When a TABLA UNITES WITH AN UPRIGHT BASE and SAXOPHONE

3 of 4 women of the jazz group RAJAS

The tabla is a membranophone percussion instrument, used in Hindustani classical music and in popular and devotional music of the Indian subcontinent. The instrument consists of a pair of hand drums of contrasting sizes and timbres. The term tabla is derived from an Arabic word, tabla, which simply means “drum.” The tabla is used in some other Asian musical traditions outside of India, such as in the Indonesian dangdut genre. Playing technique involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create a wide variety of different sounds, reflected in the mnemonic syllables. The heel of the hand is used to apply pressure or in a sliding motion on the larger drum so that the pitch is changed during the sound’s decay.”

The above is an online definition of an essential instrument found primarily in East Indian music. Add to this, the slow melodious sounds of a violin, synced to a high pitched female singing voice uttering love and religious devotion, we get IndoJazz

Somewhere along this musical journey, there is the sound of what the listening ear would say to the brain, “that’s cello”. You are then jerked out of that trance to realize, it is not a cello, but an upright bass. That is not all, an alto sax ascends atop, then fades to the superiority of the violin, voice, bass and tabla, (called mrudangam in Southern India), in no specific order, albeit by accurate timing via the purveyors of those  instruments.

At times you hear the call and response between the tabla and the bass; fingers are moving rapidly; it’s like watching jump rope! Is someone going to get tired and be at fault?

No. It’s RAJAS, a musical ensemble exploring the resonances of creative jazz music. Here’s a montage of the group’s performance at Creative Alliance, in East Baltimore.

The group is led by RAJA SWAMINATHAN (Tabla {mrudangam), PhD. Candidate, music, Harvard); GANAVYA DORAISWAMY (vocals); ANJNA SWAMINATHAN (Raja’s sister, violin); MARIA GRAND (tenor sax); and STEPHEN CRUMP (Bass).I talked with Rajas: