know how to accompany other artists whether it is a vocalist or an instrumentalist, Ghazal singer or a Bollywood music or a fusion, and today you need to be versatile. I got to learn so many things from guru then looking up to all the other stalwarts of Indian classical music. Recently I had the opportunity which was like a dream come true, I had to perform with the greatest maestro of our field of Indian classical music and jazz music, Sir John McLaughlin the world-renowned Guitar Player, Shankar Mahadevan Ji, the world-famous percussionist Sehlwa Ganesh Ji, the amazing Violin Player Ganesh Rajagopalan Ji, for their band called Shakti, which was the band we have grown up listening to. I’m blessed to play with them. I’ve been listening to many young tabla players it feels great and, in a way, it’s an inspiration to see them play.

Which has been the most challenging performance for you?
I think it was this performance only, with the band Shakti, because Zakir Ji plays in this band and it’s been more than 40 years to this band I’ve been blessed and been lucky to be associated with great masters like them and one fine day I get a call from Shankar Ji, he said we want you to play with us I said: “oh my god”, it was like a dream come true. It was a challenging thing because I had to fix all the compositions, I had to play, I had to follow them, I had to be precise. There was excitement and nervousness, but they were so supportive, encouraging and helpful we had rehearsals before concerts it was a great learning experience. They are so particular with technical aspects of the show, the soundcheck, the timings.

Now that pandemic has continued, Normalcy has changed its definition, how are the artists and the classical music world adapting to it?
So when the lockdown happened I made a small setup at home, with a microphone with all the necessary types of equipment, I thought id never be able to do it, but looking at the situation, the technology has really supported all the artists, we did so many virtual concerts, that is somehow coming to an end cause now everyone wants to explore and step out, I was lucky to do three live public concerts, after 9 months my first live public concert in Bombay and the other concert was in Jalgaon and the third one was again here in Mumbai. I’m sure people are looking forward to coming out and experiencing it because it is very different from experiencing it virtually on your phone, there are so many platforms today, social media and YouTube but nothing compares to the live performance, but things are getting better, in a couple of months thing will be back normal.

How has your association been with Swar Aalap and Dinesh sir?
Dinesh Bhai is a dear friend of mine; we have even played together. He got me some fusion concerts, those were amazing times, I look forward to having concerts under his banner, under his organization, he is doing a great job promoting the Indian music. Keeping the artists who never got the chance to come forward, explore more options so he has taken the initiative to promote the artists who are the backbone of the music industry.

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