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June 18, 2009

Kalyan Pathak: The Beatles, the Tabla, and Ragazz


Kalyan Pathak with Chicago-based jazz/drum-and-bass fusion group Drop Q.

John Oseid is on vacation. In this week's Boom Box, Stop Press intern Tara Kalmanson shares her passion for world music.

In 1969 in Ahmadabad, Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak's father ran into Frank Zachary, a broke 30-year-old American hippie with jaundice lying outside Khas Bazaar in 115-degree heat. After a long conversation about their shared love of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Pathak's father took his new friend home to nurse him back to health. Zachary named himself Pondurenga Das (Devotee of Krisna) and ended up clearing out the family's small attic and renting it for six months, during which he educated four-year-old Pathak in modern American music. When Pondurenga left for a couple months to study yoga in New Delhi, all Pathak wanted was "a drum like Ringo Starr"--Pondurenga brought him back his first snare drum.

Pathak had already been training in the double-headed North Indian drum called the tabla from age three, and by his early teens was so good that his teachers told him to give up on Western music and devote 12 hours a day to tabla study. Instead, Pathak gave up on his teachers and trained himself, eventually earning a scholarship to study jazz at Roosevelt University, in Chicago. He still lives in Chicago today, where he has played beside the likes of Aretha Franklin, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and Fareed Haque.

The result of this lifelong musical odyssey? A new genre: ragazz.

After noticing the similarities between ragas of India and the jazz rhythms of the U.S., Pathak began adding ingredients of each to invent his own sound. It's not just jazz with raga notes, nor is it a raga played by a saxophone player. Check out Pathak's The Shape of Ragazz to Come: You'll find the basic structural elements of both genres; the harmony in jazz and the characteristic moods of each raga melody. Look for subtle influences from African music, blues, and flamenco, too, which Pathak peppers with North Indian flavor. For a real treat, catch him live in Berwyn, IL, on July 4, when he will play percussion with Tributosaurus at FitzGerald's nightclub's American Music Festival.

More music:
* If you can't wait until July to hear Indian beats, check out Red Baraat, a "dhol 'n' brass" band that combines bhangra and brass funk using the sounds of the dhol, another traditional North Indian drum, with a couple saxophones, a trombone, trumpet, sousaphone, and percussion. They'll be playing tonight at DJ Rekha's Basement Bhangra at SOB's in New York City.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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