Video | Watch Two of the World’s Best Tabla Players (Who Also Happen to Be Father and Son)

By Stephen Raskauskas |

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Anubrata Chatterjee (left) and Anindo Chatterjee (right) perform in the WFMT Levin Studio

When Anubrata Chatterjee was a child, he didn’t realize that his father, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, is one of the greatest percussionists in the world. “When you belong to such an illustrious family, you get to meet a lot of legends and superstars in their field. But you meet them as, say, an uncle, or a friend. It’s often not until you encounter them much later that you realize they’re important musicians.”

“I was probably about 8 years old,” he said, “when I started to realize the magnitude of my father’s importance and the following that he has. I realized I better get things going for myself!”

Anubrata’s debut as a performer was by accident. The eminent flutist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia invited him to join him on stage in front of an audience of thousands.

His father Anindo said, “I told Chaurasia that he hasn’t really studied that much,” but he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the stage.’”

Anindo said, “His mom used to make him practice but I thought that he didn’t need much time. He got a lot of his training on stage, like the sons of many maestros.”

Anubrata explained: “A lioness takes the cubs to hunt, and the cubs learn by watching. That’s how a lot of Indian classical musicians learn. You learn more on stage than through formal training.”

“A lot of our classical music is about studying people,” Anubrata added. Anindo echoed his son’s sentiment, saying, “You need to know the character of the other musicians you are playing with so you can follow them. Every musician is different. I cannot play the same way with two different musicians.”

Though Anindo and Anubrata are father and son, even they cannot play the same way.

Anubrata said his father is “so special as a human being. He is known for being modest and down-to-earth, and has always been from the time he first stepped into the limelight to the time when he became a legend. His typical sweetness finds its way into his playing. That’s what is unique about his playing, aside from his contributions to the field of tabla.”

Anindo went on to praise his son, explaining what makes his playing unique. “His sense of anticipation is very good. He understands what I want before even I know what I want. He is very sharp, he’s a very good listener. He doesn’t imitate me 100%. He plays his own way. His playing is very sharp. The shape of his hand is different, his manner of presentation is different. He also plays different kinds of compositions than me.”

“He’s organic food – I’m processed food,” Anubrata said.

Anubrata lamented that his father’s other students “come once a week or twice a month. But I’m at home practicing, so I have few chances to practice something the wrong way.” But Anindo insisted, “I treat him the same way I treat my other students and the same way my teacher treated me.” He continued, “I don’t listen to his practice, but if we’re playing together on stage for an hour and a half, he usually gets an hour lecture when we get home. Why didn’t you do this? You did do this good. You didn’t do this good.”

Like their playing, their verbal exchanges are lively and surprising, but always full of love and generosity.

In the video below, watch the Chatterjees performing some rhythmic grooves together in a 16-beat cycle to rag Kafi. Rohan Misra, son of one the modern masters of sarangi, Ramesh Misra, accompanies the Chatterjees. Anindo said, “When all the great tabla players wanted a sarangi, they wanted Ramesh Misra. Rohan has a very sweet hand like his father, and he will also be one of the favorites of table players I am quite sure.”

These artists performed during the 2017 World Music Festival Chicago.