It is usually held that tappa is derived from the songs and tunes sung by the camel drivers of North West Punjab. These songs were composed in Punjabi and Pusthu and, like thumri, were amatory in spirit. The word tappa is derived from the root word tap, which means to 'jump', 'bounce', or 'rebound' in the manner of a bouncing ball.
History of Tappa
History of Tappa outlines the biographical sketches included in the epic work of Indian Music, by Dr. Thakur Jaydev Singh. According to him, Shorie Miya had four significant disciples: Prasiddhu Maharaj, Miya Gammu or Gammu Khan, Tarachand, and Mir Ali Saheb, Gammu Khan's son, Sadi Khan and Babti Ramsahay. He is considered as a member of the kathaka community who together with his brother Manohar Maharaj founded the Prasiddhu-Manohar lineage. Like the other lineages of Tappa singers, this lineage asserted significant musicianship in the mainstream genres of vocal music. Prasiddhu's great-grandson, Ramkrishna Mishra taught and performed in Kolkata till 1955.
Features of Tappa
The form itself, with its rapid movements, gives the impression of a briskly hopping ball. Singers attempt to capture these rapid rhythms by hopping from one note to the next, without respite. The song-text is very short and not as elaborately structured as a khayal or a thumri. Singers render it crisply and concisely. One of its most striking features is the singer's use of an unrelenting cascade of jumpy and zig-zag taans called zamzama. Being a highly unpredictable style, the singer cannot, and should not, rest on any of the notes the way khayal and thumri singers do. He or she has to persistently hop from one note to the next improvising as he or she goes along using varieties of taans, which are not used in khayal. Unnecessary to say, this breathless form demands a great mastery over melodic and rhythmic aspects, as the singer has to improvise continually.
Performers of Tappa
Some of the great exponents of tappa in this century are Pt. Bholanath Bhatt, Siddheshwari Devi and Girija Devi. The doyens of Gwalior gharana, Pt. Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit and Saratchandra Arolkar were known to sing it in a slow and unhurried pace. In the post-Independence era, it was Pt. Kumar Gandharva who played a substantial role in popularizing this form. Today, Malini Rajurkar is the only singer of repute who has made tappa an essential item in her concert repertoire and also renders it memorably.
Tappa in Modern India
Tappa is seldom heard in concert circuits these days, as it is a highly demanding and difficult style to master. Also, the number of singers capable of rendering it competently has declined abruptly in the recent past. Tappa is most definitely on the 'endangered' list of musical forms. Yet, many singers and instrumentalists have freely borrowed and continue to borrow the brisk embellishments like zamzama. Some gharanas have even gone to the extent of combining tappa with khayal, to give rise to an amalgamated form known as tapkhayal.