We asked tabla master Vineet Vyas about his musical roots, inspirations, and how his career has evolved since being nominated for the same award in 2015.
Vineet Vyas is a disciple of the late legendary tabla maestro Pandit Kishan Maharaj and has performed across India, Europe and North America with some of India’s eminent classical artists such as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, and Ustad Shahid Parvez. In 2015, Vineet was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award and was a finalist for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Muriel Sherrin Award.
What was it like to perform for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in New Delhi in 2017?
There were so many reasons that it was a wonderful and unique experience performing in New Delhi, with support from the Canadian High Commission, for Canada’s 150th birthday.
This event was curated by my wife, Toronto dancer Bageshree Vaze, in honour of her late guru, the renowned Hindustani vocalist Veena Sasrabuddhe. It was a great honour for me to perform with her there at the Stein Auditorium in the India Habitat Centre, as well as presenting some solo pieces, and to perform the finale with the amazing Kathak dancer Shri Deepak Maharaj, son of the legendary Birju Maharaj.
The event was emceed by my daughter, Kalashree Vyas. The High Commissioner of Canada in New Delhi, the Hon. Nadir Patel, was so impressed with her that during his opening remarks he told the audience that he could envision such a confident, eloquent young speaker perhaps growing up to become the High Commissioner of Canada one day.
This event occurred while I was in India with my family as a Fellow at the American Institute of India Studies (AIIS), revisiting the repertoire of the Benares Gharana of Tabla. This fellowship allowed me to pursue my artistic endeavours that year, but also gave my children the unique opportunity to attend school in New Delhi and experience the rich and vibrant culture of India.
The event was attended by some of India’s most celebrated musicians and dancers. The experience of performing in front of musicians such as Amjad Ali Khan, Birju Maharaj, Rajan Mishra, Sajan Mishra, Vidushi Saswati Sen, and Akram Khan, is hard to describe in words. The stars aligned for us that evening in many ways and it was indeed an incredible opportunity to receive their blessings, support and praise. It was a night and performance that I will always cherish and remember forever, and it was a reflection of the Canadian dream that embodies multicultural art forms and a global identity.
How does it feel to be nominated for the Muriel Sherrin Award for the second time?
I am very honoured and grateful once again to be recognized as a finalist for this award. It is incredible for me that my artistic endeavours are being celebrated at home here in Toronto, and are deemed worthy for this award. The support that I have received from the arts funding bodies in Toronto and Ontario, as well as the Canada Council and Nova Scotia Arts Council, has been instrumental in allowing me to continue my artistic pursuits. I hope to continue moving forward in this challenging but rewarding artistic path.
How has your career changed since your first nomination in 2015?
Since the first nomination, I completed an MFA in World Percussion from the California Institute for the Arts. During that time at CalArts, I met some phenomenal musicians, which led to the creation of our band Dhara World Music. Dhara has performed at jazz festivals and conferences in California and beyond.
I was also a Senior Arts Fellowship recipient from the AIIS, which allowed me to travel and stay with my family in India for almost a year beginning in the summer of 2016. I think it was an incredible blessing for our young children to experience life and schooling in New Delhi. As my wife Bageshree says, Kalashree and Vihaan are our little troupers who have been subjected to our artistic whims and lifestyles in a constant flux, but they always look forward to the next destination – and they love it! Recently, Kalashree performed alongside her mother for Bageshree’s Global Bollywood production presented at the Rose Theatre in Brampton in April 2019.
In 2017, I was commissioned by Opera Nova Scotia to create and perform an opera based on Gustav Holst’s interpretation of the story of Savitri. This opera featured tabla, sitar, kathak dance, operatic voice, and contemporary dance. Bageshree and I presented a shortened version here in Toronto at the Harbourfront Summer Music Garden Series in 2018.
Another highlight for me in late 2017 was when I attended an event in New Delhi where Anindo Chatterjee performed a tabla solo for Sangeet Natak Akademi. I was stunned when he announced my name to recognize me and presented me with a shawl, memento and flowers in appreciation.
You’ve accomplished many varied things in your career, from composition to sound design to recording albums – is there anything you’d still like to do to showcase tabla music in different ways?
I feel that I have been very lucky to have been born in a family with an intense musical background. Without realizing it while growing up in Nova Scotia, the sounds of Hindustani music – the elements of sitar, vocal music and table – were somehow steeping their essences in my being. The connection that I have to these art forms truly comes alive for me when in performance on stage.
I am also incredibly blessed to have a partner in life in my wife Bageshree Vaze who also has that same connection and love for these forms of music. I remember a concert I was performing in Markham where I was overwhelmed with emotion during the concert, only to see Bageshree just as moved as I was by the voices and music.
As I continue on this artistic path with tabla, what continues to amaze me is the richness and depth of the repertoire in tabla language. From the depth of sound production (nikhaas) to the unlimited range of rhythmic explorations (lehkaari), the numbers of doors to open are infinite, and within each door there are so many paths that can be revealed.
Each time I sit with my instrument either in practice or performance, I see how much more the repertoire reveals upon exploration, it truly does continuously evolve with the human spirit, and I feel I have barely touched the surface, I am blessed that I have witnessed some great artists such as my guru, the late Pandit Kishan Maharaj. I look forward to continuing exploring in music, rhythm and composition – I truly hope to further the legacy of my esteemed teachers as I continue to seek their blessings.
What’s next for your work as a tabla artist?
I am very much looking forward to releasing some music for Kathak dance, which I have co-produced with my wife. These works are highly anticipated by dancers and performers across the globe, as it enables them to present Kathak choreography (this classical dance style utilizes and features the tabla language and compositions) to music specifically composed for this art form.
Most recently, some of our music has been used by the BBC for their Young Dancer competition. Later this summer, I have been invited to perform a tabla solo featuring the repertoire of the Benares Gharana at the Festival of Tabla, to be held in Los Angeles. This year is the third annual event and I am honoured to be a Canadian representing this rich genre.
I also look forward to sharing this art form with more students, starting at home, as I am hopeful that both of our children will continue to enjoy learning about these art forms as well, as they themselves shine their artistic lights in our lives.