And then I think the next highlights were performing in film soundtracks. I began to be booked by Hollywood film producers, and also British ones, to play tabla in film scores and it made me realise that what people want from the tabla is the sound. So then I began to focus on being more of a sound merchant, which again sparked my curiosity and kept me still working on the tabla notation.
And then I think the final highlight in that sort of chapter of my life was receiving an MBE, which was mind-blowing, I have to say. Having been someone who caught polio at a very early age and I suffered a bit of abuse for that and then getting a job that my father really wanted for me and then leaving that job to choose something that my father thought was absolutely bonkers and then getting an MBE for that, was a real – it was just somebody saying to me, ‘you’re on the right track.’ So, yeah, I’ve had many joys and experiences – but those are the real highlights.
CH: Was your father pleased when you got the two-year job in Bombay Dreams? Did he think ‘oh, at least he’s got a regular job now?’
KB: Yeah, my father – he’s still very wonderful – he’s an engineer, so you know, when I’m sitting in my recording studio twiddling knobs and moving faders, he has no idea what I’m doing. But when I go out to a gig, he understands that because I’ve gone out to go to work, and then I come back. I think getting MBE was the real validation there. The amusing thing is that shortly after being honoured with an MBE, I was awarded an honorary doctorate from Exeter University so my father could finally say ‘my son’s a doctor!’ So anyway, he’s very proud of me now. He knows that I must be good at what I’m doing, because the Queen says I am!
CH: Very interesting how influential our parents are! So, perhaps just thinking back to 2018 which was when you and I met, you played in our first concert – I’d really love to know why you agreed to play with us in the first place.
KB: Well, there are a few reasons actually why I liked the idea of playing with NW Live. First of all, the company name has got the word ‘Live’ in it. I strongly believe that music is best live. Also, when I went to watch classical concerts at the Southbank or the Royal Albert Hall, I noticed that there was a very strong division between the audience and the performers. In an Indian music setting, it’s a very intimate process- when the musicians are performing, the audience members are participating in that. What attracts me about NW Live is the idea of taking music out to people, to the point that it’s nearly interactive – people are so close that they get the pure energy of the music and the performers feed off of that. And then there’s music that has unusual line-ups of instruments.
Also I thought, here’s an opportunity to have tabla music with a string quartet. Rather than a mix, it’s more likely to be something completely new. I love the overall selection of music of the NW Live programmes: ‘classical’ music – what people would expect classical music to be; and then other types of music such as tabla or kora music, which then come together. I can see the opportunity for me to bring my tablas into an environment where it’s no longer Indian, it’s just a bongo drum that makes a really nice sound. Other historically geolocated instruments – piano, guitar, marimba – have somehow transcended the boundary of their origins, but Indian music hasn’t really yet. We’re still obsessed with this East-meets-West idea, and I don’t think it does anyone any favours. East met West 200 years ago!