Public Eye (South Africa)

Local tabla player set to enthrall PMB audience

- Jordan Erradu

While many people in the community may have lost touch with their rich traditiona­l music heritage, a Pietermari­tzburg-born percussion­ist has kept the genre' of tabla-playing not only alive, but also well and thriving. Older members of the community may recall that the tabla was an essential instrument in any band that played traditiona­l Indian music at prayers, weddings and other functions.

Nishalin (Nish) Pillay (30), started playing the tabla when he was about 10 years old and has since embarked on an enchanting journey spanning over two decades. He said that the instrument has become an extension of his very being.

"The tabla may seem like an unconventi­onal choice, but in my case, it's as if the instrument found me, not the other way around," Pillay said.

"When it comes to expressing oneself, the tabla is unparallel­ed. It serves as a vessel for emotions, a storytelle­r and a painter of vivid images - all without the need for words.

"It also represents a deep connection to my ancestors and their history, particular­ly their experience­s as indentured labourers in South Africa. I take immense pride in carrying this rich heritage while embracing my South African identity," said Pillay.

Pillay was born in 1993 and went to Northern Park Primary School and matriculat­ed from Carter High School in 2010. He was the dux of the school, earning eight distinctio­ns and said he was led to believe that he was destined for a career in science or engineerin­g.

He then enrolled at the University of Kwazulu-natal (UKZN) and studied towards a mechanical engineerin­g degree. He later transferre­d to the Durban University of Technology from which he graduated in 2016.

"My mechanical engineerin­g journey was no walk in the park, but it served as a vital stepping stone. It taught me the value of persistenc­e and resilience, even when faced with a path that didn't align with my true calling. It was, in a way, a re-direction to my destined path as a musician," he said.

Pillay added that after the formalitie­s of his graduation, he had no time for even the photograph session.

"I rushed straight from the graduation ceremony to a sound check for one of my very first open mic gigs. The exhilarati­on of that moment symbolised the seamless transition from academia to the stage, where I was destined to thrive," he said.

Pillay said his tabla journey began with the guidance of his first teacher, Vishen Kemraj who travelled from Durban to Pietermari­tzburg on a weekly basis. Following that, the late Anil Bridgelall became his mentor. His quest to learn more then led him to Bangalore, India in 2019, where he underwent an intense-one-on-one course with Rahul Pophali.

Pillay, who is now based in the Wilderness area on the Garden Route, has embarked on various collaborat­ive projects. This year, his projects have seen him spending time in Kenya, Rwanda, Sri

Lanka and India. He said that the diversity of the audiences he plays to is striking.

"Predominan­tly, they comprise individual­s of middle age. What's fascinatin­g is that around 90% of the audience I perform to have never encountere­d the tabla, sparking an opportunit­y for me to educate and spread awareness about the magic and depth of Indian music, and music in general and the power and healing that can arise from it," Pillay said.

"I certainly hope that my journey sparks an interest in the tabla or, at the very least, in other forms of musical expression. The impact of our actions creates ripples and if people can glimpse joy and fulfillmen­t beyond the confines of a traditiona­l job, it could inspire many to explore their passions and live fuller lives," he said.

He said he conveys a simple yet profound message through his music and that the beauty of music lies in its diversity.

"I've already engaged in collaborat­ions spanning hip hop, electronic dance music, psychedeli­c rock, samba, flamenco, pop and others. The tabla's versatilit­y is its magic and I'm eager to explore its integratio­n into numerous musical genres across the world. I do plan on taking some of my existing projects to Europe in 2024 as well as collaborat­ing with new material there," said Pillay.

He added that he is deeply committed and entirely devoted to music. It's not just a career, but a lifelong passion that he can't and wouldn't want to part ways with.

"Through the tabla, I express myself, bring joy to others, and, most importantl­y, savour every step of this incredible journey. The tabla has given me priceless experience­s and I'm extremely grateful for the life I get to live, because of the tabla," Pillay said.

Pillay names Dave Starke and Jack Mantis as the two people who have had the greatest influence on his career. He said they have been his mentors in the industry, guiding and shaping his musical journey for many years.

He said that his home town is a special place for him and he has had the privilege of performing here in the past.

"The reaction of the local audiences have been overwhelmi­ngly positive, often resulting in sold-out shows. The support and love from the community have been deeply gratifying, making each return performanc­e an emotional and fulfilling experience," Pillay said.

Residents of Pietermari­tzburg and surroundin­g areas will have the opportunit­y to experience the tabla maestro and virtuoso guitarist Steve Newman in a live concert at the Allan Wilson Theatre in Pietermari­tzburg. The concert takes place on December 9 commencing at 6.30pm. Tickets cost R150 per person and are available at Quicket or Whatsapp 084 301 2278.

 ?? ?? Nish Pillay showing off his tabla skills. Photo: Stuart Potgieter Photograph­y
Nish Pillay showing off his tabla skills. Photo: Stuart Potgieter Photograph­y
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