Calcutta-born, Toronto-based Tabla maestro Ritesh Das is all set to release his debut solo album, To Begin With, after three decades of heading the acclaimed Toronto Tabla Ensemble, a multi-cultural entity that has been on the map for a while for its cutting-edge contemporary fusion.
The 66-year-old percussion maestro — the younger brother of legendary Kathak exponent Guru Chitresh Das — has led a fairy-tale life in his shift of roots. As a metaphor for yet another new phase in his life, To Begin With is unlike anything in Das’s storied career — though its origin story is hardly unique. Forced to stay at home due to the pandemic and unable to travel, Das turned to technology and his home studio, teaching himself composing and recording software. In the process, he wrote songs that blended live instrumentation with programmed beats, samples and orchestral instruments. He also brought in tasty collaborations with a diverse range of world-class talents, including the Montreal klezmer outfit Oktopus (on ‘Ot Azoy’); Egyptian vocalist Maryem Tollar and sarod maestro Manik Khan (on ‘Ta Alu Nitabill’) and Canadian rock queen Bif Naked (on ‘Forgiveness of Trees’).
To Begin With stands out as an epic sequence of cinematic cuts that blend man and machine, balances spirituality and technology, and forms the soundtrack for a globe-trotting adventure film straight out of Das’s boundless imagination.
Ritesh Das ft. Maryem Tollar and Manik Khan – Ta’alu Nitabbil (Let’s Drum)
The metaphor for movement and dynamism is well-ensconced in the soundscape, the reflection of Das’s own story, a tale that is no less epic. Born in Calcutta to parents who owned the region’s first dance and music academy, he followed his brother Chitresh Das to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where he joined the Aman Folk Ensemble and toured the United States while broadening his musical horizons. After relocating to Toronto in 1987, he began teaching Tabla, and formed the TTE in 1991.
Since then, Das and the TTE have crossed Canada multiple times, and mesmerized audiences in India and Australia with their intricate grooves and modern, high-energy approach. They have released eight original studio albums that have garnered Global Music Awards, Independent Music Awards and Ethnic Media Awards. Their 2020 album Bhumika earned the group a nomination for Best World and Best Instrumental Group at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Their compositions have been licensed for commercials, films, and as the theme music for CBC Radio’s daily Metro Morning.
But Das has never rested on those laurels. A restless artist, he is already looking ahead to his next solo release — a radio-station theme is already in the air— along with new orchestral compositions, film scoring opportunities, and a return to the performing world with the Ensemble. Stay tuned for the sequel.