Indian tabla player Girish Makwana tells Shveata Chandel Singh how he got hooked to the world of rhythm
Girish Makwana wears his addiction on his sleeve. It’s Indian classical music, says the table player from Gujarat, India, who in 1999, became the first musician from an Indian classical background to be accepted into the PhD program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, with the aim of producing an electronic version of the tabla tarang, a rare and neglected percussion instrument.
After coming to Australia, Makwana did his masters at RMIT in Melbourne, majoring in Film & TV Production, and then followed that up with a diploma in Screen and Media from the same university. He simultaneously did a few other advanced courses related to music.
In 2005, Makwana started Tihai, an Indian classical music group, which now has three members, the other two being Saby Bhattacharya (sarod) and Nicolas Buff (saxophone). “Our main focus is Indian classical music, and since 2005, we have done more than 200 performances, the more notable among them being at the Darebin Music Festival, Quiet Music festival, Boait Spring Festival, and the Bollywood Music Festival at Castlemaine,” he says.
And to think this table maestro, who has travelled the world, and given so many performances, suffered a polio attack at the age of one and half years, which affected one of his legs.
Makwana, who did not let his disability hinder him in any way, began his musical journey at home with his father being his ‘first guru’. “My mother focussed on teaching me literature, while my father, who was a writer, gave me a basic education in classical music. He taught me to play the harmonium and sing. My grandfather was also a very good singer and used to sing devotional songs, so I can say music is in my blood,” says Makwana, who started learning music both vocal and instrumental music at the age of five.
“I started learning how to play the table at the age of 9, and I was 14 years old when I gave my first public performance. I was paid Rs 75 for that performance, and I started performing all through my years in school,” says Makwana, who also has a Bachelors degree in Microbiology from Gujarat University. “But I was not content with just a microbiology degree. I always yearned to learn music and so did my Bachelors in Performing Arts in Music, and later did a Masters in Performing Arts (Music) at MS University of Baroda,” says Makwana.
Makwana and his troupe have performed in various countries around the world from New Zealand, Singapore, and Kenya, to Tanzania and South Africa, and with a variety of musicians from many backgrounds, from Indian classical to jazz and from western classical to electronic. “I have also performed with many Indian classical musicians including Pandit Kamlesh Maitra (tabla tarang), Manahar Udhas (vocal), Pt. Purshottam Upaddhay (vocal), Pt. Suvranlata Rao (sitar), and Kanchan Verma (sarod).
Makwana has also worked with Nigel MacLean, musician and composer of short film “Forged”.
“Music has been a way of life for me,” says Makwana.