Gurpreet Chana - The Tabla Guy
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Gurpreet Chana - The Tabla Guy

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF | AFM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF | AFM
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"Chana performs at tabla-CO-lab"

Mississauga's Gurpreet Chana will be among the performers next Aug. 20 at tabla-CO-lab, an event taking place in Toronto that explores different music styles.
Tabla-CO-lab features live performances of instrumentalists, vocalists, deejays and Chana with his tabla, which combines two separate drums to make a bass drum, and arsenal of other percussion instruments.
The artists will combine their talents during Thursday Night Confidential at the Gladstone Hotel. Show runs from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Admission is free.
The music Chana creates and performs is an expression of the cultural diversity he experienced growing up. He says his musical experience is expressed by taking the rhythmic patterns of the tabla and merging them with all genres of music.
It started some 29 years ago, when Chana would bang his hands on pots and pans, or anything else he could find, to hear and feel the beat. His grandfather, Kesar Singh Chana, saw this enthusiasm and gave him his first tabla set.
Chana's passion for percussion has taken him to concerts and festivals around the world. He has performed and recorded with Nelly Furtado, Wyclef Jean, legendary U.K. deejay/producer Bally Sagoo and Juno Award-winner Kiran Ahluwalia, among others. - The Mississauga News | Aug 12, 2009 - 2:50 PM

"Josh’s Interview About Coke Studio by Instep Today"

Instep Today: You brought Gurpreet Chana to the studio. How did that work out and how was it playing with him?

Q: We have worked with Gurpreet in the past on a few shows and we always wanted to work with him at a larger level. His style of playing is different and we felt it would fit great with the Coke Studio vibe. When Coke Studio came about, we started thinking about who we can bring with us who will add more to the sound and Gurpreet’s name came up right away. We asked him, he was down and once we started jamming, it was very natural with him since we’ve performed with him in the past. I think he got along great with the other guys, and there was a mutual energy of respect amongst everyone. Gurpreet brought in some new instruments that the fans will have seen. It’s all part of our little effort of trying to bring fresh sounds to the Pakistani music scene. It opens minds to new avenues of creativity.

Rup: We wanted to add an element of fusion to our set. Gurpreet brings creative and innovative ways of playing tablas and dhols. Moreover, he brought along with him, a rare percussion instrument called the Hung. I think you got a taste of it with Gumby and Gurpreet’s jam on it. It’s unreal! - Instep Today | August 19th, 2009 | Pakistan

"Gurpreet Chana Tabla Master"

If you or I had been found banging dents in the coffee table when we were three years old, dada abba would have given us jutiyaan for lunch. Kesar Singh Chana gave his grandson Gurpreet a set of premium quality Gerrard Street tablas. Twenty years later, Gurpreet Singh Chana gained the opportunity to do his thing at the 2000 Midwest Bhangra Competition before a panel of judges – including Bally Sagoo. Sitting across from me at a table at the Indigo Café, Gurpreet looks as though he still hasn’t gotten over the outcome of his performance that night.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to be famous.” But, with a beaming face, the modest twenty-something sardarji insists that when he’s drumming his fingers over a pair of taut skins, he doesn’t waste his time daydreaming about record deals. “While I’m playing the tabla, all I know is that I’m having the time of my life.”

On the night of the competition, as always, he began with a classical piece – his way of showing respect and paying tribute to the Hindustani tradition. Halfway through, however, it had become an Eastern-Western fusion session, with Gurpreet playing his tablas over a track called “Nightmare” by Brainbug. In fact, he wasn’t even competing for the $2000 dollar price, but was merely there as a “special act”. When it came time for the awards to be presented, special guest Bally Sagoo announced that the $2K would go to the team from U of T (as in Texas). And, by the way, “I’m going to sign the tabla player.”

