Anuradha Pal
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Anuradha Pal


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"Anuradha Pal - Rhythm Queen"

There’s something subtle going on in India these days. After centuries of subservience to their male counterparts, there’s a new generation of young Indian women making their mark in the Arts, not only at home, but internationally as well. Articulate, well educated, independently minded and extremely talented, the two most notable examples thus far have been writer Arundhati Roy (“The God of Small Things”) and film director Deepa Mehta (“Fire” & “Earth”). In the world of classical Indian music there’s also been a quiet gender revolution occurring. As the old masters such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan slow down, there’s an exciting generation of young players moving up, and for the first time some of the very best are women. Shankar’s own daughter Anoushka has already firmly established her own career as a talented sitarist, while his long-time tabla partner, the late Ustad Alla Rakha, who died in February, has bequeathed the world not only his acclaimed tabla playing son Zakir Hussain, but another favoured student, (and the first woman to play tabla professionally), Anuradha Pal.

Although not from a traditionally music-oriented family background, Anuradha has been performing publicly since the age of eleven. With a devoted dedication to long hours of practice and a strong determination to succeed, she received favourable critical attention at an early age and became a student disciple of both Alla Rakha and Zakir.

She now regularly appears at India’s most important classical festivals and is an A-Grade Artist with All India Radio. She has appeared with some of the country’s most distinguished musicians, including Hariprasad Chaurasia and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. She has won numerous awards, is now touring internationally, and in ’96 founded India’s first all-female Percussion Ensemble, “Stree Shakti”.

Last year Anuradha toured Australia for the first time, alongside the Melbourne-based Afghani sitarist, Khalil Gudaz. Her solo tabla demonstrations were a highlight at the ’99 Bellingen Global Carnival with audiences enraptured by her irrepressible creativity, spontaneity, good humour and overwhelming rhythmic prowess. She recently returned to Australia for well-received performances in Melbourne and Sydney, accompanying India’s reigning sitar star, Shahid Parvez.

She spoke to SETH JORDAN for “DIASPORA”.

Anu, not coming from a musical family, how did you choose the tabla, which is usually considered a male instrument, as your means of expression, or did it choose you?

Well I come from an academic professional family. It was almost mandatory to learn some form of the Arts in my family, so I originally was learning vocal classical music. As an adjunct I started to learn tabla when I was seven or eight, basically just to get a sense of rhythm. Then it took over my life. When
I was about eleven I really began to enjoy it, the act of performing, the act of communicating to audiences. I hadn’t actually decided that this is what I wanted to do up until that point, but then I performed at a prestigious music festival in Bombay and I was the only teenager involved. The response of the audience was very encouraging and I realised that this is what I really wanted to do.

You must have realised even at that time though that this was not an accepted role socially for a young woman to take on?

When I first made my decision it was not to break through any barrier, it was simply because I was enjoying playing so much, so attracted to the complexity of sounds that can be produced on the instrument, the technique, the communication. My parents were always very supportive, but yes I met with a lot of opposition. First people would say, “But you are only a girl, you’re not supposed to play tabla. Your fingers are too small, not enough power, no stamina. The thing about me though is if you try and stop me from doing something, I want to do it all the more. So when people tried to dissuade me, that’s when I got more determined to improve. I was breaking a mould, breaking the shackles of whatis traditionally supposed to be a male preserve. So there was that prejudice which is an unfair thing to go through, especially so young. But I continued to work at it and sometimes I still have to.

What sort of practice schedule were you expected to maintain?

I would normally put in seven to eight hours per day. When I was on summer vacation from school I would undertake a forty day rigorous practice schedule where you play for ten hours continuously, with maybe a break after four or five hours. If you do stop you have to start all over again. I did that every year.
It was very demanding, a big struggle, because I was also expected to be do well with my school studies too, so it was a balancing act between tabla and my other studies.

In India there are often people in the audience who have enormous knowledge of the music, very critical listeners. Did this ever worry you?

When I was young, playing was just about having fun. As I got older I realised that there is a responsibility that I carried onto the stage. It can be intimidating to know that there are so many in the audience that know so much. But I think that’s where the main challenge really lies in India, it’s the acid test. If a musician can perform successfully in India he can perform anywhere in the world. His acceptability may vary, his popularity may vary, but he has been raised on firm ground. If he can get critical acclaim there, he can get in anywhere. It’s a great learning experience.

How did you go about finding the best teachers for your tabla education?

Initially I was learning from Benares teachers, and at about the age of thirteen I started attending concerts, which is where I first heard my gurus, Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. They had also seen me perform and knew that I was very interested. It started very informally with Zakir inviting me over to their house. I went to Ustad Alla Rakha and said, “Please treat me as one of your sons, be as strict with me as you would with them. Slap me, hit me if you must, but teach me.” He agreed and sure enough he was uncompromising in what he expected and I am really grateful to him for that.

