Famed tabla musician to perform and build bridges at RIT

Grammy winner Sandeep Das and his ensemble present “Delhi to Kabul” March 29

Travis LaCoss/RIT

Indian Tabla player Sandeep Das led a master class with RIT student musicians last spring. He returns this year with his Harmony and Universality through Music ensemble. They will present a free concert at RIT on Friday, March 29, in Ingle Auditorium.

Sandeep Das, a Grammy-winning musician and internationally known master of the Indian tabla, will work with students and give a concert at Rochester Institute of Technology during a four-day artist-in-residency.

He’ll be joined by world-class North Indian Classical and Afghani artists, who aim to foster cultural curiosity and community conversations.

Das is the founder of Harmony and Universality through Music (HUM), a nonprofit organization that promotes global understanding through music performance and provides learning opportunities and scholarships for visually impaired children with artistic potential.

Das, whose daughter Sonakshi Das is a third-year business student at RIT, gave a concert at RIT last year. He returns this year to teach two master classes, a dance workshop, participate in a panel discussion, and perform a concert at 8 p.m. on March 29 in Ingle Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public.

School of Performing Arts Director Erica Haskell expects his events will draw students from the sizable Indian community on campus (which has 982 international students from India attending RIT this year) as well as from the greater Rochester area.

Sandhya Vaidyanathan, who graduates in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, co-founded RIT Awareness in Music (AIM) in 2022. This student-run performing arts club is dedicated to fostering musical awareness of Indian and South Asian classical styles of music to the RIT community.

Vaidyanahan, of Chennai, India, says Das and his ensemble’s music inspires her with their theme, “transcending borders,” bringing together unique instruments and different music styles.

“I’m also always in awe of how effortlessly he blends in the tabla in all the fusion music he performs,” she said. “They are going to be playing instruments we probably haven’t heard. We will be exposed to new sounds, new song structure, new scales, and see a new way of interaction between the musicians. The concert is definitely a rare opportunity to witness fusion music from India and Afghanistan live.”

Nominated for Grammy awards in 2005 and 2009, Das won “Best World Music Album” in 2017 for his collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma for “The Silk Road Ensemble–Sing Me Home.”

Das started playing the tabla when he was 6 years old.

“There was a complaint from my school and my father was called into the principal’s quarters because I was constantly tapping my hands on the desks,” Das said. “I stopped tapping my hands, but started tapping with my feet. So my father went out and bought me a tabla. They say you don’t choose an instrument, the instrument chooses you.”

Since then, he has performed with numerous symphony orchestras around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“The tabla makes an incredible sound, unlike any other drum,” he said. “This instrument has a soul. It almost speaks a human language.”

Das said people who attend the concert will leave feeling happy, and he’s grateful they will be supporting live music.

“What I’m purely hoping to accomplish at any concert is for them to see the sheer joy, love, and happiness that we have, without any concerns about who we are, what our given names are, and where we come from,” he said. “Sharing, caring, and loving is what I’m hoping to share.”

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