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The Journey from Benares to Boston

Overview

A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, Sandeep Das is one of the leading Tabla virtuosos in the world today. Since his debut concert at the age of 17 with legendary Sitarist Pt. Ravi Shankar, Das has established himself as one of India’s top Tabla maestros, building a prolific international reputation that spans over three decades.

In addition to performing at major Indian music festivals with renowned musicians such as Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, and Ust. Amjad Ali Khan, among others, he is one of the unique Indian Classical musicians to expand beyond his traditional roots and collaborate with musicians from across the globe. Das actively performs with and composes for major symphony orchestras, string quartets, jazz musicians, world music ensembles, and many other unique groups with regularly featured concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, the Hollywood Bowl, the Royal Albert Hall, and the Concertgebouw, to name a few.

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Das has performed at prestigious events such as the 150th annual celebration of the UNO at the General Assembly Hall in NYC, the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in Shanghai, the opening ceremony of the 1st Asia Expo in Kunming, China, the World Economic Forum, the BBC Proms, and for visiting dignitaries such as the Queen of England, the Queen of Thailand, the Pope, and various other world leaders. His collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (SRE) for “Sing Me Home” won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album, and he has had two previous Grammy nominations in 2005 and 2009. In 2017, Das received the prestigious Brother Thomas Fellowship and the New England Choice Artist of the Year Award, and in 2018 he was awarded a Live Arts Boston (LAB) Grant from The Boston Foundation. Das is an active recording artist and has recorded on over 20 albums for major labels such as Sony, Virgin Records, and T-Series in many genres including Indian Classical Music, World Music, Orchestral Music, and more.

Das and Yo-Yo Ma during a rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA.

 
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Heritage

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. 

 

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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.

Compositions

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. 

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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.

 

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The first HUM Scholars receive the HUM-Laxness Scholarship in 2013. 

 

Awards, Commissions, and Grants

"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

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