Alla Rakha died just recently. In the West he was known primarily as Ravi Shankar’s musical partner, but can you summarise the impact and influence that he had within India itself?

I think not only within India. Today wherever Indian music is played in the world it is because of the contribution of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha. They opened the doors of Indian classical music forever. They made people realise and appreciate the value of this music. As far as the rhythmic aspect goes, Ustad Alla Rakha created a new language of tabla. He fine-tuned it as an accompanying instrument, creating new possibilities, a variety of sounds. He could blend it with any other instrument. He created his own individual unique stamp. Also he was a pioneer as a tabla soloist, making people accept the instrument as a solo voice, not necessarily just as an accompanying sound. His style was rhythmical complicated, technically beautiful and yet universally appealing. That is his greatest contribution and I believe tabla players, other musicians and music lovers will value him for centuries.

His son Zakir Hussain has obviously inherited the family brilliance as a player. Are there differences or similarities in learning from the father as well as the son?

It is a very demanding thing to learn from such people, because since they have set such exacting standards for themselves, they expect the same from their students. Zakir has also been very strict with me, he’s a perfectionist. That’s appropriate and has really helped me have the confidence to play in any situation, with any artist. My training is good, my foundation is good. That confidence, which you inherit from your teachers, is essential.

When you’re playing as a tabla accompanist you often have to defer to the lead melody instrument. Is it difficult to hand over that musical responsibility when you have your own strong direction?

That is actually where my biggest struggle was. As an accompanist it depends very much on the other musician and what he expects of you. He may not be able to articulate what he expects of you very well. It’s really a matter of getting under the musician’s skin, literally. Get into his style, his temperament, into his mind. You have to actually be able to think before he does, to anticipate where he’s going, to know by intuition. It’s a very tough role. Comparatively when I play tabla solo I’m the boss of the stage, it’s just me and the audience. But as an accompanist you have to be simultaneously one step behind and one step ahead. It’s a difficult process, but it comes from your training, your experience. It’s something that you just feel. I listen to other tabla players accompanying individual musicians and try to assimilate what they’re doing well, calculate what needs to be a bit more or less when I’m playing with that person. I have to find the right combination, the right mix so that the performer’s happy, I’m happy, and the audience is happy.

You’re playing now more often to Western audiences, who in most circumstances do not have the same understanding of your classical tradition as the Indian audiences. They may even be hearing live Indian music for the first time. Do you have to adjust your approach depending on the audience you’re playing to?

You can never underestimate an audience. Every audience knows if what they’re hearing is right or wrong, even if they are not as musically educated. To teach an audience is to learn more yourself. They may have more or less preconceived notions, their attention span may be different, and yes it may require more explanation, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very challenging. The Indian audiences are the most difficult to please, because they’ve heard so much great music, it’s part of their culture and you’re not a novelty for them. You are either good quality or nothing at all. You’re judged on that.

Some Indian musicians seem to find Western audiences, if anything, even more enthusiastic and less inhibited about showing their appreciation than their Indian counterparts. Do you agree?

Oh absolutely! When I played last year with my female ensemble at the WOMAD Festival in England it was an amazing experience. The way the people were swinging and dancing and shouting out for more, they were so enthusiastic! Perhaps in India we have so much music, an overdose of it sometimes, that we might tend to undervalue it. It can take more to get people really involved with the performance.

Tell me about this percussion ensemble of yours, “Stree Shakti”.

I started it off in ’96 and it’s a combination of Hindustani and Carnatic music, bringing together vocal, instrumental and percussion music, which is rather rare. All members are women and all are excellent performers. I change the group’s size depending on the venue and the budget. Sometimes it’s just a percussion ensemble and other times it’s a bigger group with the Hindustani vocals, veena and violin. “Stree” means women and “Shakti” of course means power. This is not a feminist statement though.

It’s not the Indian equivalent of the Spice Girls’ “Girl Power” then?

Definitely not! But it does come from the fact that I have encountered opposition and prejudice when I came into the field, and I feel that while nothing less should be expected of women, we should be able to take our rightful place in the mainstream. Don’t discriminate on the basis of our gender, that’s our only statement. “Stree Shakti” is more of a coming together for the members involved, it’s a celebration of life.

The two most well-known tabla players in the world at the moment, your teacher Zakir Hussain and Trilok Gurtu, both have made a habit of not only playing in the classical mode, but also working on musical projects that bridge across to more contemporary forms, such as jazz, cross-cultural experiments, and the whole Indian/English Bhangra/Techno/Hip-Hop dance scene with all the Indian mixmaster DJs. Do you see yourself getting involved with that type of crossover music in the coming years, or will you be staying more in the traditional camp?

