Zakir Hussain: His name spells magic on tabla

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Sep 30, 2019 02:51 PM IST

Zakir Hussain: Arguably India’s most famous tabla virtuoso in the post-independence era, Zakir Hussain is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He is additionally a composer, percussionist, music producer and film actor.

Born to tabla maestro, Alla Rakha and Bavi Begum in Mahim, Mumbai on March 9, 1951, Zakir Hussain had an inclination for playing the tabla at a very young age. Hussain learned to play the mridang (a classical percussion instrument) from his father when he was just 3 and began performing at concerts by the age of 12.



Apart from presenting stage shows, he went to St. Michael’s High School, Mahim, and graduated from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. He left for the United States where he earned a doctorate in music from the University of Washington and has performed an average of 150 concerts per year. In 1970, he went to the United States to accompany sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. After the tour, Ravi Shankar had advised him to take a teaching job at the University of Washington in the department of ethnomusicology.


Hussain has collaborated with numerous western musicians. His partnership with the legendary pop band The Beatles deserves special mention. He also recorded with an American psychedelic band Shanti in 1971. In 1975, he worked with John McLaughlin, L Shankar, TH ‘Vikku’ Vinayakam and R. Raghavan in the band Shakti. This band was disbanded during late 1970 but was again reunited a few years later with a new name, Remember Shakti with the addition of new members.


In 1987, Hussain released his first solo album, Making Music, that was proclaimed as one of the most inspired East-West fusion albums. In 1999, he formed the Tabla Beat Science with Bill Laswell. It gave birth to Tala Matrix said to be one of the greatest explorations of tabla fusion in the modern era. He hit international headlines in 1992 when his album Planet Drum won a Grammy for the Best World Music Album. He has performed with artists like George Harrison, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Aashish Khan, Vasant Rai, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Jack Bruce, Tito Puente, Pharoah Sanders, the Hong Kong Symphony, New Orleans Symphony and many others. In addition, Hussain has composed music for movies like Heat and Dust, In Custody, The Mystic Masseur and others. Besides, he has played the tabla on the soundtracks of Apocalypse Now, Little Buddha and many other films.


The youngest percussionist to receive the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards, Hussain was also conferred the Indo-American Award in 1990 in recognition of his contribution to relations between the two countries, the prestigious Kalidas Samman in 2006 and the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan (lifetime achievement) award in 2012. Winner of two Grammy Awards, Hussain has inspired a large number of young percussionists to dream big and opened the doors for several Indo-Western collaborations and opportunities.

Personal Life

Hussain married Kathak dancer Antonia Minnecola. He has two daughters — Anisa and Isabella Qureshi. Ustad Taufiq Qureshi, a percussionist, and Ustad Fazal Qureshi, a tabla player, are his brothers.

Interesting Facts

In 2016, Zakir Hussain became the first Indian musician to be invited by the then American president Barack Obama to attend the All-Star Global Concert held in the White House. Famous tabla-maker Haridas Vhatkar has been making Zakir’s tablas for more than 18 years. As per Vhatkar, he learned to make tablas so that he could specially make them for Hussain. Hussain starred in Zakir and His Friends (1998) and The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum (2003), Ivory Merchant Film, Heat and Dust in the year 1983. Hussain was called an ‘unlucky’ child as his father Alla Rakha was extremely ill when he was born. A saint had advised his mother, Bavi Begum to name her son Zakir Hussain. Although their family name is Qureshi, Zakir was given the surname Hussain. The saint predicted that Zakir would save his father’s life. interestingly, within just four years, Alla Rakha’s health was back to normal.

Sources: wikipedia,,,

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