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Varun Venkit and Taal Inc: Where language fails, music prevails


 

The master’s rhythm with Varun Venikit.

Taal Inc. is a movement in Pune and India, of rhythm and sounds making giant stride that hasn’t left anyone passionate by music untouched as it sashayed into our lives. It bears the mark and signature style of its architect Varun Venkit who cannot be confined to a single genre. The Pune-based versatile artist, passionate singer and a maven at drums, rhythm and the world of music wearing art on his sleeve performed in front of someone no less than the former First lady of the United States Michelle Obama who garnered praise on him. Among his star-studded audience are former Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel and Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. The man who has been part of the rock band Agnee and creator of Taal Inc. wears several hats, the latest being bringing Djembe within India’s reach, representing the largest Djembe school globally, TTMDA. Varun Venkit is a tale of extraordinary belief has through the dint of hard work, relentless spirit and seamless talent made Taal Inc. a brand not just in India and worldwide in leading the way. Musician, Psychologist, Drum Facilitator, NLP practitioner and percussionist, there is so much about this alumnus of Fergusson College in Pune and my batchmate who is an inspiration to many among this young generation by making art accessible to one and all.

 

  1. Drum and guitar seem to be an inspiration at home which armed you with the strong belief that rhythm and psychology make Genesis. How would you define your love for drums and how it all started?

My love for drums is synonymous to my love for life or my love for food (and that’s saying a lot!) There was always music around me as I grew up. Listening, singing, dancing … This was how we spent our recreational evenings. I absorbed a lot of the music, fun and frolic that surrounded it and this is what gave birth to the inspiration and realization that rhythm is everywhere.  Rhythm is within. We needed an avenue to bring it out. I started off as a drummer in various bands and eventually started this concept of Taal Inc.; which would bring music to the people in an open, non-judgemental, recreational and self-expression forum. My first drum circle was when I was 15 and working with 16 year-olds where my message was: ’embracing the fears and challenges of leaving school’ … I never looked back after this…

 

  1. Drumming, psychologist, NLP practitioner, percussionist and drum circle facilitator show that there is not one creative aspect that you haven’t touched. How was Taal Inc. which one can term as your pet project, started and how do you see the interest of young India for everything drumming?

    Kids learning the art of drumming.

Taal Inc. Is an organization that works in the area of arts and health; positively influencing people’s lives using rhythm, music and the arts. Taal Inc. Started off as a band that made its first live appearance in 2006 at what was then, ‘Soul Avenue’, ABC farms. I wanted to take the next step forward and bring this joy of recreational music making to the people; from various backgrounds, predispositions… to all.

I was joined by my best friend and partner in rhythm, Janak Vadgama and Solonie Singh Pathania. The two of them helped me focus on drumming and content building while they took care of the business end of things. Setting a strong corporate structure to an idea that is new, art-based and unique was not an easy task but they were up for the challenge. Later we were joined by Dr. Anand Godse, who brought with him, his love and expertise for yoga, philosophy and industrial psychology. This worked perfectly as Solonie took the next steps in her professional life. What started off as a 3/4 member team is today, a 30 member team working with all strata of society, providing rhythm based experiences for education, self-expression and healing. Hence what Taal Inc. represents is excellence, passion and the notion that anything is possible when one possesses a strong will.

  1. It’s been quite some time since Taal Inc. has been teaching drumming in various parts of Pune and India with a staggering number of 85,000+ to drum circles. It seems that you are set for a drum revolution and how does drum helps one not only physically and mentally but also to remove human prejudices that humans often have?

Taal Inc. has drummed with more than 100,000 people (and counting)… the benefits of drumming are manifold. Apart from facilitating blood circulation to giving a feeling of ‘here and now’s to its participants, group drumming is one of the only forums that brings people from all walks of life together; regardless of age, caste, sex, economic background, mental and physical ability. This is the magic of Taal Inc and group drumming or, drum circles. To sum it up in one sentence: Where language fails, music prevails…

  1. How would you define drumming in Pune and would you say that as an architect of drumming, the city is emerging as a hub for everything rhythmic and Taal Inc?

Pune has always been a city that loves and supports art. This has been a strong factor that helped us thrive in Pune and now, in many cities in India. There’s a lot of drumming here… dhol and tasha during the Ganpati festivals to some amazing virtuosos of the tabla, dholak and dholki. Today, we’re very proud to say that many have heard of Taal Inc and/or been a part of a community drum circle which we organize on the third weekend of every month.

  1. You boast of an incredible achievement with 800 drum circles as a facilitator and still counting, inculcating the art of teaching underprivileged children and was it the biggest moment in your rich career where Michelle Obama stood impressed watching. Can you share the words of praise she doled on you?

