Introducing Pringle“I always knew that Manchester was a diverse city and I was proud to be from Manchester but, getting into this music, I actually got to meet a lot of people and see different areas. The music has given me that opportunity to experience the diversity first-hand”.
Pringle is a tabla player based in Oldham. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and, as a child, he moved to Manchester with his family in 2003. He studies with tabla legend Shahbaz Hussain and he teaches at the Bhavan Institute of Indian Art and Culture. As a performer, his focus is on South Asian classical music but he also plays folk music in church services and religious celebrations.
Pringle's Musical Life Story
Pringle recounts that he was first immersed in the sounds of the tabla in the context of church services. He explains that his parents wanted their children to become involved in the church and their culture, especially given that they belong to a Christian minority in Pakistan. They bought them instruments and encouraged them to play church music. This was the ‘beginning’ of his journey with the tabla.
“This instrument actually came to me through my faith…Being in a very strict Christian background in Pakistan, we’d go to church regularly…The music wouldn’t be the regular kind of ‘organ music’ that you get in Anglo-Saxon churches, it was the music of the country. The rhythm would be from the folk music. That’s the first time I got introduced to this instrument…Every Sunday service, we’d have these sounds around us…From a very young age, this rhythm and music was being fed into me”.
Pringle indicates that, despite being exposed to this instrument since childhood, it was only five years ago that he had the ‘eureka moment’ of wanting to ‘go deeper’ into its music. Since then, he has been learning tabla with Shahbaz Hussain in Rochdale, with Delhi and Punjabi gharana approaches. He suggests that, before this, he used to ‘bang [his] hands on the instrument’ on and off but that, since meeting his teacher, he has started learning the tabla ‘properly’ and performing South Asian classical music.
“The music I make with the tabla is mainly a type of music called Indian classical music – but this incorporates Pakistan, Bangladesh, all the countries from that region. It’s the pure classical form of music from that area”.
He reflects that he came to this moment out of a ‘cultural identity crisis’ and that the tabla has helped him to reconcile his alignment with both ‘British culture’ and his ‘Pakistani heritage’.
“Before I got this instrument, I was like a typical teenager listening to rap and hip-hop and all that sort of stuff. If you had gone on my Spotify account like five years ago, it would be completely different to what it is now…Before getting into [South Asian classical music], I was a totally different person, in my likes and dislikes, what I would wear, how I would approach situations, and stuff like that. Being introduced to this music has broadened my horizons and it’s changed my views on people and events going on around the world and history and loads of different things. This music has changed my thoughts and views on life in general”.
Today, Pringle performs tabla in services at his church in Cheetham Hill and at other churches in his network and he performs South Asian classical music in solo concerts and in performances with other artists. He listens to this music constantly and his musical inspirations include his teacher, Shahbaz Hussain, who he describes as ‘one of the leading tabla players of his generation’; his ‘grandteachers’ Ustad Mian Shaukat Hussain and Ustad Faiyaz Khan, who taught his teacher; and other legends such as Ustad Alla Rakha, who he points out ‘pioneered this instrument in the West’. He also listens to ‘upcoming talent in India and Pakistan and all around the world’, who he highlights are increasingly livestreaming performances via social media. He takes every day as a new opportunity to listen to new musicians and learn new ways of playing the instrument.
“I like listening to solo performances by great legends of the tabla because you get inspiration and you learn new things. It’s an everlasting learning process. There’s no set time or certification – forever, your life is kind of committed to it. Indian classical music is around 2000-3000 years old, so it’s a very old tradition. I’ve only just been getting into it so there’s so much to learn, so much to hear. There’s always new ways of playing the instrument, and I look forward to learning them every day”.
Pringle’s short-term aims are to improve his skills while his long-term ambitions are to travel to perform and promote the artform. He also recently started teaching tabla at the Bhavan Institute of Indian Art and Culture and, while he states that he was reluctant at first to engage in teaching, Pringle now relishes the opportunity to promote this instrument and its music in this way.
“I want to practise and keep getting better, whether [by] getting invited to shows or whether it’s just performing for myself in my bedroom. I want people to be able to listen to my playing and know that I’m my teacher’s student without [me] having to say it…As long as I can make my teacher happy and myself happy in the music I’m producing, I’ll be happy with that…Eventually, I wanna get this to a level where I can successfully travel and play with other artists and promote this artform and this music and this instrument…So, first, I need to focus on the actual learning and getting it right. My teacher always says ‘If you get it right, all the other things will follow’”.“Originally, I didn’t want to start teaching because I didn’t think it was my thing for this instrument – I just wanted to perform and promote it that way. But my teacher said that one of the best ways to promote this instrument and this art is teaching and, if you love it, then you’ll do it so I couldn’t really say no to that!”.The Meanings of Pringle's Music
Pringle suggests that the tabla has helped him to forge his own identity and connect with his heritage.
“I think this instrument has helped me a lot through life, especially in recent years…It kind of rooted me down into connecting with my heritage and my roots back home, with my language, with the music. It’s kind of helped me to identify who I am and create my own identity”.
An important aspect of his music-making is making his parents and his extended family proud. He remembers that his parents had a number of anxieties about migrating to the UK and indicates that music has been one of the ways in which he and his youngest brother, who sings and plays harmonium, have honoured the culture of their parents.
“My parents are very proud to see their kids represent who they are and not forget their heritage. I think they were very scared when we came over about us not speaking the language, not being in touch with our family, not wanting to wear the clothes, not wanting to be around people from similar backgrounds – especially being a minority even in Pakistan. Since I’ve gotten into the music and the culture…I think they are probably the happiest people on the planet!”.
