Toronto Tabla Ensemble are having a party with some Unexpected Guests on their newest album — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
Across the release’s seven tracks, the critically acclaimed group of artists weave a variety of instruments, from percussion to bagpipe, piano to taiko, sarod to flute, and more, with their signature sound rooted by the traditional tabla.
“This album is a simple one,” TTE founder and artistic director Ritesh Das says. ”Most of the tracks are in very straightforward 4/4 grooves. On our other albums, you had tracks with different time signatures that made it really intellectual and complicated. I wanted this one to be something that anyone can sit back and listen to and enjoy.”
Along with delivering the most approachable songs in their vast repertoire, Unexpected Guests is their latest in a series of boldly collaborative and sonically expansive works. In keeping with its eye-opener title, the immersive and diverse album finds Das and the TTE hosting a party of musical visitors: Enter The Haggis bagpipe player Craig Downie, Japanese Taiko ensemble Nagata Shachu, singer Maryem Hassan Tollar, violinist Raaginder Singh Momi, flautist Alysha Addetia and more.
Toronto Tabla Ensemble have previously released six original studio albums, including their Juno-nominated 2000 album Firedance, and Global Music Award and Independent Music Award-winning 2018 release, Bhumika. Das and the TTE teamed up with Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin for the 2007 concert DVD Live At The Enmore Theatre, and their compositions have been licensed for commercials, films, and as theme music.
It’s this furthering of collaborative approach — plus a love of musical exchange — that allows members and audiences to learn about other cultures and unites people at a time when our world has never been more divided. “By collaborating, you create awareness,” says Das. “And through awareness comes respect.”
When you hear the track Unexpected Guests, it’s not hard to imagine why the music video features groups of Scottish and Indian dancers. Co-composed by Downie — who not only incorporated a traditional strathspey (dance tune which is named after the Spey River in north-east Scotland) and a reel (an energetic type of dance popular in Scottish, Irish, English and Quebecois folk music) — the beginning and end of the song were composed in memory of Ellen Wilkes Irmisch, a highland dancer and stage actor from the Tartan Terrors.
“In October 2019, we started by researching Scottish dance and came across some videos of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society with a branch right here in Toronto,” TTE’s manager and film director Melissa Das-Arp shares. “Seeing people of all ages and backgrounds dancing wearing their tartans and sashes, we knew it could work but… Would they be open to the idea of dancing in a Toronto Tabla Ensemble music video? Lucky for us, they were intrigued and wanted to learn more. We attended a few meetings and even participated in one of the dances. When we played Unexpected Guests for them, dancers between ages of 15 and 75 got up and joyfully danced around the room already beginning to work out choreography. That’s when we knew we were in business!”