My first love will always be Indian classical music, but there are really no holds barred. I would like to experiment with other musicians, I like jazz and rock and most of the other forms. I played with Japanese drummers when I was performing at a festival in Japan, which was like a big jam session. I’ve also done some work with Flamenco players. So yes I like to experiment too. I think it opens your mind.
- World Music Central

"The Rhythm is gonna get you"

Many moons ago, the organisers of the Mysore Dussera festival threw a fit when they found that a little girl, barely 16, was to accompany Kathak dancer Kajal Sharma on tabla during a performance. "What can she do? She is a girl...," they said. But this didn't perturb her one bit. She quietly went on the stage and let her talent do the talking. The audience shouted, 'encore', the king came up to bless the duo, and the wagging tongues were brought to a standstill.

"They literally fell to my feet after the performance and said sorry, and brought me flowers. I was treated like royalty," laughs Anuradha Pal, the quiet teenager, who grew up to be one the most respected names in the world of percussion -- an area that has traditionally been a male preserve.


This vocation most certainly isn't for the dainty and delicate. "Tabla is complicated and one of the most physically strenuous instruments. And that is the reason why it is considered so 'male'," says Pal.

But when Pal makes the tabla resonate with the Midas touch of her fingers, and with such ease, it is hard to guess the hours of practice gone into it.

"When I was very young, my parents told me I had to be physically and mentally prepared for the struggle," she says. Apart from the regular jibes of being a girl in a male- dominated field, hopping from one concert to another carrying her tabla around was another challenge she had to face. But if you want to be a torchbearer, you have to face the flak, says Pal.

So she faced the flak, and it's been worth it. Pal is the only Indian woman and the youngest Indian to perform in the WOMAD festival in UK in 1999. Besides this, there are countless other accomplishments that are proudly displayed on her website. Her private albums have done pretty well too.

Poornima Dore, 26, too started with classical music, but then went on to become the drummer of the once famous band, Bodhi Tree, at XLRI, Jamshedpur. She may not have as many feathers in her cap as Pal, but she retains her passion for percussion.

"It is general perception that percussion is a male bastion as it is physically more demanding. But I play the drums and I know that the technique is more important. But it is difficult to change age- old perceptions," says Dore, who fortunately wasn't ridiculed for being a girl drummer.

"I was in a girls' school in Jamshedpur, so when I started learning drums, people weren't surprised. We had a school band and the band just had to have a female drummer," she smiles. Her band, Bodhi Tree, came up with several songs that were a huge hit with college junkies. Some outrageously funny ones struck a chord with many students all over India, making them quite famous in college campuses.

On Twitter, Yasmin Claire Kazi calls herself 'drummeress'. A female drummer just doesn't suit her. If you search for her name on Google, apart from the link to her heavy metal band MyndSnare's website and her MindSpace and Twitter accounts, you will get a string of videos on YouTube. One look at the videos and you would know that Yasmin Claire Kazi is no less than a man when it comes to playing her seven-piece Premier kit, with all its paraphernalia.

When asked how people react to her playing the drums, she replies: "I'm not sure... I am too busy playing." But she has heard remarks that have made her fume. "Long ago, another musician said I should stick to playing jazz and not metal. This irritated me back then.

Now I don't care about such comments. I like playing jazz as well as metal," says 30-year-old Kazi. She has had to toil hard, but she doesn't think her hard work had anything to do with the fact that she belonged to the fairer sex.

"For a woman the road to fame is not any tougher than it is for a man," she says and quickly adds as an afterthought, "I guess, I wasn't paying much attention to the dissimilarities or similarities between men and women. My hands were literally quite full with the task of exploring the realms of drumming," she says.

Mercy Miller, 25 can't remember the exact age when she started playing drums. "I have been playing for 17 or 18 years. I was quite young when I laid my hands on a drum kit," says Miller, drummer of Afflatus, an all girls band based in Shillong.

"My brother played the guitar, my sister sang and I chose drums. My father, too, was a part of a band in Shillong. Coming from a musical background, I got all the support from my family," she says.

Miller had the advantage of being from a musical family. But when she went out to perform at the Channel V Campus Rock Idols in 2004 and 2005 at Mumbai and Kolkata, she realised it wasn't an easy road for her either. "We are an all girls band from the North- East, so the moment we went on stage, people shouted, 'Yo Chinkyâ?¦ go back home'. But then we played and won," says Miller. In 2004, they were the second runners up and in 2005, the first runners up.

Pal wasn't from a musical family and this worked as a disadvantage for her. "My father is a pharmacist and my mother a painter and author. They encouraged me throughout my struggle, giving me the best training from the best gurus. But not belonging to a musical family was a drawback. You need to be well- connected in the field of music," says the Mumbai girl, who began as an Indian classical vocalist but ended up falling in love with tabla.

Dore too lent her voice to her band. "I started learning Karnatic classical music when I was six. I started playing drums when I was in Class VII. So I couldn't completely ignore singing," says Dore.

