Tabla legend Ustad Tari Khan visits Melbourne

Ustad Tari Khan .23/03/11

The newly established Australia India Institute presented tabla player Ustad Tari Khan in a free concert at the Sidney Myer Asia Centre at the University of Melbourne. This was Ustad Tari Khan`s first performance in Australia and he was accompanied by Melbourne’s own Khalil Ggudaz on sitar and voice.

The Carrillo Ganter Theatre was buzzing with anticipation as I arrived just before the advertised start time of 7.00 p.m. The theatre was already ¾ full and to my surprise the musicians were on stage sound checking and tuning up. Both musicians were taking great care in getting the amplified sounds, using microphones, just right and their careful attention to detailed tuning and sound checking carried on right up until the official introduction of the concert by Professor John White.

Professor White mentioned Ustad Tari Khan has been playing tablas from the age of six. His official website,, notes that Ustad Tari Khan is from a long linage of musicians and his father was a virtuoso classical vocalist. Interestingly Ustad Tari Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but became fascinated by the tablas after hearing the great Indian tabla maestro Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan. Since his early trainig Ustad Tari Khan has performed all over the world and is now recognized as one of the “foremost tabla players of all time” and is involved in film and television composition and recording.
After the official introductions and acknowledgments the two musicians took to this stage wearing traditional yet contrasting outfits. Khalil Ggudaz was understated in loose fitting white pajama style attire while Ustad Tari Khan wore a flamboyant and very colorful jacket and pants ensemble leaving no one in doubt who was the star of tonight’s concert. They both got comfortable and prepared themselves and the space around them then respectfully acknowledged one another before carefully picking up the sitar and tapping the tablas. They tuned up again, but this time with the complete attention of the audience.

Khalil Ggudaz gave a short spoken introduction to the piece , he said this was a well known raga in two parts called raga jo ,but every musician plays this raga differently every performance. He spoke a little about Sufism and recited a short love poem by Hafez and then explained the connection between the words in the poem and the raga.

The pair used the Sruti box, which is a small electronic device which omits an adjustable drone which is used by the musicians as a reference pitch. The tabla is the main drum used in North Indian classical music, as well as other musics such as film music .The tabla is a hand-played pair of tuneable drums . A seasoned professional such as Ustad Tari Khan, can produce many different pitches, timbres and dynamics from the pair of drums.
As the concert continued the duo played one more raga together then Ustad Tari Khan played a solo tabla piece which also included the vocalisation of the tala, the rhythmic groupings and cycles , which Ustad Tari Khan spoke about, both before and during the piece. His brief description allowed the uninitiated listener to have a better understanding of what he was doing and why. It was fascinating to see him stop soloing and hold the groove as he explained to us, the audience, what was going to be played next.

I found it interesting that at times various sections of the audience would spontaneously burst into applause. One can only assume that these audience members were well listened aficionados who were recognising moments of brilliance and or music significance. This is quite a contrast to western audiences who politely clap at the end of a jazz solo for example or who sit deadly still during the transitions between movements of a classical music performance.

The concert was closed with a final tala called `tala tela` which Ustad Tari Khan described as “its like travelling without a ticket.” and he preceded to play rhythms and grooves from different styles and areas such as Madras, Africa and Australia, .he was clearly enjoying himself as did the audience which gave him a standing ovation.

Chicago Style
Miner, Ally. ‘ Musical Instruments: Northern Area’. In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Volume 5: South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent, ed. Arnold, Alison, 342. Routledge, 1999.
Reck,David B. ‘Musical Instruments:Southern Area’. In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music volume 5:South Asia:The Indian Subcontinent. ed. Arnold, Alison , 356. Routledge,1999
Sherriff, Adrian, Lecture 4 NMIT.World Music4&5 Tala and SoloOpening. 6 August 2009

Ustad Tari Khan. ‘Bio’. (accessed 5 April 2011)

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