Gurpreet and Bally met up in Birmingham over the summer, just as Ishq Records’ newest release from Kenz Desai was being completed. Taken from Kenz’s debut project on Ishq, Bootlegged, the Hai Hai single, featuring vocals by Satwinder Bitty and remixes by Pink Bomb and Simon Storer, was having the finishing touches put on it. The CD needed to be finished by the next morning; nevertheless, Bally asked Gurpreet whether he could do anything with Simon Storer’s “Triple Time Mix” of “Hai Hai”. The two worked from 12:00 to 5:00AM to produce the “Triple Time Tablastic Mix”, a version incorporating the added audio spectacle of Gurpreet’s tabla rhythms enmeshing themselves between and atop Storer’s original beats. The single was released three weeks later, and is now available at Ishq Records’ website.

The gurdwara in Hamilton was where Gurpreet got his start, accompanying his sister Harpreet's vocals and harmonium in shabads, along with his younger brother, Harjit, also a tabla player. The religious aspect of performance is still with him, and he thanks Wahe Guru for getting him where he is today. The Waterloo grad has played around the university and at Sitaron Ki Mehfil at Western, as well as in Toronto, for the Kesri Ribbon Project, Canadian World Youth, Desh Pardesh and the Royal Ontario Museum. Everywhere he goes, his friends applaud like paagal khana inmates. Not surprisingly, Gurpreet is thankful to them as well.

He also gives a great deal of credit to his ustad ji, Professor Parshotam Singh, whose fourteen years of guidance have enabled him to become familiar with his instrument in depth, and to appreciate both the traditional and the creative aspects of the art. Instructed in the Punjabi gharana or school of the Hindustani discipline, he regards Indian classical music as the basis of all of the popular genres that his friends enjoy, from bhangra to filmi to mainstream Desi music.

After one of his performances, he was hotly accused backstage of imitating another tabla player by the name of Talvin Singh. As flattering as he finds the comparison, for Gurpreet, it’s not about biting other people’s styles; he believes in simply “playing what your hands are saying,” as he was taught. What he does is as much about improvisation and artistic expression as it is about tradition. In addition to classical hand patterns, eloquent spontaneity is required in good measure in order to play an instrument often described as a “talking drum”. It’s not something he thinks about. It’s something he feels. - :


By David Dacks

Gurpreet "The Tabla Guy" Chana combines a deep knowledge of Indian classical music and a lifetime of Canadian musical experiences into a unique approach to percussion. He is both a spellbinding solo performer and a consummate collaborator. Raised in Hamilton, now residing in Toronto, Chana's tabla education began at age three. He relates a time-honoured musical starting point, albeit with specific cultural resonance. "I used to bang on pots and pans and my grandfather had the foresight to say 'let's get this kid a tabla.' One day my parents went down to Gerrard St. (in Toronto's Little India), picked up a tabla and cut it down to half the size. I still have it at my parents place." Chana muses that there may have been an ulterior motive: the Sikh community in Hamilton was so small at the time that his grandfather may have been recruiting him to accompany his family's weekly hymnal congregations.

School days brought different influences to bear: "At school we'd be learning Canadian and American folk songs, Christmas carols and all that. I had really cool music teachers. When they found out that I played an instrument that they'd never seen before, they were intrigued. In Christmas assemblies, I'd be the Little Drummer Boy. This is what I grew up with ? I wasn't calling it fusion at the time."

Chana's education got serious around the age of 11 when he started studying with Professor Parshotan Singh. Chana learned proper technique and started to fully appreciate the demands of Indian classical music. At the same time, he was learning Western classical violin in school, and jammed with his friends' rock bands in their garages.

Since then, Chana has opened his musical horizons wide. He has played innumerable world music festivals, community events and even a Toronto Raptors halftime show ("so much echo"). Most notably, he participates in two popular monthly club events: Luv To Bhang, a Bhangra-themed event, and Tabla CO-Lab, a summit of musicians from wildly different backgrounds cemented by booming beats.

Any collaborative effort leads back to the capabilities of the tabla. "My approach to collaborating is to always find the tonic of the composition that I'm playing to," Chana explains. "The typical set up is one bass drum and one treble drum. Because [the bass drum] has such a low frequency, tuning is less critical. But the higher treble really cuts through [the mix] so tuning is extremely critical. Generally speaking, I bring several [tabla] with me depending on what's required."