It was the same for Kazi. As a child, she was part of the school choir and then as her interest grew in all things rocky and metallic, Kazi joined Angel Dust -- a metal band in Bangalore -- as vocalist at the age of 15. Finally in 1999, she joined MyndSnare as drummer.

"I was at a point in my life where I wasn't fulfilled being only a singer. I wasn't able to express myself fully through vocals and so I thought I would try another instrument, and the drums just fitted from the word go," says Kazi.

When MyndSnare was just a few months old, they started performing.

And in no time, they came up with original compositions. Kazi proved to be the perfect backing for the band. The long bike rides on empty highways also proved to be an inspiration for her songs. But it wasn't possible without family support, insists Kazi.


For Kazi, her father and brother have been the pillars of her life.

"They have supported me in whatever I have done. They are very happy that I am following my dream and they respect me for not giving up on it," she says.

Had she given up on her dreams, we would surely have missed something. And it is a delight to watch Anuradha Pal play as well.

But Pal - who now shuffles between concerts, recordings and lectures in international universities -- could not have imagined herself to be so successful, without family support.

Besides her family, Dore gives all the credit to her teacher Kishore Ojha, who taught her when she was just starting to take baby steps towards her passion. "It was the happiest moment of my life, when I saw him at the Wheels festival in Jamshedpur. I met him after so many years. I felt as if I had come full circle," she says.

Believe it or not, a woman percussionist may be a bit intimidating for men. "Sometimes I feel men are a bit intimidated by me. But drumming may not be the only reason for that. It also has a lot to do with my attitude," says Kazi.

However, most men who know Kazi well are not scared of her at all. "People who don't know me well feel a little odd when I am around, but I don't worry about it," she says.

Pal on the other hand has been an inspiration to youngsters all over the world. " People come to me and tell me I've inspired them in many ways," says Pal.

Sometimes things get unpleasant. "In 1999, at the Rhythm Sticks Festival in Queen Elizabeth Hall, UK, a group of people threatened to kill me for being patriotic. I was performing with Stree Shakti (her all- woman percussion band) and I had played my special composition dedicated to Indian soldiers who fought the Kargil War," says Pal. But this didn't perturb Pal, as barring those few; everyone had tears in their eyes.


Music and money have a strange relationship. If you are lucky you get plenty. And if you are not, no matter how much you croon or beat the drums, it never comes to you. " You should have a proper financial backing to play in a band," says Dore, who joined Tata Capital as product manager after completing her MBA. But she has definitely not divorced music because of her career. " I've an electronic drum kit and I still jam with my friends. In fact, in May this year, I got together with my old Bodhi Tree gang and played at a karaoke night in Bangalore," says Dore.

However, Kazi and Miller decided to go the other way.

While Miller has a degree in Hotel Management, Kazi has a master's degree in genetics from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

"I loved it thoroughly," says an excited Kazi. "An academician's life has its lure for me, but my love for music won over by a hair's breadth. I won't be going back to genetics now," she says. Very soon she will be packing her bags and moving to Los Angeles to pursue a course in professional drumming. "The entire crew of MyndSnare is doing the same. We'll play at every opportunity we get in the States," she says. MyndSnare's next album will be composed and recorded in LA. Well, as they say... it is all about greener pastures.

That's the case for Indian classical music as well - the greener pastures aren't in India. "Indians don't appreciate Indian music, whereas I have seen foreigners going gaga over it," says Pal who teaches Indian percussion in various international universities and yes, she has several girl students.

That's a good sign indeed - with more and more girls taking to percussion instruments, the stereotypes are breaking.

After all, music has no language or gender - and these women have proved that.
- India Today

"Female Percussionist makes Zakir proud"

If the male synonym for the tabla is Zakir Hussain, then the female equivalent has to undeniably be Anuradha Pal. The only Indian female to perform at UK’s World Of Music, Dance and Arts Festival in 2008, Anuradha along with her band Recharge will be performing in the city tonight. “This is the first time that I’m performing at a place like Blue Frog and I’m completely looking forward to the new experience,” she says.

The tabla virtuoso and percussionist started her training under the likes of Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Ask her about being intimidated in their presence and she says, “Learning under such legendary artists was a blessing. At the same time, they were very demanding teachers and pushed me to the limits. But that certainly worked.”

Recharge — a world music fusion outfit — was formed in 2007, and was the only Indian group that was invited to perform at the Woodstock Festival in Europe in 2008. The band brings together a convergence of genres like Indian and Western classical, and jazz combined with Indian, African, and Latin percussion.

Comprising eight members including Anuradha, Recharge features percussion instruments like kanjira, mridangam, tabla and djembe besides saxophone and electric bass. Says Anuradha, “It is a confluence of various styles that comes out beautifully when all of us are belting the tunes out.”

