Published in India Currents: "Master of Percussion"

Zakir Hussain
Unmatched in energy, enthusiasm, and improvisational precision, Zakir Hussain is widely regarded as the world’s preeminent tabla player. The son of legendary musician Ustad Allarakha, Hussain actively brings his father’s musical and philosophical legacy to his tours around the world. This spring Zakir Hussain is playing across the United States and Canada with his Masters of Percussion tour. On March 24th he will play at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall.  Hussain talks with India Currents about his upcoming performance in Berkeley from Bombay, where he’s just returned after playing in Palestine.

The Masters of Percussion Tour is organized by Hussain to feature relatively unknown Indian artists. The tour “makes for a unique opportunity for the lovers of Indian art and culture to see these incredible performers and get a bird’s eye view of what India has to offer,” explains Hussain. Masters of Percussion brings Indian artists rooted in traditional and regional forms to the west while offering Hussain the opportunity to explore new musical territory. This spring’s Masters of Percussion tour features an Uzbek Doira player, Abbos Kosimov, for the first time. Hussain is excited to include the Doira because it allows him to improvise, “moving towards rhythmic styles outside of India that have similar roots.”

Abbos Kosimov
Hussain has carefully chosen his musicians to complement Kosimov’s Doira. Uma Shankar from South India will play the Kanjira and Ghatam, bringing corresponding sounds to the ensemble. Navin Sharma will play Dholak, contributing similar rhythmic patterns to the Doira and Kanjira. Hussain, with his brother Fazal Qureshi, will showcase the North Indian classical tabla repertoire featuring two players. Hussain’s wife will also contribute a narrative element to the performance through Kathak. “The main feature of the evening will be the story-telling aspect of Kathak dance featuring Antonia Minnecola and Meitei Pung drummer and dancer Joy Singh.” Rakesh Chaurasia on Bansuri and Sabir Khan on Sarangi will round out the evening featuring ragas and folk melodies from their home regions.

Although Hussain is too humble to admit it, he’s considered a master of the tabla, a 300 year old instrument he uses to access a 2,000 year old musical tradition. Hussain’s fluency with the melodic possibilities of the tabla, as well as his command of its percussive voice, makes him a favorite collaborator of contemporary musicians around the world. He worked with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead to produce the Global Drum Project, which won a Grammy for best contemporary world music in 2009. Hussain has also collaborated with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, Van Morrison, Bela Fleck, and Pharoah Sanders. Over a career that began at the age of twelve, Hussain has been showered with a downpour of awards. In 1999 he won the National Heritage Fellowship, America’s most prestigious award for a master of traditional arts. Hussain has also been awarded the titles of Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri by the Indian government. In 2009 Hussain also held four widely celebrated concerts at Carnegie Hall’s Artist Perspective series.

Antonia Minnecola
Despite his accomplishments, Hussain remains focused on learning. “This combination of artists is new to MOP and I am looking forward to see how this interaction will influence my performance.” Hussain’s approach to music and life has been deeply shaped by advice given to him by his father, who said, “No matter what you learn, just remember that ultimately you’re a student… don’t even consider trying to be a master.” It’s this advice that has driven the depth and breadth of Hussain’s musical career. His compositions range from the trance of Tabla Beat Science to the smooth eclectic quality of the Global Drum Project and the beauty of his collaborations with John McLaughlin, but ultimately Hussain’s genius rests in his masterful command of Indian classical music. 

Hussain is a prodigious and creative musician, but more importantly, he’s an electrifying performer. His joy and enthusiasm on stage are contagious, making him a darling of audiences around the world. He admits, “The tour has played sold out concerts in all the prestigious theatres throughout the world.” One thing he’s found is that his current audiences are familiar with traditional, folk, and contemporary music from India. That has a great deal to do with Hussain’s charisma on stage and his willingness to educate himself, and his audiences, to listen to India’s percussive traditions while continuing to push musical boundaries.

Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion.  Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Davis. March 22, 8pm, tickets start at $25.  Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. March 24, 8pm, tickets start at $20.