Trilok Gurtu

Trilok Gurtu (Kashmiri: ترلوک گرٹو, Marathi: त्रिलोक गुर्टू) (born 30 October 1951) is an Indian percussionist and composer[1] whose work has blended the music of India with jazz fusion and world music.[2][3][4]

Trilok Gurtu
Gurtu performing in Warsaw with Arkè String Quartet
Gurtu performing in Warsaw with Arkè String Quartet
Background information
Born (1951-10-30) 30 October 1951 (age 70)
Mumbai, India
GenresJazz, jazz fusion, world music
InstrumentsDrums, tabla, Konnakol
Years active1970s–present
Associated actsJohn McLaughlin, Embryo, Oregon, Tabla Beat Science, Arkè String Quartet, Joe Zawinul, Jan Garbarek

He has worked with Terje Rypdal, Gary Moore, John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek, Joe Zawinul, Michel Bisceglia, Bill Laswell, Maria João & Mário Laginha, and Robert Miles.[2][3][4]

Early lifeEdit

Gurtu was born to Hindu Brahmin parents in Mumbai, India;[1] he had a Kashmiri Pandit father and a Marathi mother. He attended Don Bosco High School (Matunga) in Mumbai. His mother, the famous Hindustani classical and semi-classical vocalist Shobha Gurtu, encouraged him to learn playing tabla, and he received formal training in percussion from Shah Abdul Karim.[4]


Gurtu at Oslo Jazzfestival in 2016.

Gurtu began playing a western drum kit in the 1970s, and developed an interest in jazz. In a 1995 television special on Jimi Hendrix, Gurtu mentioned having initially learned Western music without awareness of overdubbing, which, he said, forced him to learn multiple parts which most musicians would have never attempted. In the 1970s, he played with Charlie Mariano, John Tchicai, Terje Rypdal, and Don Cherry.[2][4]

One of Gurtu's earliest recordings was on Apo-Calypso, a 1977 album by the German ethnic fusion band Embryo. His mother also sang in that record, and later joined him on his first solo CD, Usfret.[2]

In the 1980s, Gurtu played with Swiss drummer Charly Antolini and with John McLaughlin in McLaughlin's trio,[1] accompanied variously by bassists Jonas Hellborg, Kai Eckhardt, and Dominique DiPiazza. The line-up with Hellborg performed at least one concert opening for Miles Davis in Berkeley, California in 1988.[4]

Collaboration between Gurtu and McLaughlin included vocal improvisations using the Indian tala talk method of oral drumming notations for teaching drum patterns. Sometimes, Eckhardt would join in with hip-hop beat-box vocals for a three-way vocal percussion jam, while Gurtu and McLaughlin would throw in a few amusing words such as some Japanese brand names mixed with some Indian words.[2]

Some of the unusual aspects of Gurtu's drum playing include playing without a drum stool, in a half-kneeling position on the floor, and the use of an unconventional kick drum that resembles a large drum head with a kick-pedal, and a mix of tablas and western drums. Gurtu's unique percussion signature involves dipping cymbals and strings of shells into a bucket of water to create a shimmering effect.[3]

Gurtu joined Oregon after the death of drummer Collin Walcott. He played on three of their records: Ecotopia (1987), 45th Parallel (1989), and Always, Never and Forever (1991).[4]

In the early 1990s, Gurtu resumed his career as a solo artist and a bandleader. Various noted musicians have backed him on a number of his CD releases.[3]

In 1999, Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell founded a musical group, Tabla Beat Science, which played a mixture of Hindustani music, Asian underground, ambient, Drum and Bass, and Electronica. Gurtu joined this group along with Karsh Kale and Talvin Singh. The group released three albums before going dormant in late 2003.[4]

In 2004, Gurtu created an album, Miles Gurtu, with Robert Miles. His collaboration with the Arkè String Quartet began in 2007 with the release of the album Arkeology.[2]

In 2010, Trilok Gurtu played on the album Piano Car, an opera of minimalist composer Stefano Ianne with Ricky Portera, Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo), Mario Marzi, Terl Bryant (John Paul Jones/Led Zeppelin), John De Leo.[3]

In 2012, Trilok Gurtu collaborated with electronic folk duo Hari & Sukhmani in their hometown of Chandigarh and produced a song 'Maati' on the music documentary-travelogue The Dewarists.