The band will also be releasing their second album by September. Ask her about her upcoming tours Recharge and she says, “A tour in Europe is on the cards but that shall only happen by November.”

Anuradha is also the only Indian that will be collaborating with artistes from all over the world, in January 2011, for the Global Fusion Project that is to be held in Dubai. Says she, “It’s a great honour and an amazing opportunity to showcase the traditional Indian form of music on a global platform, in front of exceptional artistes from across the world. I believe that it only proves that India is going places.” - Hindustan Times

"Passion for Percussion"

She started off training in vocals for classical music, but fell in love with the tabla instead and is now an internationally acclaimed female tabla player. Priyanka Singh speaks to multi-percussionist Anuradha Pal, about what it’s like being a female musician in a male dominated industry

What ties Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Girija Devi and Ustad Sultan Khan together? Well, they (and many more) have all shared the stage with percussionist Anuradha Pal. The world renowned tabla virstuoso is a multi-percussionist and music composer, who has been hailed by the Encyclopedia Britannica and Limca Book of Records as the first professional female tabla player in the world. Honoured with several awards and having played at international music festivals, she was trained by Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Last month she launched her latest album titled, Get Recharged, with her world music band, Recharge. We speak to her about her journey with the tabla, her album, Recharge and her all-female percussion band called Stree Shakti.

When did you start playing tabla?
I started training in Hindustani vocal music when I was 7-years-old. Then I decided to learn the tabla to get a better understanding of Indian rhythm. There were the usual sniggers, as people wondered how a girl could have the strength to play the tabla. But, I was determined and pursued my goal. My interest grew into a passion and I started giving public performances when I was 10-years-old.

I was fortunate to learn from legends such as the late Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain, both of whom inspire me to work and excel as a musician. The training required long hours of hard practice and perseverance. Since they realised that I was dedicated and passionate, they expected the same of me as they did of their male students.

Values of commitment, dedication and professionalism, as inculcated by my loving family, have been a corner stone in my growth as India’s only professional female tabla virtuoso and percussionist.

It’s an unconventional profession for a woman. Why did you plan to take it up professionally?
I come from a progressive and non-discriminatory family, so initially I had no idea about the discrimination. Only when I got into the field professionally did I realise the challenges involved. But by then, I was in love with tabla and music to let narrow-minded people deter me. In fact, every obstacle became an inspiration to work harder.

What was your parents’ reaction to your decision to play tabla professionally?
I was a good student and was already very busy learning, performing solos and accompanying legendary and young musicians to festivals across the world. When I decided to make tabla my profession, my parents cautioned me about the impending challenges and the rampant male chauvinism. They encouraged me to make an informed decision that I would not regret even if the going got tough. By God’s grace, I have never looked back.

Do you know how to play any other instrument apart from tabla?
Besides tabla, I play other world percussion instruments such as the Djembe, Darbuka, Handsonic, Udu (a Nigerian Pot Drum) and also Carnatic percussion instruments such as Ghatam and Kanjira. I have recently started learning to play the piano. Playing these instruments gives you a different perspective on how to approach music, which is essential if you wish to grow as a musician.

Why do you think tabla is not popular among females in the country?
Events following Delhi’s brutal gang rape have exposed the retrograde mentality and our society’s unchanging mindsets that do not give woman the respect they deserve. In this scenario, not many families allow their girls to learn and fewer women work on their music after marriage, due to the tremendous discrimination and opposition. However, sustained support and encouragement from the government to present music festivals and women projects would be helpful.

Your latest album included many artists. Was there ever a clash of musical sensibilities?
My band members respect me as their music director and I encourage them to express their creativity. If there is a clash, we democratically take a call, with the interest of the band in mind. We enjoy excellent camaraderie and mutual respect. It is this energy that the audience enjoys as well. In fact, during our recent tour to Brazil, as part of the Festival of India, we got rapturous applause from sold out audiences. Our most memorable performance was at the world renowned Woodstock Festival in 2008, where we performed to a massive audience of 4 lakh people who kept on asking for more.

Tell us about your all-female percussion band, Stree Shakti. Will you perform soon?
We have been performing regularly across India. We just had a concert in Bangalore and performed in Mumbai last year during the ‘Save the Girl Child’ event organised by Lilavati Hospital.

Have you composed music for any other films apart from M.F. Hussain’s Gaja Gamini?
I just composed the music for Stealing Gods; a short film based on a novel by my mother, Ila Pal. I have also composed for theatre, commissioned works for Pan African orchestra, NGMA, Indian Express, Tanishka and some documentary films. I am open to composing music for films that are experimental in nature, rather than the regular masala stuff.