Pringle’s faith remains a fundamental purpose in his musical activities. While he refers to ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ contexts when necessary, he emphasises that he does not like to make this distinction as, for him, they are a false dichotomy. Nevertheless, the religious dimension of his music becomes more prominent in his role in his local church, where he helps to deliver church services.
“Every Sunday in a church in Cheetham Hill, we play the same type of music we would be playing if we were in Pakistan or India…This music is very important to the service. When I’m not there, people are always phoning me to say ‘Why were you not there?!’ because this rhythmic element is very important. It makes the service enjoyable”.
He highlights that the music he plays in the church is very different to the South Asian classical music he plays in other contexts. The musicians play Urdu folk songs and compositions. Participation is the key musical value, and people immediately sing or clap along with them. Different elements of folk music, such as an upbeat ‘bhangra feel’ or a ‘Christmas ghazal’ feel, are integrated into the music. Pringle points out that, like his parents, many people in the church are happy and proud that he is keeping the tradition and culture alive and the music also helps to bring different church communities together.
“We regularly get invited to go to different churches in different communities and places. During the summer, we have events called ‘conventions’ where a church will host a massive get-together from all over England and Scotland and Wales. One week we’ll be in Nottingham, the next in Warrington, the next in Birmingham. We get together and play this music”.South Asian Classical Music in Manchester
Pringle claims that South Asian classical music is a symbol of the cultural diversity of Manchester. He reflects that, by meeting different people and interacting with different communities through the music, he has experienced the true diversity of the city and that these experiences have solidified his outlook on Manchester, affirming that its diversity is not simply a narrative that citizens are fed. He highlights that both he and his teacher, Shahbaz Hussain, have been involved in fusion projects with diverse musicians.
“I have played with diverse musicians…I’ve been to loads of fusion concerts too – my teacher is involved in fusion concerts with piano players, oud players, bagpipers. I’ve been impressed by that, to see how two instruments and two cultures can merge and create amazing music”.
However, Pringle also views the outlook for South Asian classical music in Manchester as somewhat ‘bleak’. While he restates his teacher’s stories of Manchester as a ‘hotbed’ for this music in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when there were local performances every week and concerts of visiting artists from South Asia every month, he suggests that the scene for this music, and the music scene in the city overall, has shrunk significantly since then.
“I do feel Indian classical music, especially from the Pakistan region, is not very well represented in Manchester…There’s not many concerts or festivals with this kind of music…Even though there are a lot of great musicians from that area, like my teacher, I don’t feel there are that many opportunities for representation”.
He indicates that performances seem to have ‘moved down to London’, where there are even large festivals for South Asian classical music like Darbar and Ghazalsara, and that governing bodies in Manchester need to do more to give a voice to musicians and provide opportunities to perform and promote this music.
“We haven’t had organisational help…It’s so hard to get funding. My teacher runs an academy, but he does it all off his own back…Even for the things that are out there, they’re not signposted well for people to notice and get involved with…The place where I teach at is something that is happening in Manchester but not many people know about it…If we can make those routes to get funding easier and have contacts to speak to in governing bodies, I think that would help…If there was better available information, I think that would go a long way as well”.
Nevertheless, Pringle remains optimistic that a ‘dramatic change’ could come to support this artform and other underrepresented musics. He hopes that there will be more opportunities to perform this music in both community contexts and for a wider audience and, in particular, he believes that music could help to unite the city, which he reflects has still not recovered from the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.
“This music is important for both the community and a wider audience. I think it would be good to reach the wider audience in Manchester who have not been exposed to this music. But I also think music is very much for the people who understand it so we need concerts for people who actually enjoy the music and want to come to listen to it. You want the person performing to be in a comfortable environment and to be appreciated and you need to do something that does a service, not a disservice, to the artform. I think both need to happen”.“It would be good to do something that gets the whole community of Manchester together. I don’t think we’ve really done anything to get everyone together since the bombing. I don’t think we’ve all come back together since then and I think we need to”.Tabla Kaida Performance (see video)
Pringle presents an introduction to the tabla, with a kaida performance. He expands on the role of oral tradition in learning the instrument, particularly the use of ‘speaking’ tabla syllables to teach compositions.
“It’s mainly an oral tradition. Now, in modern years, we do write things and we videotape things. But, when there wasn’t that available, it was an oral tradition, so the teacher would say the composition to pass it to his student and they would pass it to their student and there would be a flow of knowledge passing down that language…In Urdu, someone will literally say ‘Say this composition’ in forms of tabla syllables”.“The way I learn it and the way I try to teach it…is to try and get the saying of the composition perfect because, if you can say it perfectly, you will be able to play it perfectly. If you say the composition and your breathing is all over the place and you’re not saying the things clearly, you will play it on the instrument that way. The actual speaking of it is extremely important, just as much as playing it. Teachers and legends of the instrument put great emphasis on the saying of the vowels of the instrument that you play. When you hear a legend of the instrument saying the language, it’s like poetry in motion”.
Pringle also adds that some tabla players now make ‘stories’ out of the spoken language, bringing a narrative element to their performances.
“A lot of performers now have started, to get more connected to the audience, to say ‘This composition represents a deer running through the forest’ so they can actually imagine that by the way they are saying it”.
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Tabla; Pakistan; Indian classical music; folk music; Christian music; religion.
Pringle Gulzar: a tabla player guided by faith and celebrating South Asian culture