1. Tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers
I am Varun Venkit; an agent of change, for myself, for those around me… and I use rhythm, music and the arts as my medium.
I have been playing the drums since as long as I can remember and the joy of drumming that I felt the first time I laid hands on a drum kit, pretty much led me to dedicating my life to spreading rhythm far and wide to people who would never, in their wildest dreams, dream of drumming and making music in a recreational, creative and non-judgemental setting.
It all started with playing drums in bands during my after-school hours. I started getting used to the nickname ‘Drummer Boy’. I had the good fortune of playing with Agnee for three years after my college days (2006-2009). I knew early on that I did not want to work in a straight-up corporate setting and asked myself, “How can I make a living doing what I love: drumming and drum circles?” I have spent every day thereafter answering this question and re-inventing myself to make sure that I am staying true to my intent of spreading joy through rhythm
Apart from being a drummer and percussionist, I am an author, published clinical psychologist, a masters NLP practitioner, arts based therapist and drum circle facilitator.
I am an avid fitness enthusiast, rookie ultra cyclist, aspiring scuba diver and recluse.. In my free time I bake, bike, read and make drums (I absolutely love putting a skin on my own djembe).
2. How did Taal Inc. come into existence?
Taal Inc. started off as a fusion percussion ensemble (band) that played its first gig in 2006. But since I knew early on that there is so much more about music that a participant can experience I had faith that Taal Inc. would be much more than just a band or an ensemble of performers.
Today, Taal Inc. is an organization that pioneered the drum circle movement in India. It is an entity that positively influences health and well-being using rhythm, music and the arts. We use drum circles as a medium of positive change.
We facilitate drum circles for all kinds of populations ranging from corporate groups, educational institutions, colleges, schools, private gatherings, open communities to special needs and underprivileged groups.
3. You were a clinical psychologist, what made you switch professions?
I am still very much a psychologist today. I completed my masters in Clinical Psychology from Pune University. I have been able to successfully amalgamate my academic qualifications and my passion to therefore create a niche and sustain the intent of using the arts as medicine for training, for healing and self development
It is this psychology background that has helped me and the team at Taal Inc. build credibility of the use of drumming, singing, yoga and sports based activities as powerful interventions that can be used by people from all walks of life to be more holistically healthy.
I have authored and published papers in the International Journal of Arts and Health and also co-authored two chapters in an Oxford Textbook of Arts and Health.
So the way I look at it, I haven’t switched professions. Keeping learning at the centre of my work in the area of arts & health, I have gathered knowledge and information from as many avenues as possible to be able to use drumming circles for healing , training and holistic health.
4. Are you India’s only certified djembe teacher?
Yes, I represent a djembe school set up by one of the few grandmasters of the Djembe: the Late Mamady Keita. The school is called: the Tam Tam Mandingue Djembe Academy and I represent this academy in India. In this regard, I am the first (and hitherto only) Indian to have achieved this feat. This has been a pursuit that started in 2010 when I met this legend in Singapore. Thereafter I shadowed him as he traveled the world (a new country every year) teaching the djembe. I believe that I share a ‘modern day Guru-Shishya’ relationship with him. Even though I was not with him every day in my learning, his teachings, philosophy and mission have been integral in shaping who I am as a djembe player and teacher today. And today, when he is not physically present, his work lives on through me and others like me (from various parts of the world) who represent him through TTMDA. You can learn traditional West African Djembe with me and my team of teachers in Pune or online.
5. Why Djembe?
Just for the record, one can use any percussion instrument or hand drum for drum circles. For me, the djembe has been my main instrument and focus of learning since 2010. There is something very magnetic and attractive about the djembe. The first time I was introduced to a DVD of Mamady Keita, I knew that I had to meet him and learn more about this instrument, its cultural relevance and history. The journey has not been easy. It has involved a lot of sacrifice, challenging moments and times where I had to eat humble pie. But for every one of those moments, there have been times of joy, inexplicable satisfaction and bliss.
Musically speaking, the djembe has a rich tradition and has spread across the world like wildfire. The djembe is synonymous to life in the Mandingue (West Africa). In my association with djembe music I realized that I have been studying West-African culture. A lot of these concepts have been used in drum circles for healing or corporate drum circles. This in turn has helped me understand and accept my own culture in a more calm and non judgemental way.
I believe a lot of the problems that today’s youth are facing in this digital and globalized world is either due to a lack of or a bloated sense of identity. Having a tool like djembe or any art form which one dedicates one’s life to really has the power to put things into perspective. I am reminded of one of Mamady’s favourite messages, “If everyone thought like the djembe, there would not be any fighting in the world.”
A lot of these stories and my learnings of djembe (drum circles) over the years are applied in Taal Inc. drum circles.
6. How have your programmes developed?
What we offer at Taal Inc. started off with what I had to offer. With each session that I did, I learned something new. I made MANY mistakes or as we call it; I had many learning moments. Now our programs have evolved into something much bigger. The programs or Taal Inc. as an entity can help you find yourself through rhythm.
This means, at Taal Inc., you can
- Invite Team Taal Inc. to organise a drum circle for your corporate drumming event, for your wedding, for your private gathering and more…
- Learn the djembe and other percussion instruments as an instrument and pursue (and develop) a hobby (age no bar! We have activities for ages 3 and upward)
- Participate in drum circles and explore the therapeutic and healing benefits of drumming and the arts
- Learn how to facilitate drum circles through our facilitator training course and work with corporates for their drum circle events, communities and special needs groups as therapy or drum circles for healing.
- Buy drums to remind you of your connection to your inner rhythm and celebrate it!
- Work toward being a part of the team that makes these events possible
So This way we have been able to create an ecosystem around rhythm and rhythm based events.
I’ll continue this Q’n’A in the next blog. Keep watching this space for more…
Come. Drum. Be One.