Do you have any tips for aspirants across the country?
Work with perseverance, commitment and determination and strive to be the best you can, without compromising on the quality of your work. Have the utmost respect for your gurus and your art and never get complacent or lazy about regular practice. - Afternoon Despatch & Courier

"Woman of Many Rhythms"

IN the realm of Indian classical music, classical musician Anuradha Pal stands apart for more reasons than one. Feminine grace personified, she chose to storm a male bastion and is today easily the most distinguished female tabla player the nation can boast of. In a cut-throat, competitive world where each one is out to promote oneself, she has taken it upon herself to showcase upcoming talent. Above all when most musicians would rather let their music speak, this Masters in English literature is as comfortable with the Queen’s language as with the saat sur.

Hailed as the female equivalent of Ustad Zakir Husain, Anuradha goes back in time to share her ascent, her struggles and her unswerving devotion to the tabla. Indeed, as a child no one encouraged her to play the instrument considered suitable only for the male species. It was only during her brother’s table-learning sessions, when she showed remarkable talent for the instrument, that her training began in earnest. And if the tabla spoke to her when she was barely seven, at ten-and-a-half years she was making it talk to listeners in a language full of vigour. Having learnt from stalwarts like Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain, she says of her gurus, "It’s their genius which is astounding and so humbling." She finds the comparison between herself and her guru Zakir Bhai rather odious and looks up to him even today.

Besides Zakir Bhai, she has been inspired by men like the masterly painter late MF Husain for whose movie Gaj Gamini she gave the background score. She reminisces, "He was an incredible human being who gave me the full freedom to compose." Without a doubt, she would love to compose for more films, provided the project is challenging enough. For she thrives on challenges and doesn’t want to tread the oft-beaten path that others have been following. While tradition is where her heart is, fusion beckons her too. Charged by her fusion band "Recharge", fusion gives her an adrenaline-driven high as she goes on to create a landscape of rhythms with percussionists from around the world. While she can play a host of percussion instruments, the tabla she feels is the king of all, the most evolved and of course rather strenuous to play. Is that why not many women are forthcoming to play it? She smiles, "Well, there are good women percussionists in the country." Stree Shakti, her all-women ensemble includes some of them with whom she is only too willing to share the limelight.

Belonging to a non-musical family, she understands how difficult it is to make a mark for the musicians who have no godfathers or godmothers. While her success today may delude others to believe that everything must have come to her on a platter, she informs otherwise. She remarks, "I have come up against all odds." Of course, the support of her family, her parents, particularly a painter mother, and a supportive husband have kept her going. From strength to strength and from one prestigious venue to another. She has become the youngest musician to perform at the Woodstock Festival and the first woman musician at WOMAD.

Yet even today she has no hesitation in accompanying other artists. She quips, "It is a great honour as well as a huge learning experience to accompany other artists. When I perform along with other greats like Pandit Birju Maharaj, Girija Devi and Ustad Shahid Pervez, it helps me sharpen my skills. It puts me on a test and opens me to varied roles of tabla accompaniment."

Surrounded by greatness in her childhood years, when maestros like Pandit Jasraj and Ustad Faiyaz Khan would visit her grandfather’s house, she knew at an early age that excellence is a never-ending pursuit.
- The Tribune

"Turn The Tabla"

Anuradha Pal speaks to Prerna Sharma about creating India's first women percussion-based vocal and instrumental fusion band, Stree Shakti

It was a special evening for music connoisseurs, as it’s not every day that one gets to be a part of concert by a renowned musician like Anuradha Pal. A Mumbai-based tabla prodigy and percussionist performed here with the band members of Stree Shakti by Anuradha Pal — India’s first women’s percussion band. We chatted with her before the performance to know more about her music.

Anuradha is the founder and music director of two distinct fusion bands, Stree Shakti by Anuradha Pal and Recharge, and her mission is to reach out to as many women as possible and empower them through her music. “Indian music industry is male-dominated. Whenever, women want to do something on their own, they are never appreciated. While, in the West they are motivated at every step. I want women to shed their veils and show their talent to the world. There is no doubt that women are as good as men, the only problem is that our society doesn’t accept this fact,” said Pal.

It is perhaps difficult to list all of Anuradha’s achievements in one go! She was trained under legends like the late Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain. She is an internationally acclaimed tabla soloist and has accompanied top Indian classical, African, jazz and world musicians. Over the years, she has participated in major festivals in the UK, USA, Europe. She also holds the distinction of being the only Indian woman musician to perform at the renowned WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) festival in the UK. Reminiscing her best moments she said, “That was the most prestigious moment of my life. It is the second largest music festival and we performed in front of two lakh people. There are thousands of musicians who dream of performing there. I was also one of them.”

