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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Ustad Zakir Hussain tours California with a talented crew

“Kesariya balam… padhaaro maaro des…”–Sarangi player Sabir Sultan Khan opened the Berkeley leg of the ‘Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion, 2023’ tour with a melodious rendition of a popular Rajasthani folk song. And just like that, the audience was home.

Over 90 minutes, classical tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and co-performers Sabir Khan (sarangi), Navin Sharma (dholak), Melissa Hié (djembe) and Tupac Mantilla (drums) turned Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley into a magical haven for lovers of Indian and world music.

The picture shows a woman playing a drum
Melissa Hié. (image courtesy/ Susana Millman)

A series of 5 shows

This performance marks the start of Hussain’s bi-annual national tour – a series of five shows across California: Tracy (March 10), Berkeley (March 11), Santa Cruz (March 12), Irvine (March 16), and La Jolla (March 18).

For three decades now, Hussain has curated and produced shows to bring the best of Indian music and world percussion to America and Europe.

The picture shows a man playing the drums
Tupac Mantilla (image courtesy/ Susana Millman).

Zakir Hussain’s story of the tabla

With roots in international tabla duet tours with his father (Ustad Allarakha), ‘Masters of Percussion’ was originally called ‘The Story of the Tabla.’

Originally, ‘The Story of the 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,” said the maestro to Indian classical dancer and teacher Piyali Biswas De in a 2021 interview with India Currents.

  • The picture shows a man playing a tabla
  • The picture shows two men playing musical instruments on a stage
  • The picture shows musicians playing instruments onstage.
  • The image shows a man playing a drum
  • The picture shows a man sitting onstage and playing a musical instrument

A musical ensemble from across the world

Over the years, Hussain expanded his ensemble for this series to include musicians from different world traditions and instruments. It now includes Iranian-born percussionist Pezhham Akhavass who played the tombak (Persian goblet drum) and the daf (Persian frame drum). Uzbekistan-born Abbos Kosimov on the doyra (Uzbek frame drum) and Anantha Krishnan on the mridangam, (a drum with roots in Carnatic tradition), complete the ensemble.

Other renowned artists who’ve performed with Hussain in the past include Marcus Gilmore (jazz drummer), Eric Harland (drummer), and Niladri Kumar (sitarist), among others.

Hussain maintains that the tabla technique lends itself to merging with and being influenced by different cultures and schools of music, from jazz to folk and everything in between. While the Masters of Percussion concert began as a platform for rhythm traditions from India, it has over the years developed into a delightful celebration of music from across the world.

Ashwini Gangal

Ashwini Gangal

Ashwini Gangal is a fiction writer based in San Francisco has published stories and poems in literary magazines in the UK and Croatia.