Having Michelle Obama as a part of the drum circle has truly been the highlight of my career. She congratulated me for the good work and asked me, keep drumming. I unequivocally agreed with a smitten smile plastered across my face.

Apart from this, we’ve drummed with the ex-Chief Minister of Gujarat Smt. Anandiben Patel and played for the gathering of Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Sri. Narendra Modi… All memories that I’ll cherish forever.

  1. You are the first Indian to be honored as TTM Certified Professor for your achievement in Djembe. When was the first time you explored Djembe and can it be defined as a pure art form of expression?

Yes. I also recently got my diploma and became a senior certified teacher with TTMDA. My Guru, Mamady Keita is a grandmaster of the djembe and started TTMDA; which is the largest school of djembe in the world. I’m proud to represent him in India. TTM represents Mandingue culture; traditional West African culture. Every rhythm taught has a story and social relevance. Rhythm in Guinea is synonymous to life. The Mandingue is the birthplace of the djembe. Taal Inc is India’s first school for the traditional djembe. And this is the spirit of what we radiate through our work whether it is a djembe class or a recreational drum circle.

College drumming and swinging to the beat.
  1. How does drumming work as a form of therapy and healing people, since you hail from a Psychology background?

The first thing is that everybody can drum. There is rhythm in each and every one of us. A drum circle helps to truly understand this. No matter whether I’m old and think I can’t play, I can. This feeling of being a part of something bigger than the self is what automatically makes Taal Inc drum circles so attractive to the participants. After the initial one, there is a lingering rhythm that one is left with and that keeps one in good company. What a happy and relaxed tribe we would be if we could constantly access and remind ourselves of our inner rhythm… This is what we offer through our services. Drumming helps us clear our conscious minds and access a deeper potential of our own selves. It helps us to be in the here and now. This is what makes drumming therapeutic.

  1. You have recently performed with Agnee and how was it getting back with the band which you were a part for three years? So, far how has rock changed and shaped on the scene?

It’s a great feeling to get back on the saddle with Agnee. I have grown up listening to this music and continuing my journey with them.  I hope to be a part of many more gigs, on amazing stages. Agnee has managed to keep the flag waving high and strong and has a good long life ahead of it. Here to rocking out with them!

  1. Can you share a bit about the inner rhythm workshop and for whom it is targeted at-individuals, college-going crowd or corporate, the extent to which it can harmonize minds to increase productivity or awareness, for that matter?
Varun bringing Djemba art to India. All images reproduced with permission from Varun Venkit’s Facebook page and Taal Inc.

Taal Inc’s Find Your Inner Rhythm workshop is a weekend rhythm retreat, a musical therapeutic spa of sorts. We offer people cutting across all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to connect with their inner rhythm through this two-day journey. This workshop is for anyone with an interest in music and its therapeutic, healing properties. Whether you are a counselor, a corporate trainer, a school teacher, or a social worker…The value of recreational music making with groups helps bring out the best in them. And to bring out the best in a group one must be able to tap into that repertoire in the self. This is what Taal Inc’s Find Your Inner Rhythm workshop offers to one and all.

  1. It’s been a long journey for you right from your Agnee days to performing during the college fest Oorja at Fergusson and emerging as a successful entrepreneur for Taal Incl. How do you look back at your incredible creative journey and the future projects that you have in mind?

The journey has been amazing for sure… There has been learning, challenges, celebrations, achievements and more. I have had the pleasure of wearing many caps through this. That of performer, facilitator, teacher, researcher and trainer…

Taal Inc has drum circles for corporates, weddings, colleges, private gatherings and special get-togethers. We’ve launched new corporate training programs called Drum Talks and ExChange. We offer traditional djembe classes in Pune, Mumbai and are training many more teachers all over the country. For kids, we have a co/extracurricular module called Kids In Rhythm to impart the value of life skills through music and rhythm. For our specially abled population, we have a program called Art Talks, that is routed through Flow (our section 8/ not for profit company) & finally, Find Your Inner Rhythm workshops designed for anyone willing to experience healing aspects of rhythm and who would like to learn how to use rhythm with groups. As we repeatedly say, give us a group and we’ll have them drumming and learning in a matter of minutes.

Personally, there’s going to be some fun musical collaborations that I’ll be announcing soon. Very excited to continue exploring this journey of finding my inner rhythm and also be a mirror for those around me.

Now I look forward to developing these further so that all of these caps metamorphize into our motto: #ComeDrumBeOne

PS: You can check the website here, and like the Facebook page and connect with Varun on Twitter.

With love

V

 

Author:

Work-in-progress, seeker and bundle of contradictions. Stubborn and Refusal to grow up and constantly in search of myself, I blurt it out on my space. Drop in and share some love. Indian by choice.

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