Roshan Haris’ tabla beats were born from the musical air around him writes P. Anima

Under the sparkling afternoon sun, Koothuparamba in Kannur is sedate. But it can tell riveting stories of rhythm and song, some generations old. One such story of impeccable talent and legacy is Roshan Haris. For devotees of Hindustani music and ghazals in Kerala, Roshan is instant recall. His tabla has been the rhythm to which Ramesh Narayanan, Umbayee, Shahabaz Aman, Gayathri and Manjari often sang. An accompanist whose rhythm and beats cushioned, soothed and spurred singers and listeners alike.

Music is the glint of hope in Roshan’s quarters. His father Haris is the respected tabla guru whose students across north Kerala have kept an unyielding grip over the tabla competitions at youth festivals. Roshan won the top prize for tabla at the State Youth Festivals thrice in a row in the early nineties.

“I got the sense of rhythm from my father and music from my mother,” says Roshan. “Everyone in my mother’s family, the roots of which are in Hyderabad, sings. They trace it back to generations.”

Moments of truth

Roshan finds his music in the fleeting moments of truth rather than in hours of rigour. “I play what I feel,” he says. Apart from the few years when his father insisted that he learn the tabla diligently, Roshan has allowed his soulful dialogues with his instrument to lead the way. If an artiste’s rise is marked by acknowledgements of his talent and a packed work calendar, Roshan is finding his way there.

“Yesterday, my niece Shazna Parveen, who won the first prize for ghazal at the recent youth festival, and I were felicitated in our home town. Tomorrow, I am accompanying Umbayeekka at a concert in Thriprayar,” says Roshan.

Music is life at the Roshan household and he just imbibes it. “To know about ghazals or Mehdi Hassan one needs to go to the coast. A rare intensity marks the lives of people who live by the sea. Go to places like Ponnani and Valapattanam and you will know the zest for ghazals. Not that they have learnt it, but they have heard it and it has stayed with them,” he says.

Playing instruments

Though professionally he sticks to the tabla, Roshan plays the sitar and harmonium too. He remembers, “A long while ago, abba sent me to buy a harmonium. I saw a sitar and was intrigued by it. Instead of the harmonium I came home with the sitar. Abba asked me, ‘What will you do with the sitar unless you learn to play it?’ He even made arrangements for me to learn it. But then I thought it would mean regimented learning and decided against it. Five days after buying it, I started playing it though initially I didn’t know how to even place the mezrab.”

Roshan says he at times regrets not studying under maestros in his later years, but on the other hand he loves the freedom of being by himself. In the absence of a strict teacher, his music is nourished by the singers he works with. With Umbayee, Shahabaz and Ramesh Narayanan, Roshan shares a bond beyond music.

Ramesh Narayanan, he says, came from the same neighbourhood, his strong Carnatic training layered with the Hindustani influences prevalent in the region. “In the initial years, I have played with him many times,” says Roshan.

He has a longer association with Umbayee. “He was my father’s friend,” says Roshan. “My father’s obsession with the tabla took him to Bombay. He struggled, slept on the footpaths and imbibed it from the ustads. Mind you, it was not music lessons like it is today. The ustads in state of bliss would say something. Those like my abba would scribble it down on cigarette packets. His music was gathered that way.”

When the veteran ghazal singer heard Roshan’s surname, he was sure it was his old friend’s son. He came to Koothuparamba looking for Roshan.

“I got a call and brought him home. We played music the whole day and when abba came in the evening, he didn’t recognise Umbayeekka. So he sang a song and abba instantly knew who he was,” recollects Roshan.

Roshan has accompanied Umbayee to many countries, especially in the Gulf. So too with Shahabaz, who became family when he came for the mehfil, a routine at his niece’s birthday.

His dharma

The man who is the backbone of many concerts says, “To accompany is my dharma.” Concerts, he knows, are hinged on a delicate balance. They touch highs, often when Shahabaz handles Baburaj’s compositions or when Umbayee sings melodies. On occasions when the singers just don’t match up, Roshan says, “I leave it to God.”

Roshan is often advised to play solo, and he knows his father would like to see him dedicated wholeheartedly to the tabla.

“I am thinking of doing an album,” he says. He has recorded for albums and has been asked to record more, but he says, “Then I will have to move to Kochi. Here, I am just the boy who grew up here.”