Collaborations have also led Chana to explore other percussion such as the djembe, congas, dhol, zarb, dumbeks, and daf. Without a doubt, though, his most unusual instrument is the hang, which looks like two bundt cake moulds fused together to sound like a steel drum with a subwoofer. Everything about the hang is totally freaky. Only about 6000 of these handmade instruments exist, including one used by 2008 Mercury Prize nominees the Portico Quartet. "The turtle shell [top] side has the notes on it, and the bottom [bass] has its ancestry with the African udu, or the South Indian drum called the ghatam ? both of those were traditionally clay drums," explains Chana. "The rimshots are metallic with a rubbery gasket, which isolates [each side] from vibrating against each other while still maintaining their pure sounds."

He fondly recalls his introduction to the instrument. "In 2003, I was playing a world music festival in Quebec City. [Cellist] Jorane's drummer/percussionist and I were hanging out every night at the hotel, jamming with the musicians from this festival. On the last night he whips out this metal UFO and says 'play.' The second I hit it I was blown away. Maybe coming from a tabla background, where melody is so important, to have an instrument that plays rhythm and melody was a dream come true. He sat on one side and I sat on the other, and we just played. Every so often we would cross into each other's area ? it was like the Matrix!"

Surprisingly, despite his international renown and local popularity, Chana has yet to bring all his musical knowledge together into a fully-fledged album, but that's coming next year. "It's not just about the tabla and the hang," he says. "I'm also bringing melodic instruments like the harmonium and dilruba, and going back into my training in violin." Until then he'll keep 'hang'ing out all over the musical map, absorbing all the bad puns thrown his way. - Exclaim! Magazine | November 2009 | Toronto


Gurpreet Chana [The Tabla Guy] (2002) LP
Hang Sessions Vol. 1 (2008) EP
Single (2009): "Meteor Shower" by Sticky Hands (Gurpreet Chana & Paul Nanuwa)



Musician, composer and producer, Gurpreet Chana is one of Canada’s most diversely talented artists. Gurpreet’s travels along the path of music began 29 years ago. It started from banging his hands on coffee tables, pots, & pans. When his Grandfather, Kesar Singh Chana, saw this enthusiasm he gave him his first Tabla set and there has been no looking back since.

Gurpreet has been taught in the Punjab Gharana (style) from his Ustad Ji Professor Parshotam Singh in Waterloo, ON. He started by playing at the Gurudawara (Sikh Temple) with Kirtan (sacred hymns) and continues to do so. Over the years he has added unique flavours to his music and creates within many genres through recordings and mesmerizing live performances. Having been born, raised and trained in Canada, Gurpreet has had the fortunate opportunity of being introduced to various types of music. Coming from a South Asian background he also had a strong pull towards music from the Indian subcontinent. The music he creates and performs is an expression of the cultural diversity he experienced growing up in a multicultural society. This musical experience is expressed by taking the unique rhythmic and melodic patterns of the tabla and immersing them within all genres of music.

Producers, Choreographers, Composers, and Directors from the Dance, Theatre, Film, and Music worlds are constantly bringing Gurpreet into their realm to tap into his skills and talents. He has recorded with internationally renowned Grammy & Juno Award Winner Nelly Furtado ["Childhood Dreams", "Forca" from Album: Folklore] and on a track with Wyclef Jean [DJ Rekha’s “Basement Bhangra Anthem”]. He has performed and/or recorded with artists such as Bombay Dub Orchestra, Gingger, Jorane, Ron Allen, Juno Award Winner Kiran Ahluwalia, Juno Award Nominee Tanya Tagaq, Ariane Moffatt, VINX, LAL, Jennie Laws, Jugular, Syreeta Neal, Drew Rouse and opened for Lady Sovereign, Pete Rock and JoSH. Gurpreet has composed music for Feature Films "Cooking with Stella" [Director: Dilip Mehta, Music Composer: Mychael Danna & Amritha Fernandez-Bakshi], "Amal" [Director: Richie Mehta, Music Composer: Dr. Shiva] and "Bhopal: The Search for Justice" [Director: Peter Raymont & Lindalee Tracey, Composer: John Welsman].