Talking about Stree Shakti by Anuradha Pal, she said, “It is an all-female percussion-based vocal and instrumental combination ensemble, which combines the best of the Hindustani and Carnatic styles. I formed Stree Shakti in 1996 in order to bring about awareness on discrimination against women and create opportunity and respect for them. We will perform Tala Vadya Kacheri, that is essentially rhythm-based. It will be a combination of Mridangam, Ghatam and Violin. I am playing with violin expert M Namrada and first time stage performers Ramiya and Vidya. They are talented, so I thought of promoting them.”

Playing tabla is quite a difficult job. While others just take it as a hobby, she is the first Indian woman to play it professionally. “The percussion field has traditionally always been male-oriented. Firstly, it is a physically demanding activity as it requires a lot of strength, stamina and mental agility. Long hours of practice and years of training are also vital to be able to perform. Unfortunately, even now, women are discouraged and discriminated and are not given equal an opportunity.”

She enjoys the challenge and thrill of collaborations. When asked how difficult it was to establish herself in the industry, she said, “I had to make sure that I worked so hard that no one could ignore me. I trained hard to give my audiences and senior musicians something more in terms of musical offerings. Along with presenting tabla solos.” - The Daily Pioneer

"Anuradha Pal"

There is a lot to be said for this woman. First of all she is a highly acclaimed tabla player from Mumbai. Her main musical endeavors as of late are Stree Shakti, an all female percussion-based, instrumental and vocal fusion ensemble, and Recharge, a unique world music fusion group combining various elements of Indian, African, Latin and Jazz music.

Anuradha composed the background score in Gaja Gamini which won tremendous acclaim in the Cannes Film Festival. She regularly scores music for music albums, theater & documentaries as well.

She is involved with several humanitarian and academic groups, even UNICEF. She has performed all over the world, featured in countless publications and television programs.

Basically, she’s inspirational to any woman, especially any woman looking to make a career for herself in the arts. With all that said, go listen to her music and read more about her. It’ll blow your mind, if it isn’t blown already. - Tom Tom Magazine

"I want my music to unite the World"

Not everyone dares to take the road less travelled. But percussionist Anuradha Pal did exactly that. She is India's first and only woman tabla player who has received international recognition and she is a disciple of tabla legends Ustads Alla Rakha and Zakir Husain. She has performed with India's music maestros, but her start was a real struggle. "Being a woman in a male-dominated field, it was tough. When I decided to make a career in this field, my father told me one thing 'You will face a lot of hurdles and people will dismiss you easily.' My biggest disadvantage was that I did not come from a music family (Anuradha hails from an academically-oriented family), so my journey wasn't easy. But I was determined to give a distinct offering, something beyond ordinary so that people will not be able to ignore me." Anuradha Pal had anticipated the struggle when she planned her career move. She says, "It has been a humbling experience. The search for excellence and my self-development is my priority. And that is what keeps me on my toes. If I think that I have learned enough then I will be complacent.”

Given the position of classical music in the country today, Anuradha has strong views on the role that government plays in promoting it. She says, "Classical music is not getting its due. I have performed all over the world, and all the musicians had one thing in common to say - 'Indian music is very happening. We don't know how you do it. It comes from the soul and touches the soul.' To make India a global destination, we do not have to build more malls. The whole world has them. Westernization is important, but not at the cost of our culture. I wish the government would invest more money in supporting classical musicians who have gone through 20-30 years of grinding to make their name. Classical music survives; in fact it thrives despite the odds."

Anuradha has also given the background score for late painter MF Husain's movie Gaja Gamini. Anuradha who is all praises for the painter, says, "Husainsaab had a lot of clarity in his mind. Once he put his brush down, there was no smudging. He was and still is a great source of inspiration for me. Whenever I go on the stage, I seek blessings from my two gurus, my parents and MF Husain."

On a parting note, she says, "I want to use music to unite the world. I want to stretch my boundaries and reach out to a larger audience. I want people to embrace music with an open mind." - Times of India

"The Right Note"

The upcoming Global Fusion concert to be held on January 28, 2012 at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel will be very special for connoisseurs of music for it features a very special artiste – Mumbai-based star tabla virtuoso and percussionist Anuradha Pal.

It is perhaps difficult to list all of Anuradha’s achievements at one go! A versatile and celebrated artiste, Anuradha trained under legends like the late Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain. Today she is an internationally acclaimed tabla soloist and accompanist with top Indian classical, African, jazz and world musicians. Over the years she has participated in major festivals in the UK, USA, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Africa. She also holds the distinction of being the only Indian woman musician to perform at the renowned WOMAD festival in the UK. Moreover, she has performed before dignitaries like the PM and President of India and Queen Elizabeth, besides winning accolades and awards galore for her talent.

Anuradha is the founder and music director of two distinct Fusion bands, Stree Shakti and Recharge, and her mission is to reach out to as many women as possible and empower them through her music. We chatted with this amazing woman about her life and passions.

