Born with an ability to navigate the “conventional fervour” of tabla, Ustaad Zakir Hussain has integrated a set of ageless principles with timeless technique and successfully liberated the essence and spirit of the instrument in the western world.
A glimpse of his electrifying performances at international concerts and his recital at the recent Satguru Jagjit Singh Sangeet Sammelan, held at Bhaini Sahib, near Ludhiana, and it’s easy to say: ‘Versatility, thy name is Zakir Hussain’.
Some excerpts from a tete-e-tete with the tabla meastro:
HT: What is the future of tabla in India ?
Hussain: Instruments are tied to time and age as they convey the music that is heard. Tabla is an instrument of choice, an integral part of the Indian classical music, which is a strong entity.
Like nature, that includes sunrise, sunset and the blooming of flowers, there is something organic about classical music. The rhythmic sound of the tabla unfolds the deepest recesses of the soul.
HT: What brings you back to Punjab, as you are playing on the soil after 24 years? How do you feel being here at Bhaini Sahib?
Hussain: I belong to the Punjab gharana of classical music and it has honoured, nurtured and interpreted music for eras. I was never away from the roots, as this is the place where my forefathers were born and I can feel the positive vibes and energy after setting foot on this soil. There was always a close connect with late Satguru Jagjit Singh ji, even when we did not meet. He has redefined music in Bhaini Sahib, which according to me, is the temple of music and being here to pay homage to him is a matter of pride for me.
HT: Your fans feel that you have mastered the art of the tabla recital like no one else. How do you feel about that?
Hussain: I do not believe in the phrase “mastering”, as my father Ustaad Alla Rakha Khan ji always said, “Kabhi bhi guru banne ki koshish mat karna, be a shishya throughout”, for there is always so much to learn at every step. It is my eternal optimism to carry on with the quest to learn more. The very thought that one has achieved and learnt everything amounts to quitting. Thus, I want to be a student all through and learn till my lastbreath.
HT: Who all, amongst the different doyens of the Indian classical music, have inspired you?
Hussain: Every single person whom I have been associated with — directly or indirectly — has inspired me. There is no first and second, but of course, my father Ustaad Alla Rakha Khan ji was my guru who taught me the first step and gave me everything as a son and a disciple. I learnt ‘dhamaal sitting’ with him and with that, my ability moved further. My riyaaz and performances with the Indian classical vocalists and instrumentalists helped me evolve at every step. An action and expression of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on stage gave me a new insight while every look from Ali Akbar Khan ji conveyed that which words cannot.
HT: What words are close to your heart?
Hussain: Though there were numerous occasions when people touched my heart, but I always remember the words of Krishan Maharaj ji, the greatest tabla player from the Banaras gharana. During a concert, someone wished him good luck saying he would enthrall the audience like previous occasions, to which he said, “Dekhtein hein aaj tabla kya kehta hai,” which meant that every day and every performance is a new beginning for an artist.