Tāl, the electro-folk experiment helmed by twin sisters and multi-instrumentalists Shalina and Shantini Sandran, grew out of an inclination toward blending styles instilled in the womb. The New Zealand-based duo recall memories of their mother playing the classical maestro Vivaldi during her pregnancy, and how their home reverberated with sounds as varied as the tunes of mid-century Hindi films and British rock bands. Their self-titled debut EP certainly cannot be slotted into either of those discrete categories. Tāl’s atmospheric mixture of acoustic folk, Indian classical instrumentation, and low-key electronica, instead evokes the liminal spaces between genres and emotions, where impermanence and uncertainty reign.
The sisters began their education as musicians at seven, when they learned violin. Ten years later, Shalina took up sitar and Shantini took up the tabla, instruments that feature in many of the compositions in the EP.
“When we first started making music together, our sound was very folk – we were both firm believers in tactile methods and the physicality of music making,” Shantini reflected in an email exchange with Kajal. “But in the years since then, we have developed a real soft spot for electronic music and so naturally began to incorporate synthetic sounds in what we were creating, along with Indian Classical nuances.”
The plaintive strumming of the sitar in “Lights” adds a sense of melancholy to the track, while the tabla serves as a soft heartbeat in “What You Are.” The instruments pair naturally with the acoustic guitar at the core of each song, and even complement the synth tones and beats front and center in the closer, “Again,” where the drone of the tanpura of Indian classical music is almost approximated by a computer-generated hum.
In both a technical and personal sense, Tāl’s music-making practice is collaborative, which allows them to draw out and develop this interweaving of genres. Shalina begins the process by crafting a melody and theme, and Shantini advances by floating ideas for vocals and beats. Shalina described the fulfilment of this arrangement, musing, “Writing music together is cathartic, and having this twin-intuition has provided us with a space where we can fill in each other’s gaps, and make music that is important to both of us.”
The emotional journey of the EP began with the death of their grandfather. This immediate experience influenced the creation of the tracks, but they soon flowered into an exploration of broader, related themes.
“We wrote the tracks. . . based on the changeable nature of the bonds that people share,” Shantini explained. “By this we mean not only our emotional connections with others, but also spiritual (questioning your faith in times of turmoil), and the physical absence.”
They said they hope these ideas strike a chord with listeners, who have likely faced the same feelings of unmooring and transience at some point in their own lives.
In an interview with Lowtide, the duo explained that the finalization and mixing of the EP took place during 5 months of travel across Europe. Although they were essentially wanderers with no home-base other than the temporary respites offered by friends along their route, Shantini recalled that it was possibly the happiest the two had ever been as adults. Of this time, Shantini told Kajal, “Our time in Europe played a very significant part in the final stages of the EP. Berlin in particular, became a beautiful time of realization, a sort of confirmation to ourselves – that it is ok to be bold in our choices and do things unapologetically.”
The EP is the culmination of their newfound convictions, and it charts a path toward a promising future for the duo.