How does it feel to play live at the Global Fusion Concert in Dubai?
I am very excited and am looking forward eagerly to performing in the Global Fusion concert. It is an interesting concept and I thank Bank Sarasin-Alpen and Alpen Capital for the opportunity.

How different will this concert be from the other concerts you have performed at?
This is a very rare event as it features some of the best women musicians from across the world, all collaborating towards creating a fusion of the music of the globe.

Please tell us more about the bands Stree Shakti and Recharge and their musical styles.
My Stree Shakti is an all-female percussion-based vocal and instrumental combination ensemble, which combines the best of the repertoire of the Hindustani and Carnatic styles. Stree Shakti has performed at some of the most prestigious festivals around the world namely Womad festival for an audience of 1.5 lakh people, Rhythm Sticks festival, Barbican Hall and Cardiff Jazz festival to name just a few. I formed Stree Shakti in 1996 in order to bring about awareness about discrimination against women and create parity of opportunity and respect for them.
Recharge is basically a confluence of Indian and jazz music which features a combination of African, Latin and Indian percussion. Recharge was India’s only representation at the world-famous Woodstock festival in 2008 and we performed for an audience of four lakh people.

Why don’t we see many female artistes playing the tabla?
Playing the tabla is very difficult. The percussion field has traditionally always been male-dominated. Firstly, it is a physically demanding activity as it requires a lot of strength, stamina and mental agility as well as long hours of practice and years of training to be able to perform. Unfortunately, even now, women are discouraged and discriminated against and not given equal opportunity.

Was it difficult for you to make a mark in this field?
I had to make sure that I worked so hard that no one could ignore me or prevent me from making my mark. For this, I trained very hard to give my audiences and senior musicians something more in terms of musical offerings, to look forward to at each concert. Along with presenting tabla solos, I also regularly perform with a wide spectrum of vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers from the Hindustani and Carnatic styles of Indian music as well as present concerts of both my bands. In addition, I have performed with other genres of World Music like African, Latin, Jazz, Flamenco, Electronica, Hip Hop etc and enjoy the challenge and thrill of collaborations.

Which has been your most cherished concert and why?
I have had many memorable concerts over a career of 20 years. Right from the my first concert when I was 10 to my concerts at the Masters of Indian Music festival (USA), Woodstock festival (2008), to the festival of India in Brazil, Night of Virtuosos Festival (2011), every single one has been memorable.

Who are your greatest musical influence?
My gurus, tabla legends the late Ustad Alla Rakha and of course, Ustad Zakir Hussain.

How difficult was it composing music for the film ‘Gajagamini’? How was it working with the legendry MF Husain?
It was a great honour working with Husainsaheb. He felt that I would be able to identify with the struggle of women as portrayed in his film, as I had gone through a similar struggle. The agony and ecstasies of this struggle for excellence against the backdrop of centuries of discrimination had to be conveyed through the tabla and I really enjoyed the challenge. I am grateful that Husainsaheb and his family actually felt that my music filled in the gaps in the film and accentuated its expression and meaning.

How long do you practise every day? What keeps you motivated?
Playing the tabla is a spiritual experience for me and practise is necessary for my very existence. If I am not travelling, I practise the whole day…it always seems too little!

Have you faced any injuries while performing? If yes, how did you get through with the concert?
Yes, I have performed despite injuries as a commitment is a commitment! Fortunately, God has given me strength to go through the pain with equanimity and resolve, and my gurus and families’ blessings have helped me tide over every stressful situation. -


Anu - A Tabla Solo
Anuradha Pal’s Stree Shakti
Sheer Magic - with Ustad Shahid Parvez
Sensational - with Ustad Shahid Parvez
Kesaria - Romancing Rajasthan
Nirvana - Spiritual Bliss
Anuradha Pal’s Get Recharged!!!

All of the above are available for streaming at



Superbly trained by Tabla legends Late Ustad Alla Rakha & Zakir Hussain, Anuradha Pal is a renowned Tabla virtuoso and percussionist from Mumbai, India.

She has performed sensational Tabla Solos and astutely accompanied some of the best musicians of India like Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Smt. Girija Devi, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Sultan Khan, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt; younger musicians like Rahul Sharma, Niladri Kumar, Rakesh Chaurasia as well as, acclaimed Jazz, Latin & African musicians in major Indian & International festivals.

Besides being an excellent Tabla Soloist and accompanist, she is also the founder of the all-female percussion based group, Stree Shakti, and the World Music Group, Anuradha Pal's Recharge.

She is the youngest and only female Indian Musician to have performed at the prestigious Woodstock Festival in 2008; where she performed with her acclaimed World Music band RECHARGE, for an audience of 4 lakh people.

She is also the first and the youngest woman Indian Musician to perform at the WOMAD Festival in 1999, where she presented her band STREE SHAKTI- Asia’s much acclaimed all-female, percussion based Vocal - instrumental ensemble, for 1.5 lakh fans.