In memory of Badal Roy, pioneer of Indian jazz fusion

Indian tabla maestro Badal Roy died on January 18, 2022. Badal Roy was a pioneer who introduced the tabla to jazz and improvisational music for several decades. An innovative percussionist, he has played with many jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John McLaughlin, Dave Liebman, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock and Herbie Mann. He has also recorded with Yoko Ono and Richie Havens and has given presentations around the world.

Born in what is now Bangladesh, Badal Roy arrived in New York in 1968 with just a few dollars in his pocket. He had studied accounting in India and he came to America to continue his education and secure a new future in America.

To make ends meet as he settled in, he worked as a kitchen assistant at the Horn & Hardart automated kitchen restaurant and as a waiter at an Indian restaurant. One night, when the tabla player didn’t show up at the restaurant, Badal mentioned to the manager that he also played tabla. The manager asked her to stop waiting tables for the evening and sit with the sitar player instead, and so her performing career began. He then performed at many Indian restaurants in Manhattan, including Raga, Nirvana, and Taste of India.

According to Badal, one evening an African-American man approached the stage as he was leaving the restaurant. In a hoarse voice, he invited Badal to a paid recording session and asked him to call him by phone the next day. He left his business card, and as the man left the restaurant, Badal turned to the other musician and asked, “Who is Miles Davis?”

Badal continued to record on Miles’ classic “In the corner,” and on other albums, as well as live concerts. On another occasion, a man with a British accent approached the stage and asked if he could sit down and play guitar with Badal for a few numbers. It was John McLaughlin, who later asked him to record on the album “My goal is beyond.

Robert Browning began featuring Badal in Indian and fusion music concerts at the Alternative Center for International Arts, which later became the World Music Institute. Robert and his wife Helene presented Badal in concert more than 30 times from the mid-70s, working with jazz, world music and fusion artists such as Steve Gorn, Don Cherry, Dave Liebman, Nana Vasconcelos , Arooj Lazewal, Perry Robinson, Purna Das Baul, Adam Rudolph, Amit Chatterjee, Pharoah Sanders, Mike Richmond, Glen Velez and many more.

Badal has made several recordings with producer Bob Haddad for the Music of the World and Nomad labels, including “Asian Newspaper”; “Yantra” (with Steve Gorn); “Songs for sitar and tabla” (with Arooj Lazewal); and his only headlining CD, “One in the pocket”, with Steve Gorn, Mike Richmond, Glen Velez, Amit Chatterjee, Jim Bowie and Duofel, a Brazilian guitar duo.

Badal was a loving, funny and gentle soul who helped his fellow musicians (especially those in India) connect with presenters and record companies. He will be remembered by his friends, family and all who knew him.

(main image: Badal Roy – photo by Greg Plachta, courtesy of Music of the World)

Author: World music

Music of the World was formed in New York in the early 1980s by Bob Haddad to promote and produce musicians from a variety of traditional backgrounds. The company began by presenting traditional musicians in concert and by recording high quality cassettes which were used for promotional purposes and sold at performances. In 1989 Haddad moved the label from Brooklyn, New York to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The label has released nearly 90 CD albums with artists from North America, Africa, India, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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