Musician, composer, and teacher Ritesh Das, founder of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, has brought his unique musical heritage and vision to Canadian audiences for 25 years, through his recordings, performances and his tireless dedication to training future generations in the South Asian musical tradition at his tabla academy in Toronto.
We spoke with Ritesh Das to learn more about what he does.
Congratulations on the Tabla Ensemble’s 25th anniversary!
How has the company evolved since it began?
It’s going up, up, up and up. That’s the best way I can describe it. A lot of people who have studied tabla with me and played in the company have moved on to have their own career.
How has the tabla influenced you as an artist?
Tabla to me is very spiritual; it’s a form of meditation. It helps me with my own personal growth. That’s the best way I can describe it.
You come from a family of artists and teachers. How did that foster your love for music or performance?
I grew up in a house in India, Kolkata, watching dance and listening to music. My parents were the first to start a dance and music school in Kolkata after the British left. So right from a very young age, my whole environment was surrounded with dance, music and everything. Experiencing that every day has helped me with everything I’m doing right now with the ensemble.
Why is teaching the tabla important to you?
There are many factors. One of the factors is that by teaching you learn about yourself. Number two, you’re teaching the next generation and passing on a very ancient tradition and heritage to kids who are born here, who are able to find a good personal identity for themselves. That is why teaching is very important to me.
How have your travels across the world influenced your music?
Tremendous. But more than that, living in Toronto has influenced my music. The whole world lives here. You don’t have to go anywhere. If you want to eat some food, there are options from every country. The same goes for music. But travelling around the world has obviously also helped me a lot. I’m looking forward to more.
What’s your style of tabla?
Teaching is traditional, while the music I do with the Tabla Ensemble is much more of a collaboration. I find that there is similarity between each and every culture, and [the ensemble] explores that. With teaching, unless you have a very strong discipline, you cannot collaborate because the fusion becomes confusion. I think you need a solid background and then you can collaborate. There are two aspects: tradition and then innovation. But first you need tradition.
Can you tell us more about the Tabla Youth Ensemble?
Youth is the next 25 years. I have people asking me, ‘what are you doing to do in the next twenty-five years?” I’m looking at the future, celebrating the youth. This is what Canada’s all about. To me, it’s very exciting. The Youth Ensemble is not just learning about the tradition, the music, or how to perform, they’re learning about administration as well. They learn how to produce their own shows. So the Youth Ensemble is not just a band, it’s also an institution where you learn about arts and arts management.
What’s your favourite place in Toronto?
That’s a tough question. I don’t have one specific area that I could tell you ‘oh, that’s my favourite.’ If you want to go eat Italian food, you go to Little Italy. If you want to eat Indian food, you can go all over now. I like the track at Davenport and Lansdowne where I walk my dog. Twenty laps. And you know what; that’s where you start thinking… where you really think…