Centenary celebrations: A musical tribute to tabla maestro Ustad Alla Rakha
For tabla maestro Fazal Qureshi, April 29 will not mark just another concert in memory of his father, Ustad Alla Rakha. It is the culmination of a three-month-long walk down memory lane, as he tries to narrate the story of the man who put the tabla on the world map.
To celebrate the beginning of Alla Rakha’s birth centenary year, Qureshi along with actor-storyteller Danish Husain, present a musical tribute titled The Journey Continues. The show recreates his top compositions and intersperses them with stories from his life and his journey from Lahore to Mumbai.
“For me, the last three months were all about tracing my father’s life and getting to know him better,” says Qureshi. “I learnt more about his life before he became a tabla player, how he met his guru and came to Mumbai, and how he composed music for films between the 1940s and late ’50s!”
Allah Rakha composed for close to 30 films under the name of AR Qureshi, including the 1952 Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer Bewafa and India’s first sound film, Alam Ara, in 1956. “It was only during my research for this concert that I learnt that my father also sang for stalwarts like Prithviraj Kapoor,” says Qureshi.
The performance will have two songs from his films, and compositions that were created in collaboration with the legendary sitar exponent Pandit Ravi Shankar (one from a concert attended by Jimi Hendrix), drummer Buddy Rich and violinist Yehudi Menuhin. It weaves in not just music from around the world, but artistes from different communities. With performers like Zubin Balaporia on the keyboard, Sridar Parthasarathy on the mridangam, Sheldon D’Silva playing the bass and Dilshad Khan on the sarangi, it aims to be a night where music truly transcends borders.
Husain has been doing his own share of research into the life of Ustad Alla Rakha. “I was amused to learn that after American percussionist Mickey Hart first heard an LP recording of Abbaji playing the tabla, he thought there were was more than one artist performing,” he says. “It was difficult for him to imagine that one man alone was able to create something so beautiful.”
The storyteller has also been reading Zakir Hussain’s biography, A Life in Music, which is full of little anecdotes about how Alla Rakha influenced him. “The book talks about how he instilled discipline in Zakir Hussain’s life by making him practice tabla bols every morning between 3 am and 6 am, before school,” he says. “That level of dedication is unmatched.”
Qureshi believes that the concert is more than a way to pay homage to his father; it is a chance for younger, upcoming musicians to honour their mentors as well. “I have Andrew Kanga on the drums who is heavily inspired by Buddy Rich and Abhisek Mallick, a sitar player from Kolkata, who is a third generation protégé of Ravi Shankar,” he says. “This is a big opportunity for them to keep the tradition alive.”
What: The Journey Continues, an Alla Rakha tribute show
When: Sunday, April 29
Where: St. Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra West, 7pm
Passes: Free. Available at the box office from April 25