Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s new album, Unexpected Guests, is perhaps best summarized as a black and white effort that spellbinds its audience using much more than cosmetic sophistication. Included in its tracklist are seven stylish songs – some of which bring winds, strings and even some decadent vocal harmonies into the melting pot of melodicism with which the drums will straddle, others which consist of percussive prowess exclusively. Around every turn in Unexpected Guests, including those within the music video for its title track, there’s something quite unexpected waiting to amaze listeners through virtuosity and unselfish rhythms, the most stirring of which attack us from all angles simultaneously (“Dream Symposium,” the epic “Monkey Tale”). Toronto Tabla Ensemble are unknowns to most in America, including myself before recently, but they portray themselves as brilliant masters of the craft rather flawlessly in this record.
You don’t really need a lyrical presence in “Toronto Tabla Youth Ensemble,” “What’s Going On?” and “Maryem’s Here” to understand the emotional output of the players – if the video for “Unexpected Guests” teaches us anything, it’s that grooves have the power to unite when linguistics simply won’t do a sentiment justice. The diversity of this group’s influences is obvious in every element we examine here, and although I would say that Unexpected Guests might be a little much for inexperienced navigators of the North American indie underground, it will probably be championed by those who consider themselves serious beat addicts.
There is a lot of good music coming from north of the border right now, but if you ask me, Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s new album is a cut above the rest for a few pretty big reasons, the biggest being its undisputed grasp of human emotion despite being almost entirely lyric-less (outside of “Raghupati”). This is a deep-feeling, deep-thinking collective of artists, and for listeners like myself – who crave as much detail out of a musical performance as is possible – it’s arriving at a time in 2020 that hasn’t exactly been littered with premium content. Toronto Tabla Ensemble have my attention, and with the right exposure, I think they’ll have yours, too.
by Bethany Page