To be accepted by their peers as an accomplished tabla artiste, however still remains a tough task for women players who say that the gender bias still exists. “Being in a male dominated field performing artistes were not ready to accept a female accompanying them on the tabla. They actually thought it was below their dignity!” says 69-year-old Dr Aban Mistry, one of India’s first women tabla players.
A generation later and there has not been much change in the attitude towards women accompanists, says a new generation artiste. Anuradha Pal, a young tabla player says she had a tough time making a mark in the competitive music field.
“Getting people to change their mindset is very difficult. Sometimes, a person who had heard me play the tabla would say, ‘though she is a girl she plays well’ (ladki ho ke bhi accha bajati hai),” says Pal who formed ‘Stree Shakti’, an ensemble of women musicians in 1996.
Stree Shakti combines Hindustani, Carnatic vocal and percussion instruments and represented India at the prestigious Woodstock festival last year.
“Have a strong back and be prepared to take on the rough and tumble. You must deliver more than what is expected of you,” says Pal when asked what would be her advice to girls keen to learn the tabla. However, women who play lead instruments like the sitar, veena and the sarod are more accepted than those playing accompanying instruments.
“I have never faced any problem. I was always encouraged by everyone,” says sarod player Zarin Sharma, adding that there are all women music conferences which have been organised in Mumbai, Bangalore and Bhopal.
“Sometimes it is difficult for organisers of these conferences to get women accompanists,” says the artiste, who received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1988. The situation on the western music scene is however, quite the opposite.
“I never faced any problem. I have been singing since I was a baby and began playing the drums at the age of 21,” says Yasmin Claire Kazi, who has been playing the drums for the past 9 years and is a member of two music bands - Myndsnare and Stranglehold.
“I had tried playing a lot of other instruments but nothing hit home. When I sat down to play the drums it felt like coming home. Since I was already on the music scene as a singer, I got a lot of support from friends,” she says adding that her parents have always supported her decision to be a musician.
Myndsnare is a three-member band based in Bangalore and plays heavy metal. All three band members are leaving for Los Angeles next month to study music.
“Unfortunately there is no structured rock music school in India right now. I now feel the need to learn music from a professional. There is a discipline in learning music at a school,” says Yasmin.
Similarly, a former member of a Delhi-based rock band says that the USP of her band ‘Who’s Jim?’ was that all the members were girls. “It worked in our favour. We were invited to participate in the ‘Rocktave’ competition at BITS Pilani in 2006 because it was an all-girl band,” says Bhumi Ahluwalia, who is now pursuing photography.
One fact remains clear, no matter what kind of music it is, the field is as competitive as any other and hard work and talent is the only combination likely to bring laurels to an artiste.