Chandran, my tabla instructor, earns a bulk of his livelihood by performing “light” music. Although he is classically trained, Chandran thoroughly enjoys playing light music – which, essentially, is a nonreligious, pop music. Light music is most often performed at weddings and other social functions; the music itself consists mostly of covers of popular Bollywood (film) songs.
So, I accompanied Chandran to a Hindu wedding – my second in the past six months. Like my experience in Fiji, I was the only Western at the event. That being said, like so many other situations, I definitely felt welcomed. Actually, I attended the wedding celebration, not the service itself; but, the party is always the most important part, right?
It was really neat watching Chandran set up his tabla set and other percussion instruments. Because the light music is very melodic, as it is really just pop music, Chandran used five different tabla (right-handed) drums, so that he had a wide range of pitches to play with. He even tuned a dholak accordingly (to A on the music scale), and basically used it as a sixth tabla. In a purely religious setting, like that of a performance at a temple, a tabla player would most definitely not have so many tabla (right-handed) drums to work with, as the melody is not essential to Carnatic or Hindustani music; or rather, the melody is not the responsibility of the tabla player.
Considering its traditional roots, the versatility of the instrument is quite impressive: surely, the tabla is classical instrument – it must be remembered that Carnatic and Hindustani music are the equivalent of Western classical music, like that of Schubert or Mozart. Nonetheless, the tabla does not sound out of place in a contemporary context. Indeed, there is a certain paradox of the tabla, as it is able to juxtapose itself, by functioning in both traditional and contemporary music.
Aside from the tabla, Chandran also used a variety of percussion instruments, including some small bongos, a set of tom toms, and shakers. Interestingly enough, the shakers where just old aerosol cans filled with rice; very resourceful indeed. Also, the band had another drummer, named Madhavan, who played an electronic drum pad. Madhavan said that normally he plays an acoustic kit for his performances, but was unable to get one for this show.
Truth be told, the sound quality was pretty poor, so that was a little disappointing. Further, light music is almost a glorified karaoke, as just about anyone is welcome to grab the mic and sing his or her favorite Bollywood hit. Regardless, it was very entertaining to see my first light music performance. I thought it was interesting that although it was a light music performance, there still was a framed picture of Saravasti, the Hindu Goddess of Music on the stage.
I must admit, the groom did fairly well with his dowry: there was a motorcycle, television, refrigerator, washing machine, and much more. It is funny because I think I now have been to more Hindu weddings than “American” weddings…