Thunder Bay

Live from the Rock performer says childhood in Thunder Bay inspired his music career

So Long Seven tabla player Ravi Naimpally grew up in the Lakehead and was first exposed to Indian classical music when his father began bringing famous South Asian musicians to perform in town.

So Long Seven co-founder Ravi Naimpally says he studied tabla after meeting famous musicians in the Lakehead

So Long Seven performs at the Live from the Rock Folk Festival this weekend in Red Rock, Ont. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

When So Long Seven performs at the Live From the Rock Folk Festival in Red Rock, Ont., this weekend, it will be something of a homecoming for Ravi Naimpally, the Juno-nominated musician behind the tablas.

Born in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, Naimpally was just a year old when his family moved to Thunder Bay after his father got a job as a mathematics professor at Lakehead University.

It was his time in the Lakehead, he said, that planted the seeds of his highly accomplished career.

"He loved Indian classical music," Naimpally said of his father, "so he and some friends across Canada started bringing musicians over and organising Canada-wide tours. We started hosting the concerts in our home, but there were soon too many people, and they started using the university auditorium. Zakir Hussain even came and stayed at our house."

The biggest influence on Naimpally, however, was the revered tabla player Anindo Chatterjee, who he first saw on tour accompanying the great flute master Hariprasad Chaurasia. Inspired, he went on to study tabla with his uncle, Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, and later with Chatterjee himself. He also earned a masters degree in ethnomusicology from York University.

Over the years, Naimpally has become an esteemed musician in his own right, known as both a skilled performer of Indian classical music and an avid cross-cultural collaborator.  

His co-conspirators in So Long Seven, Tim Posgate (banjo, guitar, mandolin and fiddle) and Neil Hendry (guitar) are neighbours, he explained, and the three came together very casually. When they started looking for a violin player, they happened upon William Lamoureux at a Toronto club one night during a showcase of student bands from Humber College.

"We have very diverse tastes in the band," Naimpally said of his eclectic ensemble. "We don't always even like the music that the others like, but that is what keeps it interesting. The nice thing is that our instruments sound great together. The instrumentation sounds like it is a bluegrass band, but the writing is anything but that. There is a lot of world, jazz, [and] classical in our music and of course some influence of various folk traditions."

So Long Seven's cross-cultural compositions include several with titles that reference place names familiar to northwestern Ontarians: "Krazy Kat Goes to Manitouwadge," "Quetico Falls," and "Kakabeka."

"'Kakabeka' is a nostalgic tune about my childhood in TBay," Naimpally explained. "Whenever my parents hosted musicians from India or guests from anywhere, we would take them to the falls."

"And then I have another tune named after Quetico because that's where my family would go camping in the summer time," he continued. "So Thunder Bay – I spent the first 18 years of my life there, so definitely those are my formative years. It played a strong role in who I am, I think."