British-Indian singer and artist Sheila Chandra demonstrates a spectacular exercise in tone and rhythm with this lightning-fast vocal percussion song. Her voice mimics the tabla drums. In addition, she is saying the name of the note of each beat.
At one point you see her repeat the same phrase adding beats – that is the sort of playfulness this exceptionally difficult music bases itself around.
In this video, Maresa Moglia and Chandra Libralesso dance to another taal of Sheila.
What is a taal?
‘Taal’ or ‘tala’ is Sanskrit and literally means ‘clap’ or ‘rhythm’, used in Hindustani and Indian classical music. It’s a rhythmic cycle of beats with an ebb and flow of various types of intonations resounded normally on a percussive instrument.
But it is also applied to stylish and popular vocal percussive performances such as Chandra’s. It is the vocal emulation of percussion instruments, particularly the tabla, with each strike having a specific sound and vocal/written equivalent.
Tabla players have to be able to vocalise their rhythms before they can play them hence this is how the they learn drum beats before they play the beats.
Indian classical music has complex, all-embracing rules for the elaboration of possible patterns, though in practice a few talas are very common while others are rare. The most common tala in Hindustani classical music is ‘Teental’, a cycle of four measures of four beats each.One might call it the Indian version of hiphop’s beatbox, except talas are more formal and exceedingly hard to learn.
And last but not least, enjoy the breathtaking ‘Ever so Lonely‘ performed live by Sheila Chandra. She and Steve Coe‘s formed an Asian fusion band called Monsoon in 1981. They had a Top Ten hit in the UK with this first single when Sheila was 16.