Tag Archives: #zakirhussain

Zakir Hussain on Tabla (Image courtesy of IMG Artists)

Masters of Percussion: An Exclusive Chat With Ustad Zakir Hussain

Washington Performing Arts alternative to in-person programming series is premiering this Friday, April 30 at 8 p.m. ET, streaming through Thursday, May 6, with the indisputable tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain

Longtime Washington Performing Arts audience favorite Zakir Hussain is the “indisputable tabla maestro”: an artist who has not only taken his instrument to its limits within its original discipline, Indian classical music, but who has vastly expanded the presence of both his instrument and musical heritage within other genres—including jazz, rock, and Irish and American folk music.

Leading the newest edition of his long-running, biannual “Masters of Percussion” ensemble, Hussain is joined by fellow drum virtuosos representing multiple cultures, traditions, and instruments: Iranian-born percussionist Pezhham Akhavass, performing on tombak and daf; Multi-Grammy-winning American jazz drummer Marcus Gilmore; and Anantha Krishnan, a percussionist raised in America and residing in India, on mridangam. In a pre-recorded, offsite guest appearance, the percussionists are also joined by Indian musician Sabir Khan, a master of the sarangi, a traditional stringed instrument. You can watch this incredible performance from the comfort of your home for $25.

In an exclusive chat with India Currents magazine, the legend, Zakir Hussain tells us more:

How different is your experience as a percussion artist in a virtual Livestream show without the live audience? 

ZH: I do miss plugging into the audience’s reaction as an inspiration source. It would be true for all musicians. However, not having the audience in person challenges me to focus more on detail and on the musical statement I want to make. The responsibility is squarely on my shoulders and the message is mine alone. This requires a different mindset which, of course, is the most challenging hurdle to get over.

Your performance was originally titled  “The Story of the Tabla” and has now evolved to “Masters of Percussion”. Can you tell us more about the origin story of your production?

ZH: Originally, “The story of Tabla” was a much bigger production involving many more artists. What we are presenting here is only one aspect of Tabla’s story. Tabla is one of the youngest classical Indian instruments, but it has already made significant strides as a world instrument. This particular show focuses on how the Tabla repertoire influenced other drumming traditions and how certain drumming countries appear to have similar techniques on their drums. For example, the mridangam is adopting Tabla compositions and transposing the hand technique effortlessly. The Jazz drum and the Iranian Tombak or Daf do something similar as well. It is an interesting coincidence when the Indian bowed instrument sarangi enters the fray and how all the drums on stage easily lock in with the folk melodies of Rajsthan. Honestly, there are no borders.  

Tabla is an instrument going through an evolution. What do you think is the most significant trend in the upcoming decade for Tabla? 

ZH: As time marches on, Tabla still being a young entrant has the flexibility to expand its panorama. The technique applied on Tabla allows for it to be a part of any musical conversation: Jazz, Rap, Hip hop, Folk, Electronica, Classical, or any other form of music expression yet to be discovered. There are miles to go…

Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 


Smoke In a Bottle: That Which Colors the Mind

(Featured image: Zakir Hussain (left) and Ali Akbar Khan (right) in the 1970s)

It was May 29, 1970, at the Family Dog, a venue located at the edge of a deteriorating amusement park on San Francisco’s Great Highway, where a decidedly psychedelic crowd was spellbound by Indian music legends Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), 19-year-old Zakir Hussain (tabla), and Indranil Bhattacharya (sitar).

In the control booth, on the stage and wriggling through the crowd in constant movement was genius sound engineer and recorder Owsley Stanley, lovingly known as Bear. Owsley was an alchemist, a philosopher, a scientist famous for the sounds he amplified and the acid he created. He believed in the transformative power of Indian classical music and understood that mastery of it demanded the highest level of dedication and discipline. The night in question would satisfy a quest of Bear’s – to work with the great Ali Akbar Khan, an artist he fiercely respected.

Now, for the first time in 50 years, this sumptuous concert will be made available as the sixth release from Owsley’s storied archive, entitled Bear’s Sonic Journals: That Which Colors the Mind.   

“This is a historical concert that gives a potent glimpse into the blending of cultures, energy, and magic that was made possible here in the Bay Area,” says son of Ali Akbar Khan, Alam Khan.

“The Family Dog was more of an enterprise than a place,” commented Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, a venture made real through the resolve of concert promoter Chet Helms and run on the fuel of great music, psychedelics, a cosmic light show, and the raw energy of its youthful audience. The Pied Piper behind both the sound and psychedelics was Owsley Stanley.

“I remember this short man,” shared Zakir Hussain, “wearing glasses with curly hair, running around the stage madly setting up microphone stands and cables while talking a hundred miles a minute about his concept of recording. I did not understand Bear Owsley at that time. What he was speaking did not make sense to me but I later came to realize he was one of the original audiophile recording engineers of his time. He set the bar.” Needless to say, Bear was in good company that night.

That Which Colors the Mind - Album Cover
That Which Colors the Mind – Album Cover

 The 2-CD set, released in partnership with The Ali Akbar College of Music, includes frame-worthy original cover art by Chris Gallen, unpublished photographs, and an extensive 28-page booklet with notes featuring new interviews from Ali Akbar Khan’s family and colleagues.

All proceeds support the continued work of The Owsley Stanley Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of “Bear’s Sonic Journals”, Owsley’s archive of more than 1,300 live concert soundboard recordings from the 1960s,1970s, and 1980s, including recordings by Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, and more than 80 other artists across nearly every musical idiom.

Then and now, Ali Akbar Khan, or Khansahib, is considered one of the world’s greatest musicians. “He gave new direction to the instrumental interpretation of the ancient Indian ragas.  He transformed the way sarod is played now and is singularly responsible for giving a new voice and an expansion of language to sarod. In my humble opinion,” stated Hussain, “he is without exception the most important Indian instrumentalist of the 20th century.” Hussain, who has himself been internationally recognized for his musical genius and heralded as one of India’s national treasures, points out his youth in this recording. “I was a young whippersnapper out to impress the hell out of the audience. The technique was all-important; playing fast, strong, and loud was the goal.”

Of Indranil Bhattacharya, Hussain expounded, “He was a dear friend and colleague in India, an exceptional sitarist, the student of Khansahib’s father Allaudin Khan and the son of one of the most well-known composers for theater and film in Kolkata.”

That Which Colors the Mind is a musical time machine, a rare recording with a quality and weight so tactile it fills space up like smoke in a bottle. “This is an intimate telling of the Indian music story”, recounts Hussain, “music as understood, interpreted and conversed by us, 3 musicians. There was a thousand-year-old sound behind us as we played, but it was fresh and new on that day because of the spontaneous interaction in the telling amongst us. It had a meditative quality, to be listened to with focus and calmness.” 

Get the soundtrack today by visiting the Owsley Stanley Foundation page!

Anisa Qureshi is a writer, filmmaker, strategist, consultant, and adventurer. She is the daughter of Indian music legend, Zakir Hussain.