Swarupa AnanthIn vibrant rhythms, her hands move,It beats like thunder, her skills groove,Adorned in grace, their art takes flight,Tabla's symphony, a mesmerizing sight.
She is Teejh and this is her story.
Swarupa Ananth Sawkar is a percussionist and producer who has left an indelible mark on the music industry. Ranked in Forbes India's 30 under 30 list, she emerged as a talent mentored by the legendary Ustad Allarakha. To share the knowledge she gathered over the years, Swarupa launched Tablanaari's School of Music, embarking on an entrepreneurial ride. We had a quick rendezvous with the Tabla prodigy to get a glimpse of her journey and nonetheless her insights on how she relates with TEEJH.
When was the first time you played Tabla on stage?
The first time I played the Tabla on stage was when I was around 10 years old. I vividly remember this small concert I performed in; it was organized by a bank where my mom used to work. I rushed there right after school, still in my school uniform, and played my heart out. I was approximately 10 years old at the time. So, that's the distinct memory I have of my concert.
How do you find creative inspiration?
For me – everything around me is an inspiration. Everything — The environment around you, looking out of the window, the trees, the scenery that you see, the traffic that you see in the city of Mumbai, my son calling out to me – “Mumma Mumma” for thousand times. For me, everything is a part of creative inspiration. I live these everyday moments and for me I make music in these everyday moments.
How important do you feel mentorship is in carving a musician’s path?
I think mentorship is very important especially in your initial learning days because as a student of music, there’s a lot you’re exposed to. You look at a lot of artists around you, there’s a lot of learning happening, and you can often get confused as to what path you need to choose and what's the right way. Hence, for these things, I think mentorship is extremely important to set you on that right path and then from there on it's of course your journey and your interpretation of music that comes.
You've performed all around the world. Can you talk about a performance or tour that particularly stood out to you? ?
Well, I can talk about one incident. It was a concert where my band, Filter Coffee, was performing in the UK as part of the Glastonbury Festival. The crowd was small, creating an intimate atmosphere. As a festival, we chose to play Indian classical music. Towards the end of our 60-minute set, a man approached me. Tears were streaming down his face, and he said, "Your music touched me, your music moved me." For me, that was a very defining moment as an artist. It made all the hours of hard work feel worthwhile, just to witness such a profound reaction.
What was your inspiration behind “Recomecar” and how has your experience of releasing your first solo album been?
For me, 'Recomeçar' is extremely special because I have been in this industry for over 15 years, and I have played with all the top artists in our country, as well as internationally. But with 'Recomeçar,' there was a sense of ownership—it was a sense that everything you hear in that album is mine. It is my voice, my expression, and my interpretation of the music I want to present to the world. So 'Recomeçar' was, is, and will always be extremely special.
Can you talk about any challenges you've faced as a woman in a male-dominated field, and how you've overcome them?
I think every field has its fair share of challenges we need to accept. And yes, it was initially difficult being a female in a male dominated space, but I think for me, I kept my head down – I kept at my art and made sure to put my 100% in whatever I did. And I really didn’t let the whole thought of being a female in a male dominated space come to me and affect me. So, for me it was just play your music, play your music and things will happen and yes there were challenges but it’s part of the game – you have to overcome these.
How has motherhood impacted your career?
Motherhood for me has only made things so much better. I don’t see motherhood as an obstacle in a career path. Honestly it has only pushed me to work so much harder and do what I love to do for I feel when my son grows up, I need to be there to model for him, to look up to, that he says, you know? “Hey, I want to be like my mum!” “And what an amazing independent woman she has been”. I think that kind of a culture can be imbibed in children only if you yourself are a role model so that they watch and learn. So yes, motherhood has only made things so much more beautiful for me and has made me stronger and I have much passion now than before.
How do you balance your teaching responsibilities with your artistic pursuits while heading Tablanaari School of Music?
For me, Tablanaari school of music was a very natural progression. It was something I had in my mind for the longest time because I believe in giving. I believe in giving back. There’s no point in learning so much and keeping everything with you and not sharing it out with the world. Right? So, teaching was only a very natural step for me along the way.
And well I make sure I balance time out for my artistic pursuits and my live gigs my studio work as well as teaching. I have kept my classes online so that I can be anywhere in the world and teach and it doesn’t stop me at all. So yes, teaching for me is very close to my heart and I’m very passionate about it and I believe in spreading the art that you’ve learnt.
How do you resonate with Teejh?
Teejh is extremely close to me. As a person and as a personality I’m a big fan of everything that is rooted to our culture in fact - even my music - although there's a lot of electronic aspects in my music there’s always a classical Indian touch to it. So, for me; Teejh is that - in this modern world of everything we look at - the west and the way the west is influencing us. For me teejh is holding on to our culture and promoting it as much as we can.
What advice would you give to aspiring Tabla players or musicians more generally?
The only advice I have for upcoming Tabla players and musicians in general is keep practicing - the time that you give in to your instrument and the time you spend in the industry is one day going to give you returns. Don’t lose heart or don’t give up halfway or don’t expect returns very quickly. Everything takes its time and so does music. So, keep at it. Keep practicing, keep going, keep giving in your hundred percent and you’ll get what you love. You’ll get the best.