In Western Africa, the djembe is known to be “a skin-covered hand drum, shaped like a large goblet, that’s meant to be played with bare hands.” Having read this, you may well ask, ‘Now where have I heard that before?’
That’s because the description could just as well apply to the tabla, the most Indian of instruments, which, nevertheless, has a foreign history. And renowned percussionist Taufiq Qureshi explores this link, and many other links through his music, a fascinating and innovative medley of drumbeats.
History of tabla
Due in Kolkata on Sunday, to perform at the 10th anniversary celebration of Hindustan Times, Kolkata, along with fellow percussionist Bickram Ghosh and santoor exponent, Rahul Sharma, Qureshi is clearly passionate about the djembe.
“After all, the tabla is an amalgamation of the tabla—which came to us 800-900 years ago from Persia — and the pakhawaj. The djembe resembles the tabl in numerous ways, so a few years ago, a thought struck me: what would it be like, to play tabla bols on the djembe?” he explains.
Those bols, of course, are in his genes. Son of the late tabla legend, Ustad Allarakha Khan Qureshi, and brother of celebrated tabla exponent Zakir Hussain, Qureshi has virtually grown up with the tabla.
Even so, he has set out on a long and difficult journey, of carving out a niche for himself, playing familiar sounds on an unfamiliar instrument.
In his genes
“When I first told my father that I wanted to play other percussion instruments, all he told me was, ‘Play whatever you want, but play my vidya’,” Qureshi says. As for ‘Zakir bhai’, he has asked his brother to call the djembe the ‘tabla taal’, so tabl taal it is.
“Last year, at Abbaji’s ‘barsi’, Zakir bhai said I should play only Abbaji’s compositions on the tabla taal,” Qureshi says. “And when he heard me play, he was very happy. He said I was taking a new direction.”
Of course, the djembe is not the only instrument that Qureshi plays. On his list are instruments such as the duff, bongos, and batajon, and his stage performances also incorporate the ‘breath rhythms’ that he made famous with his chart topping album, Rhydhun (2000).
“That was a milestone album,” he recalls fondly. “And it’s still on the shelves. It’s gone way beyond platinum.” But that is only part of Qureshi’s oeuvre.
Alongside composing for Bollywood (his latest project being the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kites), he’s planning another album, “dedicated to Rhydhun”, and busy teaching his students how to play the dejmbe, whose popularity, he says, is growing by the day.
“As a child, I was fascinated by the way RD Burman used breath rhythms in his compositions. And that sense of wonder remains,” he laughs. Today, as he is called to play solos on the dejmbe, Qureshi can certainly say that what he is trying to do is true fusion — the bringing together of eternal rhythms, using different media.