Imagine the feeling of being the first female musician to play in post war torn Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime. It's 2005 and the country has just ended a period of darkness and despair, desperate for the future and desperate for better times. They say music has the power to heal and always up for a challenge, you take the stage looking at the many faces of hope throughout your audience. The music is cued, the pages of history are written, and so begins the healing. This is the story of world renowned tabla player Suphala.
Suphala started her musical journey at age 4 learning classical piano. Not wanting to be bound by just one musical style, Suphala decided to explore the limitless improvisational opportunities the tabla presented. She soon became a protégé under the great tabla masters Ustad Allarakha and Ustad Zakir Hussain. Through her love for music, her magical bond with the tabla, and her tireless drive to share her gifts with the world, Suphala has risen to one of the great tablas players in the world and has helped bring the tabla sound to our doorsteps.
Her first album The Now released in 2005 has gained critical acclaim and respect of fellow musicians from around the world. She has also collaborated with Niladri Kumar, Norah Jones, Vernon Reid, Vikter Duplaix, Carol C, Dana Leong, Mazz Swift, Salim Merchant, Marvin Swell, DJ Kiva, and Vijay Prakash to name but a few. Timbaland himself also recognized the talents of Suphala and in 2004 she flew to Miami to play for him:
I had the honor of being able to talk with Suphala about the her musical journey, her expereince with Timbaland, and the future for tabla music:
J Boogie: How did you get your start in music? I read that you started playing piano at age 4, what made you change to the tablas?
Suphala: I started learning western classical piano at the age of 4. I was playing in competitions and concerts several times a year until about age 18. In my teen years, I became interested in many instruments, but mostly drums and percussion. I wanted to try tabla, and as I learned more about it, became completely enthralled. I was introduced to Zakir Hussain, the great master, early on and when he and his father Ustad Allarakha took me on as a student, there was no turning back for me. Indian Classical music was a whole new way of thinking about music with improvisation at the heart of it.
J Boogie: How did you and Timbaland get in contact and where and when did you meet?
Suphala: The music I produce and write is very modern and influenced by all the styles I listen to and grew up learning. Timbaland heard my music on my friend's Ipod while working in his studio in Miami and flew me down [to Miami] from NY 2 days later.
J Boogie: What did you think of Timbaland as a fellow musician? Were you both equally interested in each other's work?
Suphala: I think Timbaland's music and beats are fabulous. He's made so many amazing tracks and I'm impressed by his long lasting career in the kind of business he's in. He seemed impressed by seeing and hearing the tabla played live for the first time. I know he had sampled it, but I don't think he had seen and heard it up close.
J Boogie: Did he just have you play and he recorded that or did he have you play over certain beats he had already put together?
Suphala: Both. I played on some rough tracks he had as well as just tabla hits.
J Boogie: What was it like to be the first female to play in public in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban? What was it like as a woman and as a musician?
Suphala: My trip to Kabul was definitely a once in a lifetime trip. It was at the brink of a potentially new society popping up in Kabul, with most of the population being young people. The musicians in Afghanistan play Indian Classical music and play the same instruments. Although I was surrounded by male musicians, when it came time to play, we were able to share our knowledge of music and just play. Gender was no longer an issue.
J Boogie: How do you feel the response to world music, specifically tabla based music, has changed through the years? Is it reaching a larger worldwide audience?
Suphala: Tabla based music and "world music" are certainly reaching larger worldwide audiences. With Tabla, it is in large part due to my gurus, Ustad Allarakha and his son Ustad Zakir Hussain. Allarakhaji was the first Tabla player to travel extensively for decades outside of India performing concerts. He played at Woodstock among many other concerts around the world. Zakirji has continued that tradition,
further expanding the popularity of the instrument. Because of Zakirji, there is a whole new crop of tabla players inspired to learn and play.
As for "world music", as you know the music world has become smaller, with the internet and our ability to travel. There are many more collaborations and ways to reach audiences now that did not exist before.
J Boogie: What future projects are in the works for you?
Suphala: I just released my latest album, Blueprint which features many artists including Edie Brickell, King Britt, Harper Simon, Vernon Reid, and more. It is coming out in stores around the world. For now you can buy it on ITunes, CDBaby, or Amazon. Next, I hope to have more collaborations and just keep learning as much as I can.
Make sure to check out Suphala's amazing new album Blueprint available on Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. You can also check her website for news, music, and all up coming events and make sure to stop by her myspace to see some truly incredible performances from all over the globe.
So what Timbaland tracks did Sephala's tablas make it on? That remains a mystery....