Jungle music and Hindustani classical tabla playing have some really striking similarities.
Listen to We‘s jungle masterpiece Magnesium Flares, and Zakir Hussain & Alla Rakha’s Lineage tabla duet. Both are both based around intense 16-beat percussion loops, with rapid and unpredictable drum syncopation taking up the central listening position usually occupied by melody. This is surprisingly rare in music, but is fundamental to both tintal-rhythm tabla recitals and jungle/DnB. The styles regularly hit 160-180bpm, and overall instrumental textures are similar: busy percussion in the mids, ambient harmonic colour floating in the background, and a clearly distinct level of superdeep quasi-melodic bass. The tracks above are composed of little else.
Both styles feature heavy drops, and multi-layered rhythm voicings are common in jugalbandi percussion duets as well as the more complex corners of jungle (hear Amon’s hint of Indian melodic flavour in there?). The percussion textures of both genres summon up sounds of water – although tabla is often said to evoke monsoon rain and streams, while the heavier splash of jungle cymbals is probably closer to a cascade of rocks falling into a lake:
Tabla’s bol percussion language and Ragga jungle’s MCing serve pretty similar functions – they are primarily about defining accents and rhythmic flow, rather than communicating via the usual linguistic meanings of words. I’ll let you decide whether MC Demolition Man or Pandit Yogesh Samsi has the better flow:
That being said, there are other ways to conjure up precise images from bols – Zakir Hussain can sketch a cannon, a galloping horse, a deer searching for food, and a steam train. In fact the rela (‘rushing’) category of tabla’s core repertoire acts as an aural history of North India, aiming among other things to evoke the sounds of Colonial railways, with many compositions explicitly aiming to mimic the sound of the new technology as it spread across North India. The first tracks were laid in the 1850s, but recorded sound did not reach India for another generation – tabla’s versatile sound palette allowed the vivid new rhythms to be captured and shared.
It’s also intriguing that UK Apache (jungle’s Original Nuttah MC, describes: ‘performing…[while] doing the call to prayer at my mosque in Tooting’. Although the link to tabla is not direct, it is pleasing to know that the Islamic devotional music which profoundly influenced Hindustani performance also left its mark on a bonafide jungle classic.
And Pandit Lacchu Maharaj’s pre-performance ritual definitely has one similarity with the UK’s Jamaican-infused Ragga subculture. Lacchu is among the absolute funkiest of individuals, and it was an honour for me to briefly study tabla in Varanasi under a branch of his Benares gharana lineage:
Tabla and jungle share yet more direct similarities when it comes to physical performance. Whether the musician is positioned behind a pair of turntables or drums, they may well be playing for dancers in front of them (although raving and kathak are otherwise on opposite ends of the spectrum). At their best then both genres evoke a sense of immersive and spiritual fun, and given the similarity of their core elements then it is no coincidence that they both mix particularly well with jazz.
So I’ve had a go at laying down some Rāga Jungle, by fusing up some classic oldskool drum breaks with the kayada compositions I learnt while studying tabla under the Mishra lineage in Benares, as well as my sloppy personal variant of the South Indian konnakol language (more on this soon). Tendonitis issues and having a day job limit my own ability to become a real tabla master, but someone who can play them properly should explore this further – you will have some incredible fun.
[Rāga Jungle audio/video forthcoming, i.e. let me get my shit together]
Tablas & Rāgas – YT playlist (73 mins):
- Lineage – Zakir Hussain & Alla Rakha
- Tintal (Ahmedabad) – Zakir Hussain
- Rāag Kalavati: Jhalla – Rahul Sharma & Shaafat Ahmed Khan
- Rāag Jog: Darbar 2010 – Shivkumar Sharma & Anindo Chatterjee
- Masters of Percussion – Zakir Hussain & Ensemble
- Rāag Jog: Dhun Gat – Sangeeta Shankar & Ramkumar Mishra
- Vintage Tintal Solo – Zakir Hussain
- Limitless Tabla: Darbar 2013 – Yogesh Samsi
- Tintal Solo – Lacchu Maharaj
- What Need Have I For This? … – Shakti
Beautifully Crafted Jungle – YT playlist (77 mins):
- Magnesium Flares – We
- Animal Chin – Jaga Jazzist
- Fire (Urban Shakedown Mix) – MC Demolition Man
- Original Nuttah – Shy FX
- Timbre VIP – Stray
- Secret Liaison – Source Direct
- Sea of Tears – Goldie
- Disappeared 2 – Spring Heel Jack
- Stoney Street – Amon Tobin
- Sutrix – Talvin Singh
- Amenta – Method of Defiance
- Mission – Amon Tobin
Shuffling the combined playlist also works great.