Tabla is the new guitar, and Shobhit Banwait is the poster boy of this evolution

Raise your hand if you now feel stupid for shunning the guy who played the tabla in inter-school fests.

I mean, when it comes to sweeping women off the floor, guitarists are known to enjoy an advantage over their competitors, right? Next in line would be the dark and mysterious drummer at the back. In fact, we probably can’t imagine a violinist, or a pianist, or say, a percussionist, striking the kind of chord it takes to become a celebrity among the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram fed generation.

That was until a certain Shobhit Banwait single handedly (or double-handedly, to be real) stole their thunder, changing the way we perceive tabla music, and the traditional unruly curly-haired tabla players as well. Slick gelled coif and well groomed facial hair should become the standard now.

Since February 2016 Shobhit’s Instagram account is on fire, and almost every video he uploads on YouTube has gone viral. After a looong wait, I finally got to speak with the young gun who reinvents popular Indian and international chartbusters with the freshest tabla beats and here are a few interesting things I learnt:

When Sia retweets you, you know you are famous! Were you looking for such popularity at all?

“I wasn’t, actually. It all started last year in February. I used to upload videos on Instagram of me playing the tabla when the time limit on Instagram was just 15 seconds. Funny thing is one of those was made into a meme that read “When my mom sends me to the mandir to get the hood out of me.” and that kind of made people visit my account more to discover my music. I had friends encourage me to take this further and I decided to create a Facebook page as well where I could share my videos, apart from YouTube. The tabla cover of Chain Smoker’s Closer was popular but How Deep is Your Love by Calvin Harris really blew up!”

Has it been easy to deal with all the public attention?

“Well most of my fans are in India – Bollywood songs (obviously) and EDM is very popular there. I performed in Delhi (KMC college) and saw a very enthusiastic crowd. I don’t think it’s very common to have an internet celebrity perform on stage. There was a queue of people who wanted to get an autograph! I try to stay as humble as I can and smile when I meet people.

It’s a little different in Toronto.  Just a few days back a man at my gym happened to recognise me and asked if I was the tabla guy.”

What’s keeping you busy these days?

“A lot of gigs and local collaborations! Most of my previous videos were very basic and shot on an iPhone with just me playing on the tabla in my room. The ceiling fan behind me grabbed a lot of attention as well! I’m working on more professionally produced videos for my covers. The video of my rendition of Sahiba from Phillauri is out now on YouTube.

What should we look forward to next?

“Around three to four new covers – Mere Rashke Qamar by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan; Despacito; Main Tera Boyfriend (originally by JStar)

Are we going to see you become a part of the Indian music industry soon?

“My gigs have kept me too occupied to work on any original composition till now which is required to sign a record deal. I’m in touch with Sony, and Saavn, the latter having showed interest in releasing my covers as singles on their app. But I don’t think one can really monetise covers, or take it much far without making ones own music. An interesting thing happened with Saavn… their CEO was impressed with my covers and took my version of “Closer” to the Chain Smokers who apparently loved it! That was cool.”

When can we start booking tickets to your shows in India?

“I visit India every November, and I’m yet to confirm my trip there this year. I’m trying to coordinate a few gigs around that time – but nothing is fixed.”*

You are a football player as well, how cool is that!

“Yes, I do play football! We call it soccer, though. It’s one of the first sports my brother and I played in our school days.”

Fun game: spot the super fan in the comments

It doesn’t end there – you are a humanitarian as well. What’s the story there?

“I’m a part of a spiritual organisation called Sant Nirankari Mission, and they organise the biggest blood donation camps twice a year in Toronto. I’ve been donating blood every year since I was seventeen, keeping to a motto we follow, “Blood should flow in veins, not in drains.” It’s a small way to serve humanity, I suppose.

So that’s the story there I guess!

*He announced a November tour on Facebook a few days back.

-Zaiceka Ahmed

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