Mohammad Ajmal has accompanied some of the greatest artists in the world, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen
Mohammad Ajmal has accompanied some of the greatest artists in the world, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen

Mohammad Ajmal’s association with music began as a singer when he was in the second grade at Muslim High School, Multan. He was always drawn towards the tabla, which he used to play secretly until he became so proficient at it he could use to it recreate the sound of locomotives.

Since then, he has accompanied some of the greatest artists in the world, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Adnan Sami Khan and Vital Signs. The government has also recognised Mohammad Ajmal’s skills as a tabla master and awarded him with a Pride of Performance.

Q: How many hours of practice did it take to get you to where you are now?

A: It took endless hours – a minimum of nine to ten hours a day. There were times when some other performers and I would have no sense of day and night. We would just stay indoors without seeing the sun for a week when playing for Radio Pakistan.

Q: How is fusion music different to the classical music you learnt?

A: Sometimes fusion is confusion. There are so many instruments these days that it becomes difficult to discern the sound of a single one. At the same time it is a very unique experience. Collaborating with youngsters who have grown up listening to pop music has allowed us to evolve and adopt new sounds. In the end, their roots are the same.

Mohammad Ajmal playing the tabla
Mohammad Ajmal playing the tabla

Q: Have you ever thought that you could have made a living doing something else?

A: The only time I feel something like that is when the tabla is not understood and is not appreciated, even today. The tabla is an under rated instrument even though a performance is incomplete without it. I love performing instrumentals, like most tabla players do. That’s when we can really show off our skills.

Tabla is a difficult instrument to learn. Most pupils give up half way. A student must learn to play the beats of the tabla verbally and then produce those sounds on the instrument. Tabla can only grow. It is the soul of every performance because it provides rhythm and percussions.

Tabla has found popularity in the outside world and with the right kind of patronage it can do a lot better in Pakistan too.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2016

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