Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion
Troupe offers rare chance to hear classical and folk music of India played by revered performers
By Mel Minter
In the United States, tabla master Zakir Hussain may be better known for his groundbreaking work in the World Music groups Shakti and Planet Drum, not to mention his wide-ranging collaborations with musicians as diverse as George Harrison and Charles Lloyd. In his native India, however, he is revered as a performer of his country’s ancient and extraordinarily complex classical repertoire.
The son of the great tabla master Allarakha, who toured the West with sitarist Ravi Shankar beginning in the ’60s, Hussain has carried on the tradition started by those two maestros, bringing Eastern music to the ears of Western listeners.
Touring with Allarakha
Masters of Percussion originally grew out of Hussain’s desire “to be close to my father and learn from him,” he says. In the early ’80s, they began touring together, performing percussion concerts. The group grew with the addition, first, of Hussain’s younger brother, tabla artist Fazal Qureshi. Later, at Allarakha’s urging, other Indian percussionists were added, and Hussain’s wife coined the name Masters of Percussion for the ensemble.
“It’s always been a tour to showcase some rarely heard or unknown percussion talent from India,” says the softspoken Hussain, who directs the ensemble. “It has now grown into a much bigger show, and there is now a sort of equal emphasis on the melodic part of India, as well.”
“In the Western world, drums were supposedly evil and would inspire certain instincts, which ought to be curbed, not brought forth,” Zakir Hussain says. In effect, the West “took rhythm and put it away.”
On this tour, the group features nine solo performers, including Hussain and his brothers Fazal and Taufiq Qureshi, as well as a premier dance troupe (see sidebar).
Rhythm Is Good
Outside of post-Renaissance European culture and its North American derivative, rhythmic traditions have long played a central role in people’s everyday and ritual lives.
“It’s been part and parcel of prayer, of communication, of marching, of discipline in the world,” says Hussain. “These things existed in the pagan world. In the Western world, they changed that, because drums were supposedly evil and would inspire certain instincts, which ought to be curbed, not brought forth,” he says. In effect, the West “took rhythm and put it away.”
Hussain sees that attitude changing now, with interest in rhythmic traditions growing and with rhythm taking a central role in much of popular music.
“Everybody’s noticing that, yes, this is the core of our being and should not be curbed but brought forth,” he says. “It is not anything evil, but something pure, and passion is not wrong.”
Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion celebrate that purity and the passion, animating Western hearts to rhythms of the East.
Masters of Percussion
This year, in addition to Zakir Hussain, the Masters of Percussion include these distinguished artists:
• Fazal Qureshi, an accomplished soloist and accompanist on the tabla.
• Taufiq Qureshi, an acclaimed composer and a unique percussionist, whose style includes body and vocal percussion.
• Niladri Kumar, the son and disciple of celebrated sitarist Pandit Kartick Kumar, and one of India’s finest young sitar virtuosos.
• Abbos Kosimov, a master of the doyra, the tambourine-like drum from his native Uzbekistan.
• Ram Kishan, from Pushkar, Rajasthan, whose traditional music inspired him to mastery of the nagada, a kettle drum played with sticks.
• Dilshad Khan, from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, whose performances on the sarangi, a bowed string instrument, have graced concert halls and films.
• Vijay Chauhan, one of the foremost exponents of the dholki, a hand drum from northern India, and a performer on several other folk instruments.
• Meitei Pung Cholom Performing Troupe, one of India’s premier performance troupes, combining dance, drumming and martial arts, and dedicated to the rejuvenation of traditional folk and classical Manipuri dance styles.
Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion appear at the National Hispanic Cultural Center on Monday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$50 ($5 discount for Outpost members and students) available through TicketMaster (883-7800 or ticketmaster.com) and at the Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE, 268-0044), by phone or in person.
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