Zakir Hussain calls his father his God. It’s not surprising. The tabla virtuoso, known as much for his craft as his charisma on stage, says he owes his talent to the late Ustad Allahrakha Khan, fondly called ‘Abbaji’. Ahead of Allarakha’s 13th barsi (death anniversary), Zakir reminisces about his childhood and tells us what to expect at the annual concert.
At this stage of your career, having achieved the biggest laurels and performed around the world, what are your priorities?
It’s important for me to be able to learn more. My father said, ‘Don’t consider yourself a master; don’t even think about getting there. Just be a good student and you’ll get by just fine.’ When I talk to (musicians like) John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, they all say, ‘We’re looking for more. ’ The priority is to keep expanding the horizons. And there’s a selfish reason too. If you want to stay ahead of the pack, you better have something new to offer. And the pack is right here (gestures at his neck). People consider me the best in my field. But I can name at least 15 tabla players who are just as good, if not better.
Each edition of the barsi brings together an array of artistes. What can we expect this year?
The barsi is not a glorification of my father. It is basically a celebration of the culture we have grown up in. This year, my brother Fazal has composed a rhythm piece featuring students from my father’s music school. He has also finally agreed to do a solo performance this time. We are also dedicating the afternoon session to one of south India’s most amazing musicians — the late Palghat Mani Iyer (mridangam maestro) — as this is his centenary year. His son, Rajamani Iyer, and a senior disciple will pay tribute to him with a mr idangam performance. And then there is Abbos Kosimov from Uzbekistan, who will play the doera, a framed drum. I will perform as part of a trio with Bela Fleck (banjo) and Edgar Myer (bass). There’s also a jam session fetauring Ranjit (Barot), Trilok Gurtu, U Srinivas, Niladri (Kumar), you know, the usual suspects.
Your father was also your guru. How was your relationship with him at home?
Fortunate is the person who experiences the relationship with his maker on all levels. I was fortunate to be his baby son, a student, an apprentice, a colleague and later, a friend. How many sons can claim these many layers of relationships with their dad? From age seven to 12, he used to wake me up at 2 am. Till 6 am, it was time to study with him. He didn’t want any disturbance; it was just him and me. I’d look forward to that time because my father — my god — would be there, alone, with me.
Whenever he’d be travelling, through letters and phone calls, he’d inquire, ‘Did you practice?’ When he went abroad, he would get me a bag of records — of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Doors or the Rolling Stones. I was the first guy in Mahim to have a boom box. I’d be walking down the streets with The Doors playing ‘C’mon baby light my fire’ loudly.
what to expect at the memorial concert
6.30 am: Taal Pranam
Tribute by students of Ustad Allahrakha Institute of Music.
U Shrinivas (mandolin) with Zakir Hussain (tabla)
11.30 am: Taal Tapasya
Solo performances by Abbos Kosimov (doira drums), Fazal Qureshi (tabla), Palghat Rajamani Iyer and Kamalakar Rao (mridangam).
6.30 pm: Celebration
A performance by Bela Fleck (banjo) and Edgar Myer (bass).
Jam session featuring special guests.
At Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion. Free passes available at the venue from February 1 onwards. Call 2404 4141.