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Celebrating the music of Abbaji

music Updated: Apr 24, 2010 13:01 IST
Nikhil Taneja
Nikhil Taneja
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

February 2010 marked the 10th death anniversary of the legendary tabla maestro, Ustad All Rakha Khan, fondly called Abbaji. Even as memories of the homage concert by his sons, iconic percussionists Ustad Zakir Hussain and Taufiq Qureshi, remain fresh, on April 28 Abbaji’s third son, Fazal Qureshi will celebrate his life and times, in a concert titled ‘The Journey Continues…’, which marks the 91st birth anniversary of the maestro.

Organised by the Ustad Alla Rakha Institute of Music (UAIM), the concert will feature the coming together of some of the country’s top-most musicians – Fazal Qureshi, Louiz Banks, Roop Kumar Rathod, Bala Bhaskar, Ravi Chary, Karl Peters, Gino Banks and Sridhar Parthasarthy.

Says Qureshi, “While we paid a homage to Abbaji on his death anniversary, we want to highlight his achievements on his birth anniversary. We want to show how the tabla evolved because of my father’s contribution to it through the concert.”

At the beginning of the concert, Qureshi will showcase the recordings of Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, from his performances in the ’60s. Then, Qureshi will come together with the students of the UAIM, in a segment called ‘Expressions of the tabla’, which will musically explain the percussion instrument’s evolution.

Tabla maestro
“The tabla was just an accompanying instrument in the old days.” says Qureshi, “You didn’t ever relate ‘expressions’ to the tabla, since it was just a percussion instrument. But even though my father was soaked in traditions, he was way beyond his time in his thinking, and his experiments made the tabla what it is.”

Further explaining the evolution of the tabla, Qureshi says, “In my father’s time, the tabla was just played in a straightforward manner, in a particular structure, with no rhythmic improvisation. But my father experimented with rhythmic cycles, and eliminated the boundaries of the ‘gharanas’.

“That’s a good thing because the gharanas were very rigid,” he continues. “At the same time, because there are no boundaries, everyone plays an amalgamation of different styles and sometimes, lose their individuality to an extent.”Ask him how difficult it was for him to maintain his individuality in a family of two of the greatest tabla players ever, and he breaks into a smile.

“Even now, people come up to me sometimes and say that I play like my father,” he says. “The point of view from which I play the tabla is influenced by my father and my brother, Zakir’s style, but at the same time, I have a certain way of looking at a taal or a beat, which is different from the way they would.”

The tribute
The fusion and jam concert on the 28th will showcase Qureshi’s distinct percussion style, which he has best realised through playing for his Swedish-Indian band, Mynta, since 23 years now. In fact, Qureshi’s just come back from a tour of Sweden, Scandanavia and Norway in March, with his band.

“When we started this band in the ’80s, it was the unique combination of Swedish and Indian music that was our selling point,” he recalls. “In fact, when the band first came down to India in ’95, we publicized it through the collaboration of three Indians, from my other band, Surya, and three Swedish musicians, from Mynta. But after all these years, people know and enjoy our distinct sound.”

In its first few years, Mynta had Nandkishore Mulay on the santoor, and subsequently, had Shankar Mahadevan on vocals. But now, Qureshi is the only Indian in the band that consists of three Swedish musicians, a Cuban violinist and an American saxophonist. “We tour with the band every March,” Qureshi says.

“Even though big cities like Stockholm know of us now, there are several small cities in Sweden that we may be visiting after 10 years, so it’s always great fun.”Qureshi reveals that the Swedish people are fascinated by the ‘Indianness’ of the band, since quite a few of them, in the small towns, haven’t even seen Indians before!

“I always begin the concerts by giving a small lecture and demonstration on Indian music, which the Swedish people enjoy. But even there, the Indians are more into Bollywood,” he laughs.