Sangeet Mala

S A N G E E T      M A L A

In 1996 I was at North Central High School.  I played percussion every year in wind ensemble.   We had a sick group one year with two of my favorite percussionists Travis Ellison and Rob Roy.   Travis would sit there and read the entire period and would stand up and play the snare parts perfectly.   Rob was usually tympani and percussion.  I usually played mallets.   Out side of class I was getting in to hand drums quite a bit with my buddy Brian Wright, we played in drum circles and had great times.   After hearing Ravi Shankar for the first time I fell in love with classical north Indian music. Eventually leading me to discover Zakhir Hussain and the amazing sound created by tabla drums. There was this shop in broad ripple that had a set of tabla I had an eye on but never pulled the trigger, I was too intimidated by the amount of discipline involved in learning them.  One day Travis asked me if I knew where to buy a set of tabla and I told him about the store in broad ripple.  That was maybe our first discussion and would change us musically for ever.   I had recorded with Brian an indian sounding recording with 2 different talking drums and an udu (clay) drum that I had made by my friend Singrid Zagner.   It was a nice recording and showed me the potential of western/ eastern fusion.   This sound probably came from my love of Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzmann at the time.   So a few months go by and Travis and I decided to meet up and record a bit.   I remember the day well, I packed up all my gear and went over to his house during a tornado.   We recorded some amazing stuff and eventually had to stop because we were afraid we were about to die and I left.  Somewhere around this time we played a show together for my friend Slinky’s (Jon Weinschrott) wedding.   Travis’s band was amazing and my band sucked and smelled bad!!!   Funny thing is Travis stole my drum throne that night and I was very upset.   5 years later I move to Bloomington, Indiana to go to school.   I ran into Travis and asked him about my stool.  He agreed that he still had it and I should stop by.   When I got there he had an entire collection of tabla.  He had been learning out of books from the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music.   Since he studied crazy math, he seemed to pick up tabla quite well considering he had no teacher other that his books.  At the time I was going through an intense banjo phase and decided to bring my banjo over to play with Travis.  We instantly bonded and decided to start writing our first composition titled “the peice”.   Travis also took me under his wing and decided to start teaching me tabla and new indian rythmic concepts.  I too had picked up a pair of table from my Uncle JT.   He bought them in the 30’s in India when he doing missionary work. But I spent the first year learning sylabols or (bols) before I touched the drums, this is in the tradition of tabla.  “The Piece”  went through many phases and would soon become a 45 min. composition infused with banjo, tabla, violin, and Udu drum.  As the piece became more refined and I learned more tabla rythms on the udu drum (made by Rob Roy by the way) we started incorperating sweet percussing duets.

The picture you see below was our unique creation we called Sangeet Mala meaning “garland of music” in Hindi

Photo by David Yovino

The band added Hannah Won quickly after the band was formed.  Hannah was dating my good friend Joe Fish and the time.   I had played Joe and hannah an instrumental I wrote titled “the lulaby” and she really wanted to play her violin over it.   I sat her down and told her that if she wants to play the lullaby she also has to learn the entire “piece”.   She agreed and joined the band.   Hannah was in the music school at IU and had a classical background.  She had never improvised and never been forced to play anything that wasn’t written out.   Hannah has an amazing ear and picked up quick to what we were doing.   I would play the melody, she would copy, I would tell her to take a shot of rum, she would take a shot of rum, and suddenly she learned to fly.  I wish Hannah and Joe were still around so we could play music again!!!   Travis and I played the lullaby at their wedding literally right after the priest said ” you may kiss the bride” .  I was so nervous my hands were shaking horribly.

The highlight of Sangeet Mala was when we opened up for Tony Trishka at the Midwest Banjo Summit.  Speaking of hands shaking, I remember Travis and Hannah looking over at me and starting to panic because I was notably nervous.  We played our set and you could tell some people loved it and others didn’t get it.   Who cared though because Tony told me that what we were doing was amazing and that no one else in the WORLD was doing anything like it at the time.   He said we needed to take out act on the road!!!!!  I talked to him about how hard it is being a weirdo banjo player because I didn’t play as much bluegrass as other banjoists.   He completely understood as he’s even wierder than I!!!   Tony Trishka has always been my hero, I sent him a letter hand delivered through one of his friends when I was very young.   It said thanks for bringing a new sound to the banjo, you are a great teacher to me.   I told him about that letter when I met him, it was a nice feeling.  To this day, Tony’s words were the best compliments I’ve ever received.   Tony invited all the banjo players to join him on stage to play foggy mountain breakdown and I chickened out.

The band played several shows at my house at 1008 S Washington St.   We sat on the floor when we performed and practiced!!!

There are roomers of a reunion but for now S A N G E E T  M A L A is dead.

Soon I will edit some old videos and post them here, please download our songs for free at the top of the page, I would consider it an honor to hear your feedback!!!!   Thanks for checking out Sangeet Mala at