By Kanika Tandon
LONDON: The man who brought the instrument of dhol under international spotlight says that he never actually thought he would take up playing dhol seriously.
Johnny Kalsi, founder of UK-based The Dhol Foundation whose members recently performed at the Olympic Torch event in Hounslow and Ealing, said, “I never thought I would play one. As a teenager, I was very much into mainstream music and loved listening to Blonde, Cool and the Gang, Jackson five, Earth, Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin.”
Punjab-born British Asian Johnny, who has given music to Hollywood movies such as The Incredible Hulk, Tomorrow Never Dies and Gangs of New York, is credited worldwide as the man who made dhol a rage among the youth and the musically-inclined.
He says, “I always had a musical streak in me. I was asked by my family to learn the Tabla but after a few lessons, I decided it wasn’t ‘funky’ enough for me. So I taught myself the beats that appealed to me more. When I was nine, while attending a wedding in the family, I accidentally found a drum behind an upturned sofa, meant to be kept hidden from naughty kids. I instinctively started playing it. From that moment I became the dholki-boy for everybody.”
What started as a casual interest in the instrument soon took over as a passionate pursuit of mastering the beats of the dhol. Johnny says, “Initially I played at all of the weddings in my family. It was at one of these wedding receptions when I had my first exposure to the dhol. One of my uncles was the dhol player for a very small Bhangra dance troupe. They had amazing gadgets which they used during their act but the dhol was their main instrument. Its sound mesmerised me. I just knew that this was the instrument for me. I knew I wanted to be out there and play it on stage.”
And then when he got the chance to show his talent as a dhol player, he grabbed it with both hands. “A major break came when I was asked to be a part of the Bhangra giants Alaap. This put me in a very strong position and made me the leading dhol player in the UK,” he says.
Today, it is difficult for Johnny to imagine a single day without playing the dhol. “I practice whenever I get time. In the car, at the breakfast table, anywhere! You don’t need a dhol to practice. Sofa, knees, chair, table or just a plain surface is enough for me. Imagination and the motion of your hands is all you need,” he says.