Mickela Becomes a Dholi!
No, I am not converting to another religion...though I may be converting to becoming a full time drummer (sort of). I had my first lesson ever in playing the dhol drum this past weekend. After all of these years of dancing bhangra and Bollywood styles, I finally had the opportunity to try and play the actual drum. It was the best! Under the direction of Gaganpreet Singh (a.k.a. Gagan Dholi), who he himself studies with dhol master Lal Singh Bhatti, I was able to learn a few differeant chaals (dhol rhythms) in just a matter of two hours. NYC Bhangra hosted this event in Jersey City, NJ, right in the Little India neighborhood on Newark Avenue - as I was running to Sitarrey, the dance school where the workshop was being held, preparations for the evening's Diwali festivities were under way outside on the streets. Back inside the studio, within the first hour, Megha Kalia, founder and director of NYC Bhangra, joined us for a little jam (or as much as I could keep up) - she broke out in some bhangra dancing, using the khunde (equivalent to a shepard's staff):
As my lesson continued, I thought I knew most of the history of bhangra, however I did learn a lot from Gagan Dholi (dholi means "drummer") - bhangra had started in the 1940's, during the time of India's Independence from Brittain. And originally, this dance came from a very traditional art form that only women did during family celebrations such as weddings and births - eventually the men decided to add their physical strength and energy to the mix, and they incorporated the khunde (shepard's staff) and movements that represented their daily worklife in the fields. I think I had it backwards this whole time!
Once I mastered four different chaals sitting down, I wanted to play the dhol the proper way: standing up. At first it felt comfortable, but after 15 minutes with the drum slung over my shoulder, the weight had started pulling me down. I can't imagine how these dholis play for hours on end! Check out my slick dhol skills - not bad for my first time!
To end this amazing lesson, Gurpreet Singh, traditional Indian singer and harmonium player gladly accepted my request of serenading us before I set back off to NYC. It was a beautiful medley of traditional and non-traditional songs that he shared with us, and it was definitely the perfect way to sooth our ears after a long lesson of loud dhol reverberating in the room. Thank you, Gurpreet.
Gagan Dholi will be featured as a special guest at an upcoming monthly Non-Stop Bhangra event in San Francisco - be sure to check the schedule for more details! If I was in the Bay Area, I would love to check it out - a whole night of Bhangra lessons, very traditional Bhangra music, and people everywhere dancing and singing together!