PANCH Award 2015: Tamla Batra

altBorn 1958 in Kenya, Tamla migrated to England in 1971 where he attended the Christopher Wren School in London from 1972. Their music teacher at that time was Gary Chang, who visited once or twice a week to teach the art of playing the steel drums. Shortly afterwards Tamla started playing in the school steelband. It was the fascination of the steelpan instrument that made him fall in love with its music. None of Tamla’s family had a musical background.

In 1976, he played at the Notting Hill Carinval with a band called Sukuya, with Ralph Richardson as the musical arranger and was involved with various steelbands until the late 80s. He also played with Nostalgia Steelband led by Sterling Betancourt for many years.

Tamla joined the Groovers Steel Orchestra in 1978 and played with them until the late 80s. He was one of the band’s musical arrangers. Groovers was sponsored by British Airways for about 10 years and they travelled extensively all over the world, wherever BA had promotional events, performing at prestigious London venues which included St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Stadium in the presence of the Royal Family including Princess Diana, Pope John Paul, Muhammad Ali and many other prominent people. Tamla learned a lot with Groovers, being given the opportunity to musically arrange their repertoire. He also learnt to read music, studying the theory of music, which enabled him to arrange musical renditions for the orchestra across all genres. In 1983, Tamla started to work as a professional musician. His first tour was with Sterling Betancourt and Daniel Louis in Bahrain for 6 months at the Gulf Hotel. After that tour he played with various professional bands in England and abroad, including Switzerland where he played with Denis Picket, the Trinidadian Calypsoian known as the Ambassador, who was resident in Germany. Tamla also performed with the Caribbean Safari band at the Limmatquai 82 music club on several occasions and alongside David Henry, Junior Gill, Ken Jonson, Daniel Louis and singers. He co-arranged the classic piece 'Poet and Peasant' with Pat Bernhard for the Swiss project Panch2000, which they played at the 2000 World Steelband Festival in Trinidad & Tobago.

In the 90s he came to Switzerland on a regular basis to do gigs with various groups and in 2010, he became a Swiss resident teaching various Steelbands. As a musician, his philosophy is the journey to find your own unique voice on the instrument you play. Part of his philosophy is never to be in competition with fellow musicians. For him what makes the musical journey interesting is the interaction of all the musicians with their own individual voices as with the jazz philosophy. Tamla, you are getting this prize for continued contribution and love for the steelpan instrument and its music. As well as your unselfish support as a teacher, arranger and player to all the steel bands your have been involved with in Switzerland over the years, and last but not least for your excellent musicianship, which is always enriching and enjoyable be it as a musician, an arranger and a colleague.

Tamla would like to dedicate this award to many of his tutors, who have made his musical journey a fulfilling and enjoyable experience: Gary Chang, Ralph Richardson, Sterling Betancourt, Desmond Bowen, Pedro Burgess and Russ Henderson. These are some of the people who have shaped his life as a musician by giving him the knowledge and the passion for the instrument and music. This award is dedicated to Russ Henderson, because without his contribution many of us would have not been involved in the steel band fraternity, and also to Maggi Weber for her continuous support over the years. Tamla would like to thank all the bands that have supported him over the years, especially Panphonics from Zug, Quilombo from Schaffhausen and the professional band Rhythm and Steel with Martin Lehner, Enzo Lopardo, Daniel Canzani and particularly Martin Grah and Monica Bernasconi for their continuous support and friendship. He would like to thank PANCH for the opportunity to work on various projects over the years and also thank them for considering him for this award.