The Journey from Benares to Boston
Hailed as a “creator of myths with Houdini-like skills” (The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia), Sandeep Das is one of the leading Indian Tabla virtuosos in the world today. A disciple of the legendary Pt, Kishan Maharaj ji of the Banaras Gharana, he debuted at the age of 17 with renowned Sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar ji and went on to lead a prolific international career that now spans more than three decades. He has collaborated with top musicians and ensembles from across the globe such as Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, with whom he has performed for the past 21 years, as well as Paquito D’Rivera, Bobby McFarin, and iconic orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and Chicago Symphony, among others.
A Grammy winning-musician and Guggenheim Fellow, Das’ groundbreaking new music projects sit at the crucible of ancient tradition and modern innovation, enchanting audiences worldwide with “flawless playing” (Songlines Magazine, U.K.) and a “roadmap for irresistible aural adventures” (Downbeat Magazine, USA). His original compositions have been performed in over 50 countries at venues like China’s Forbidden City Concert Hall, Australia’s Sydney Opera House, and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. Transcending Borders One Note at a Time, his most recent project, was launched in 2020 to widespread international acclaim, and seeks to harness the power of music to create positive social change.
Das and Yo-Yo Ma during a rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA.
Das is an exponent of the Benares Gharana (school) of Tabla, which was established in the 1700s by Pt. Ram Sahai in continuation of an Indian drumming tradition that has been passed down from Guru (teacher) to Shishya (student) for millennia. Starting at the age of 7, Das trained intensely for 12 years in the ancient “Guru-Shishya Parampara” by living with his Guru, the legendary Pt. Kishan Maharaj of Benares, India, and learning and practicing music as a way of life, rather than an isolated art form.
After establishing himself as an artist and receiving the directive from his Guru, Das began teaching disciples in India the same way he had been taught– orally, without the use of books or notations. His teaching activities continued throughout his career, and he formally founded Das Tabla School (DTS) shortly after moving to the US in 2015. Today, DTS maintains an active community of disciples who learn from Das in Boston, MA, in addition to many who call in from across the US and internationally from countries such as India, China, Australia, and Canada. In 2017, DTS held the first “Das Music Camp”, which has since become an annual Indian Classical Music intensive that takes place for several days each year in the Northeastern US, and allows musicians, composers, and dancers of all skill levels and genres to learn from Das and other renowned faculty in a manner very similar to the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara.
The young Das (right) on the day he was initiated as a disciple of his Guru, Pt. Kishan Maharaj (left).
Das’ training and life experiences provide a unique educational opportunity for students and ensembles to learn from, and he frequently gives masterclasses and residencies at schools and universities throughout the world such as Dartmouth, Brandeis, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Clara, College of the Holy Cross, Juilliard School of Music, Berklee College of Music, and UC British Columbia. He has also taught at the annual Arts and Passion Driven Learning Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the past 8 years, and has been a keynote speaker or invited speaker at other prestigious events such the New York Encounter, the annual E.G. Conference in California, the Abu Dhabi Cultural Summit in the United Arab Emirates, the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art’s Asian Cultural Heritage Month, and the United States Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony at Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA.
Das has composed several pieces combining both percussion and melody. Two of his most recent compositions, Vaishnavi (original composition) and Vairocana (co-composition with Sheng player Wu Tong), were commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art and can be heard on display near the statue of Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi in the museum gallery. Soul Mitra was made possible by a Live Arts Boston grant from the Boston Foundation and recently premiered at California Institute of the Arts and in Boston, and King Ashoka (2016) was premiered at UC Santa Barbara by Yo-Yo Ma and the SRE and subsequently toured in Asia.
Tarang was chosen as the theme music for “Blind Sight,” a documentary about the first Everest climb by six blind climbers, and Mohini became the theme music for the Japanese TV channel NHK’s 10-episode documentary on the Silk Road. Srishti, a percussive rich composition, has been toured extensively worldwide, and in 2008 it was performed at the United Nations General Assembly Hall for the annual United Nations Day Concert.
Harmony and Universality through Music (HUM)
Founded by Das in 2009, HUM’s mission is two-fold: to promote global understanding through performance and education, and to provide learning opportunities and scholarships for specially-abled children with potential in any genre of art to empower them to lead self-reliant lives. Since its inception, HUM has grown in size and now supports nine specially-abled children through a National Scholarship, the first of its kind in India.
The HUM Ensemble is the branch of HUM that creates and tours World Music in innovative combinations and instrumentations. Its debut concert took place in New Delhi, and by popular demand it continued performing throughout India in major cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. The ensemble has since expanded to a global scale, performing at venues like the Europalia Festival in Brussels, Cal Performances in Berkeley, California, and other venues throughout the US, in addition to regular invitations for residencies and masterclasses by major universities.
The first HUM Scholars receive the HUM-Laxness Scholarship in 2013.
Awards, Commissions, and Grants
"Master Artist" for SNEAP Grant
Connecticut Historical Society | 2022-23
"Master Artist" for Traditional Arts Apprenticeship
Massachusetts Cultural Council | 2021-22
Vaishnavi is Commissioned
National Museum of Asian Art | 2018
Brother Thomas Fellowship
The Boston Foundation | 2017
GRAMMY for Best World Music Album
SILKROAD | 2017
Mohini Appears on a Documentary
NHK Japan | 2010
Tarang Appears on a Documentary
"Blindsight" | 2008
Srishti is Commissioned
SILKROAD | 2005
Bihar Ratna ("Jewel of Bihar")
Govern of Bihar, India | 1995
Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship
Massachusetts Cultural Council | 2022
Guggenheim Fellow in Music Composition
The Guggenheim Foundation | 2019-2020
Live Arts Boston Grant
The Boston Foundation | 2018
New England Artist of the Year Award
New England Choice Awards | 2017
King Ashoka is Commissioned
SILKROAD | 2016
HUM is Certified as an Organization
Government of India | 2009
Mohini is Commissioned
SILKROAD | 2006
Tarang is Commissioned
Yo-Yo Ma | 2002