Percussionists Taufiq Qureshi and Ranjit Barot in conversation with Naomi Canton.
My brother is like God. My father too. When I was a child.. I saw him on stage, it was like God playing. “He was a strict teacher, who never let me write anything down but made me memorise. He was open-minded – including me marrying a Hindu. He wasn’t educated, he from a farmer family. My father was the tree of rhythm and we are the branches.”
Taufiq Qureshi speaks with awe about his father, the late tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha Khan and of his brother
Drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, he continues: “For me tabla was A to Z. My dad was A and my brother Z. There was nothing left to be done with the instrument. So I decided to do something else and carve my own career. I told my dad I didn’t want to play the tabla.. and he was open to that.”
Now Qureshi incorporates what he learnt on the tabla to play a range of percussion instruments like the bongo and frame drums. “Tabla came naturally to me because I was born to it but I had to work hard on other instruments like the djembe,” he says.
Drumming to glory
Having just returned from a world tour with his brother Zakir Hussain, which included a concert at London’s Barbican, Qureshi who has composed for the soon-to-be released film Tahaan, is now recording his second album after Rhydun with sitar player Niladri.
Ranjit Barot — one of India’s top drummers and music producers has composed the background score for Tashan — recently performed with John McLaughlin. He is son of the veteran Kathak dancer Sitara Devi.“When I was 12, Taufiq’s dad would come around to our house, play music and I knew I was being blessed. There was magic going on.. I was incredibly lucky to be there,” Barot remembers. He chose to focus on the drum kit rather than the tabla since Zakir was a hard act to follow.
In Barot’s recording studio tucked away under a bridge in Mahalaxmi, Barot continues, “I don’t play the instrument – it plays me. If you play every day, you learn magic.”
The duo will perform at the Blue Frog on the occasion of Independence Day. The night will start with Mumbai Stamp, Qureshi’s collective of young percussionists creating drum sounds from old paint tins and kitchen buckets picked up at waste dumps.
This will be followed by Elemental featuring Qureshi, Barot, and on Friday acclaimed vocalist Vijay Prakash. So which hotshots will follow? “No one.” Barot says. “The difference is that in our formative years we were unemployed, we could learn. If you earn you can’t learn. Classical music in India is a merger of intellect and heart. It is the most advanced form of music on this planet.”
Lastly, Qureshi says, “I used to practise for at least six hours a day. Zakir still puts in time in his hotel room after concerts.”