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Trilok Gurtu – an Indian percussionist and composer.

Trilok Gurtu

Trilok Gurtu - an Indian percussionist and composer.

Gurtu was born to Hindu Brahmin parents in Mumbai, India he had a Kashmiri Pandit father and a Marathi mother. He attended Don Bosco High School (Matunga) in Mumbai. His mother, the famous Hindustani classical and semi-classical vocalist Shobha Gurtu, encouraged him to learn playing tabla, and he received formal training in percussion from Shah Abdul Karim.

Gurtu began playing a western drum kit in the 1970s, and developed an interest in jazz. In a 1995 television special on Jimi Hendrix, Gurtu mentioned having initially learned Western music without awareness of overdubbing, which, he said, forced him to learn multiple parts which most musicians would have never attempted. In the 1970s, he played with Charlie Mariano, John Tchicai, Terje Rypdal, and Don Cherry.

One of Gurtu’s earliest recordings was on Apo-Calypso, a 1977 album by the German ethnic fusion band Embryo. His mother also sang in that record, and later joined him on his first solo CD, Usfret.

In the 1980s, Gurtu played with Swiss drummer Charly Antolini and with John McLaughlin in McLaughlin’s trio, accompanied variously by bassists Jonas Hellborg, Kai Eckhardt, and Dominique DiPiazza. The line-up with Hellborg performed at least one concert opening for Miles Davis in Berkeley, California in 1988.

Trilok Gurtu - an Indian percussionist and composer.

Collaboration between Gurtu and McLaughlin included vocal improvisations using the Indian tala talk method of oral drumming notations for teaching drum patterns. Sometimes, Eckhardt would join in with hip-hop beat-box vocals for a three-way vocal percussion jam, while Gurtu and McLaughlin would throw in a few amusing words such as some Japanese brand names mixed with some Indian words.

Some of the unusual aspects of Gurtu’s drum playing include playing without a drum stool, in a half-kneeling position on the floor, and the use of an unconventional kick drum that resembles a large drum head with a kick-pedal, and a mix of tablas and western drums. Gurtu’s unique percussion signature involves dipping cymbals and strings of shells into a bucket of water to create a shimmering effect.

Gurtu joined Oregon after the death of drummer Collin Walcott. He played on three of their records: Ecotopia (1987), 45th Parallel (1989), and Always, Never and Forever (1991).

In the early 1990s, Gurtu resumed his career as a solo artist and a bandleader. Various noted musicians have backed him on a number of his CD releases.

In 1999, Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell founded a musical group, Tabla Beat Science, which played a mixture of Hindustani music, Asian underground, ambient, Drum and Bass, and Electronica. Gurtu joined this group along with Karsh Kale and Talvin Singh. The group released three albums before going dormant in late 2003.

In 2004, Gurtu created an album, Miles Gurtu, with Robert Miles. His collaboration with the Arkè String Quartet began in 2007 with the release of the album Arkeology.

In 2010, Trilok Gurtu played on the album Piano Car, an opera of minimalist composer Stefano Ianne with Ricky Portera, Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo), Mario Marzi, Terl Bryant (John Paul Jones/Led Zeppelin), John De Leo.

In 2012, Trilok Gurtu collaborated with electronic folk duo Hari & Sukhmani in their hometown of Chandigarh and produced a song ‘Maati’ on the music documentary-travelogue The Dewarists.

Trilok Gurtu - an Indian percussionist and composer.

Trilok Gurtu is universally acknowledged as one of the most innovative and ground breaking percussionists around; integrating swords, buckets and other non-conventional elements and into his sound. Zakir Hussain said that if Trilok Gurtu played only the tabla, he would have been the best tabla player in the world.

Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) mentions Trilok Gurtu as his hero and adds “You know who’s a big hero of mine? Trilok Gurtu… Indians should know this. Indian traditional percussive algos (algorhythms) and modes blow my mind. Check him out. Full-on retarded isolation skills. I can’t even chew gum and walk. There’s a whole different language/notation to a tabla.”

“An open-minded musician who embraces Jazz, Indian classical music, abstract improvisational and Asian pop, a dazzling percussion virtuoso, an accessible entertainer” – The Guardian UK.

He is self-confessedly strongly influenced by the rhythms of Africa and African beats and drumming patterns.


Gurtu has garnered a number of prestigious awards and nominations, including:

  • Best Overall Percussionist winner, DRUM! Magazine, 1999
  • Best Overall Percussionist winner, Carlton Television Multicultural Music Awards, 2001
  • Best Percussionist winner, Down Beat‘s Critics Poll for 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002
  • Best Asia/Pacific Artist nominee, BBC Radio 3 World for 2002, 2003, and 2004.


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