Trilok Gurtu is universally acknowledged as one of the most innovative and ground breaking percussionists around; integrating swords, buckets and other non-conventional elements and into his sound. Zakir Hussain said that if Trilok Gurtu played only the tabla, he would have been the best tabla player in the world.[5]

Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) mentions Trilok Gurtu as his hero and adds "You know who's a big hero of mine? Trilok Gurtu... Indians should know this. Indian traditional percussive algos (algorhythms) and modes blow my mind. Check him out. Full-on retarded isolation skills. I can't even chew gum and walk. There's a whole different language/notation to a tabla."[6]


"An open-minded musician who embraces Jazz, Indian classical music, abstract improvisational and Asian pop, a dazzling percussion virtuoso, an accessible entertainer" – The Guardian UK.[7]

He is self-confessedly strongly influenced by the rhythms of Africa and African beats and drumming patterns.[citation needed]


Gurtu has garnered a number of prestigious awards and nominations, including:

  • Best Overall Percussionist winner, DRUM! Magazine, 1999
  • Best Overall Percussionist winner, Carlton Television Multicultural Music Awards, 2001
  • Best Percussionist winner, Down Beat's Critics Poll for 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999,[8] 2000, 2001, and 2002[9]
  • Best Asia/Pacific Artist nominee, BBC Radio 3 World for 2002, 2003, and 2004.[2][4]


As leaderEdit

  • Usfret (CMP, 1988)
  • Living Magic (CMP, 1991)
  • Crazy Saints (CMP, 1993)
  • Believe (CMP, 1994)
  • The Glimpse (CMP, 1996)
  • Bad Habits Die Hard (CMP, 1996)
  • African Fantasy (ESC, 1999)
  • Kathak (Escapade, 1998)
  • The Beat of Love (Blue Thumb, 2001)
  • Broken Rhythms (Worldmusicnet, 2004)
  • Farakala (Frikyiwa, 2005)
  • Arkeology with Arke String Quartet (Promo Music, 2006)
  • Massacal (BHM, 2009)
  • 21 Spices (Art of Groove, 2011)
  • Broken Rhythms (Cream, 2012)
  • Spellbound (Moosicus, 2013)
  • Drums On Fire with Chad Wackerman (Times Music, 2015)
  • Crazy Saints Live (Art of Groove, 2015)
  • God Is a Drummer (Jazzline, 2019)

With Family of Percussion

  • Message to the Enemies of Time (Nagara, 1978)
  • Sunday Palaver (Nagara, 1980)
  • Here Comes the Family (Nagara, 1981)

As sidemanEdit

With Peter Giger

  • Illegitimate Music (Nagara, 1978)
  • Where the Hammer Hangs (Nagara, 1978)
  • For Drummers Only: Live at Cologne (Nagara, 1982)

With John McLaughlin

With Oregon

  • Ecotopia (ECM, 1987)
  • 45th Parallel (Portrait, 1989)
  • Always, Never, and Forever (veraBra, 1991)

With Irmin Schmidt

  • Filmmusik Vol. 3 & 4 (Spoon, 1983)
  • Musk at Dusk (WEA, 1987)
  • Filmmusik Vol. 5 (Virgin, 1989)
  • Impossible Holidays + Musk at Dusk (Spoon, 1998)

With Swans

  • Can't Find My Way Home (MCA, 1989)
  • The Burning World (UNI, 1989)
  • Forever Burned (Young God, 2003)

With others


  1. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 555. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Trilok Gurtu Biography". Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Trilok Gurtu – October 30, 1951 – Biography". Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Biography of Trilok Gurtu". Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  5. ^ "The Indian audience is a clap-happy lot: Trilok Gurtu". March 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  6. ^ "EDM can't touch the tabla". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  7. ^ "Trilok Gurtu new band". 15 September 2014. Archived from the original on 15 September 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  8. ^ "1999 DownBeat Critics Poll". Down Beat. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  9. ^ "2002 DownBeat Critics Poll". Down Beat. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2012.

External linksEdit