Profiling World Music Composer: Pandit Divyang Vakil
Pandit Divyang Vakil is creating a new style of classical music presentation, and thereby introducing traditional Indian music to a new generation of listeners. An innovative composer of world music – with a concentration in South Asian percussion – Vakilʼs musical expertise is boundless.
Indian classical music is a time-honored musical genre known for its emphasis on tonal perfection and melodic improvisation. While Indian classical music has gained in popularity in recent years, it still has a long way to go before it reaches a major number of western ears.
Divyang Vakilʼs compositions seem to address this very issue. His percussion ensemble performances include the authenticity, precision and technical identity of pure Indian classical music. Yet, with the energetic and elaborate arrangements, up-tempo twists and turns, and exciting rhythmic exchanges between the performers, the performances also possess a fresh and deﬁnite contemporary feel. Vakil has merged the depth and mastery of Indian classical percussion with the energy and appeal of contemporary drumming, without compromising the true distinction of the art. His is a brilliant approach and the work of a master composer.
This is very evident in his latest masterpiece, Talavya. Talavya is a four-member tabla ensemble concert composed and directed by Vakil, and currently being performed in cities across the United States. In the hour-and-15 minute long presentation, the four classically trained musicians play original compositions in total synchronicity and precision. Traditional tabla has certainly never before been showcased in this way.
Vakil has made tabla music almost…fashionable. And in doing so, his work has created a new generation of classical music enthusiasts. Teenagers and college-students are commonplace at Talavya concerts. Roughly half of the packed hall at Symphony Space in Manhattan on April 29th were non-Indian young adults. Following the show, New Jersey native Brian Krutzel remarked, “Iʼve been to Indian classical instrumental concerts before…. but Iʼve never seen tabla being played like this!”
Even avid classical music aﬁcionados can not deny the brilliance of Divyang Vakilʼs works. “We have had many legends grace our stage, but never have they had the response (from the audience) that I have seen today. I have never heard tabla in this way before,” says Mr. D. Archarya of the Indian Institute of Technology.
Audience member Amit Jain of Portland, Oregon says, “My grandparents saw the Talavya show in Portland. They are both big time Hindustani classical music enthusiasts. And they loved the show!”
Pandit Divyang Vakil has composed roughly eight full-length instrumental ensemble pieces for the international stage. A recent piece was a collaboration with renown South Korean musician Yu Kyung-hwa. Pandit Vakil composed a piece for Yu to play on the traditional Korean instrument, the cheolhyeongeum, and set it to popular Indian rhythms. The piece debuted in February 2011 at Rhythm Riders Music Institute in Ahmedabad, India. The collaboration was such a success that Vakil was invited to Seoul the following month to compose and teach Indian rhythms and theory to Korean artists in an international music exchange program. Vakil’s work made a profound impact on the music scene in Seoul, and once again, he brought Indian classical music to a completely new audience.
Vakil’s work is significant not only in its complex and masterful compositions, but also because of the new audiences it attracts. By putting a contemporary spin on Indian classical music presentation, Vakil has introduced the beautiful and rich Indian classical art to an increasing number of listeners of varying ages and backgrounds.
Sejal Kukadia is a New Yorker and a faculty member at the Taalim School of Indian Music. She is passionate about Indian Classical Music and has written several works on this subject, including Tabla Taalim, published in 2009.