Every taal in Hindustani music has a textbook version of structured mnemonic syllables that are played on the tabla and, in some cases, on the pakhawaj to represent the framework of the rhythmic cycle. This string of syllables is called the theka of the taal. Some scholars believe that some cycles are called taal and others theka, but that is a discussion for another time.

Importantly, percussionists do not act only as musical timekeepers by playing the theka with machine-like precision. Instead, they bring the theka to life by ornamenting it with subtle accents, pressures of the wrist on the base drum in the case of the tabla, pauses, grace strokes, or even more overt embellishments.

In the second episode of our series on Dadra, a rhythmic cycle of six time units or matras, we continue to listen to forms of music that employ this taal. These forms do not fall within the Hindustani music concert repertoire, but it is important to appreciate the manner in which they use the taal, as it helps us understand the many grooves or patterns that are created with Dadra as the foundation. Listeners will note the manner in which the tabla players are moving away from the skeletal framework of the taal and introducing minute ornamentation to a seemingly repetitive format.

To begin with, here is a composition set to the Dadra taal performed in the qawwali style by the renowned singer and composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


The next track is a ghazal written by Sudarshan Fakir and composed by Taj Ahmed Khan. Set to Dadra, this ghazal has been sung by the inimitable Begum Akhtar. Listeners will note the rhythmic interludes that feature some crisp laggis, or swift patterns on the tabla, played in quadruple tempo. The tabla player on this recording is the charismatic Nizamuddin Khan.