12 Famous Tabla Players You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

With the recent interest in Indian classical music, it’s no surprise that more and more people are starting to take an interest in learning about tabla. With a history spanning back over two thousand years, the tabla has come a long way from its roots as a percussion instrument used by nomadic tribes and today, the sound of the tabla is one that is instantly recognizable and loved by many.

In this blog post, we will take a closer look at 12 famous tablas players you should know about and explore some of their lives and music.

1. Zakir Hussain

Virtuoso Tabla player Zakir Hussain is the oldest son of Ustad Allah Rakha, who taught him tabla.

At three years old, Hussain learned Pakhawaj before studying the Punjab Gharana tradition for playing tabla. 

His professional career began at age 12 and continues today with his honorary Doctorate degrees from Berkley College of Music and Indira Kala Sangit University in Khairagarh, India.

After incredible solo performances and collaborations with other incredible musicians, Hussain has become a pioneer in the industry and raised awareness of the instrument by playing internationally.

When not working as an educator and composer, he enjoys performing at musical events as well as playing on and releasing dozens of albums and contributing to more than a dozen film soundtracks.

2. Trilok Gurtu

Trilok Gurtu by Henryk Kotowski (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Trilok Gurtu is a world-class percussionist who has traveled the world with his musical skills.

Gurtu has played a unique blend of Indian, jazz fusion, and world music since his childhood in India.

When he was young, he taught himself how to play western style drums by listening to music.

Unaware that most albums contained overdubbed tracks, he thought a single drummer played all the rhythms, and as such, he practiced and mastered numerous skills most would not have tried.

Known as one of the most innovative percussionists around, Gurtu uses swords, buckets, and other elements to enhance his sound.

3. Talvin Singh

Talvin Singh is an English tabla player known for fusing Indian classical music with drum and bass.

He’s well-known in the electronica subgenre Asian Underground.

At 16 years old, he studied tabla in India, though musicians didn’t fully recognize his talent until the early 1990s because Western music heavily influenced his music.

In 1998, he released his solo debut album, which received the Mercury Music Prize, and since then has worked with artists like Blondie, Madonna, Sarah McLachlan, and more with dozens of albums and collaborations.

4. Anindo Chatterjee

Anindo Chatterjee began playing tabla when he was five years old, inspired by his uncle.

Born in Kolkata, India, Chatterjee has worked with world-renowned sitar players like Nikhil Banerjee, Imrat Khan, Rais Khan, and Krishna Bhatt. 

He studied with Ustad AFaq Hussain Khan and became the first tabla player ever to perform in the House of Commons as well as performing for US President Barack Obama at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2010.

With ten albums under his belt and crystal-clear drum melodies, Chatterjee is considered one of the world’s greatest tabla players.

5. Rimpa Siva

Rimpa Siva is one of the few female tabla players in the world.

Her father – a tabla guru – taught her to play the Farukhabad Gharana style of tabla at age eight and quickly gained a passion and devotion to the instrument.

Siva states that the tabla is everything in her life, leaving her fulfilled by long hours of playing.

A French documentary about her entitled Rimpa Siva: Princess of Tabla was released in 1999.

6. Tanmoy Bose

Tanmoy Bose is a Master tabla player and Indian percussionist.

He created the Taal Tantra Experience musical group and is a musical producer, film actor, and composer.

He has worked with great indian musicians like Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar, among others.

Bose is well known for his contributions to contemporary world music and percussion.

His band TAALANTRA performs Jazz, Indian Classical Music, Folk music, and indigenous drumming but, their focus is on drumming as worship. 

Tanmoy Bose tours around the world and has presented his talents on television.

He has earned many awards and accolades, including from UNICEF.

7. Swapan Chaudhuri

Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri is an Indian Classical Musician who began playing tabla at the age of five.

He studied with Santosh Krishna Biswas in Calcutta and earned a Master’s degree in music and a degree in Economics from Jadavpur University.

Chaudhuri is an elegant musician known for his powerful expression; he travels throughout Europe, North and South America, and Asia as both a soloist and accompanist.

He has played with musicians like Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, and many more. 

With many recordings, including solos and videos, Chaudhuri has been nominated for two Grammy awards.

Currently, he’s the Director of Percussion at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California.

8. Bickram Ghosh

Bickram Ghosh was born inCalcutta, West Bengal, India.

His tabla skill and dexterity are nearly unmatched, as is his immense and widespread success.

He studied at La Martiniere Calcutta and went on to earn a Master’s in English Literature from Jadavpur University.

Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar inspired him, and he later performed with his father, Shankar Ghosh.

He has performed with several bands over the years and won awards such as Best Fusion Album for the album Transformation, released with his band Rhythmscape.

In 2012, Ghosh won the Global Indian Music Academy award for Vande Mataram, featuring many of India’s great musicians.

His prolific discography and collaborations span decades, and he has worked as a musical director on many Indian films.

9. Nayan Ghosh

Nayan Ghosh is a musician, composer, and teacher of Hindustani classical music from India.

He is praised as the only musician with a solid command of both the tabla and the sitar.

His father was the great Nikhil Ghosh, and his uncle Pannalal Ghosh and both of them trained him in vocals.

Ghosh first performed a tabla solo broadcast at only four years old.

He has played as an accompanist with Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Shiv Kumar, and more.

In 2014, he won the Central SANGEET NATAK AKADEMI Award for contributions to Hindustani instrumental music.

Ghosh is the Director of Sangit Mahabharata in Mumbai and a guest professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay.

He has also taught at Kent State University, Emory University, and the University of Colorado in Boulder, among other places.

10. Aloke Dutta

Aloke Dutta, another Indian musician, lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches tabla in one-on-one lessons with students.

Dutta’s students include Danny Carey and Pat Mastelotto.

Traditionally, the tabla is an accompaniment instrument, but Dutta has turned it into the melody for much of his music, showcasing his skill and the instrument’s versatility.

His father was a professor and percussionist who introduced Dutta to many instruments such as the kohl, pakhavaj, dhol, and tabla.

Fans can hear his music on any of the five albums he has released.

11. Tari Khan

Tari Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and specializes in Hindustani classical music, specifically tabla and vocals.

When he was six years old, he heard Ustad Miyan Shaukat Hussain Khan play tabla and devoted his life to studying the instrument.

Known for clean, crisp thekas and quick punctuation to verses, Khan became an internationally renowned musician.

He has earned several awards and titles throughout his career.

He’s one of the most accomplished tabla players in the Punjab Gharana school of playing.

Currently, Khan trains tabla musicians in California.

12. Ahmed Jan Thirakwa

As one of the foremost tabla players, Ahmed Jan Thirakwa was born in Moradabad, India, to a family of musicians.

He began studying the tabla at the age of twelve in Bombay with Ustand Munir Khan, who tutored him for more than 25 years. 

Despite his training in vocals, Thirakwa rarely sang for anyone but close friends and family.

Highly regarded by his peers, he even found great admiration from the great Pandit Nikhil Ghosh. 

Shirakawa earned the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1954 and the Padma Bhushan Award for Arts in 1970.

He left a lasting impact on the world of tabla and influenced such players as Zakir Hussain, Chandra Nath Shastri, Anindo Chatterjee, and Nikhil Ghosh.

Summing up our List of Famous Tabalchi

As the popularity of Indian classical music continues to grow in America, a lot more people are getting interested in learning about tabla players.

The 12 well known tabla players we’ve highlighted represent some of the best known names in Indian Classical Music today.

Although their lives and careers are quite different, there’s one thing they have in common. Their dedication to their craft.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.