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Trilok Gurtu (Drummer Profile) – Legendary Indian Percussionist

Trilok Gurtu has always been one of the most unique drummers and percussionists in the music world. While he’s played both standard drum kits and percussion rigs throughout his career, he mostly plays on a combination of both, leading him to play some incredibly interesting things. 

He was a household name in the jazz scene throughout the 80s and 90s, and he’s become a legend in the rhythm world since then. 

Here’s a quick overview of Trilok Gurtu’s life, career, gear, and playing style.

Notable For

  • One of the best percussionists in the world 
  • Has extreme control over all his limbs when playing drums and percussion 
  • Mixes Indian rhythms with western jazz music 
  • Uses highly unique methods to create different sounds when playing live


Trilok Gurtu was born in Mumbai, India, in 1951. He started his musical journey by playing tabla, and he eventually started playing traditional drum kits in his 20s.

In those days, you would have to listen to albums and try to recreate the drum parts by ear. A lot of albums had multiple drum tracks running, and Trilok learned to play all the parts on his own, which is what skyrocketed his level of independence between his limbs.

Trilok became a relatively well-known name in the jazz world after performing with John McLaughlin in a trio. His unique drum and percussion setup made many people interested in him, and he would play a combination of standard drum kit parts mixed with Indian percussion.

He performed with John McLaughlin throughout the 1980s, and then he focused on a solo career throughout the 1990s and beyond. He composed a lot of his own songs, and he got various jazz musicians to join him on stage when he performed.

He has recorded a total of 20 albums as a band leader, with different jazz legends playing other instruments across all of those.

He still regularly performs around the world.

Notable Artists That Trilok Gurtu Has Played With

John McLaughlin

Trilok performed regularly with John McLaughlin throughout the 1980s. He also recorded three official albums with his trio in the early 90s, which were called Que Alegria, Live at the Royal Festival Hall, and The Promise. 

John McLaughlin heavily utilized Trilok’s abilities when they played live. They would often do call and response bits, and his music benefitted from Trilok playing both drums and percussion.

Charly Antolini

Trilok also regularly performed with Charly Antolini in the 1980s. However, Charly is a drummer too, so Trilok mostly played percussion

The two albums that he tracked parts for with Charly Antolini were Finale, and Menue/Finale.


Oregon was a world percussion jazz group that formed in 1970. The group gained a good amount of fame in the jazz world, with Collin Walcott being the original drummer and percussionist. Sadly, he died in a car crash, and Trilok Gurtu took over the drumming duties for a few years. 

Trilok Gurtu was Walcott’s personal choice for a replacement if he ever left the band, so it’s fitting that Trilok joined. 

He recorded three albums with the group before leaving them to pursue other projects. Those albums were Ecotopia, 45th Parallel, and Always, Never, and Forever.

Trilok Gurtu

Most of Trilok’s playing throughout his career has been in the capacity of being his own band leader. He writes some incredible music, and he’s gotten some of the best players in the jazz world to play in his band over the years.

He’s recorded a total of twenty albums, and all his music is heavily centered around unique percussive rhythms that blend western and Indian music. 

When people think of Trilok Gurtu, they mostly think of him as the center of the groups that he plays with.

Drumming Style

Trilok Gurtu’s drumming style is the biggest reason for him being so well-known in the jazz music world. The most impressive thing about it is his otherworldly ability to play clashing rhythms with four different limbs at the same time. 

He typically plays on a setup that combines traditional drum shells with Indian and traditional percussion instruments. He then switches between playing all of them as he plays with other musicians. 

He also always plays with a vocal mic attached so that he can do vocal improvisations. He does them alone and while playing his kit. 

There have been a few performances where Trilok plays straight drum kit parts, but he mostly plays a combination of different things.


Trilok Gurtu plays so many different drums and percussion instruments that it’s quite difficult to pinpoint which brands he uses for all of them. 

However, he’s always been a loyal Zildjian player. He uses both Zildjian cymbals and drumsticks.

Notable Performances

Zildjian Day in London 1995

This is one of the few videos where you’ll see Trilok Gurtu improvising on his kit without any other musiciansplaying with him. It’s an incredible clip to get a close-up of his unique setup, and you can also see his intricate playing ideas being demonstrated. 

Trilok Gurtu Zildjian Day in London (1995)

Balatho by Tigran Hamasyan and Trilok Gurtu

While Trilok starts this tune out with drum and tabla improvisation, he mostly plays on a cajon while Tigran plays melodies and solos on the piano. 

Trilok is regularly seen as a drummer who plays on a massive setup, but this clip shows you just how much he can do with only one percussion instrument. It’s amazing to hear. 

Tigran Hamasyan & Trilok Gurtu - Balatho

The Wall Will Fall by The John McLaughlin Trio

Here’s a clip of Trilok Gurtu playing more traditional drum kit parts with John McLaughlin and Kai Eckhardt. You can see his unique sitting style where he positions all the drums close to the floor so that he can keep sitting when he switches to playing tabla. 

JazzBaltica Performance in 2014

Here’s a full-length performance of Trilok Gurtu and his band. Interestingly, he’s playing on a traditional drum kit setup. He doesn’t do it often, but it shows how he can rip it up on a normal drum kit just as well as he does on his unique drum kit setups. 

JazzBaltica 2014: Trilok Gurtu

Final Thoughts on Trilok Gurtu

Trilok Gurtu’s drumming style isn’t something that every drummer will be really into. However, it’s always good to watch a drummer with a unique setup play. It’s a refreshing take on how drums can be played, and Trilok’s incredible skill behind the kit will keep anyone entertained. 

If you want to hear more of Trilok Gurtu playing drums, you should check out all the solo albums that he has released over the past few decades.