zakir hussain and his masters of percussion

saw zakir hussain perform last night at the center for the arts, university at buffalo. yes, zakir hussain – simply the greatest tabla player to ever walk the earth.

WOW is all i can say. thick mop of curly hair, beaming smile, charismatic presence and absolutely insane tabla skills. flying fingers, thumping hands, sliding wrists – it was all a blur. the man has to be watched in slow motion to try and wrap one’s mind around the speed and precision with which he plays the tabla. after watching his solo, my husband and i were in full agreement: zakir hussain is not human. no one can highlight the tabla’s versatility and expressiveness, its ability to be a lead instrument, more than him.

masters of percussion was a powerful blend of melodic (raga) and rhythmic (tala), hindustani and carnatic, traditional and contemporary, classical and folk. the show started with an explanation (and demonstration) of how the human breath is the most basic beat. later hussain explained how indian classical music is a language and can be used to illustrate the most spiritual or pedestrian of stories: planets orbiting at different speeds around the sun, krishna gtting an earful from radha for coming home late (krishna is a busy god), the structure, paraphernalia and final boom of a cannon (not the one in western classical music, the ugly one). hussain’s brother taufiq qureshi plays a variety of percussion instruments and did a fantastic rendition of a train speeding up, passing another train going in the opposite direction, chugging along over a bridge and finally reaching its destination.

the ensemble included violinists ganesh and kumaresh, sabir khan on the sarangi, sridhar parthasarathy on the mridangam, navin sharma on the dholak and the motilal dhakis from bengal. loved the interplay between the different musicians and their instruments. the motilal dhakis reminded me of pakistani weddings where the bridegroom’s family comes prancing around to that same beat. amazing show, amazing energy, amazing talent.

can’t help being soppy – it was deeply satisfying to see an ensemble that was half muslim/half hindu make such beautiful music together. i felt lucky to belong to the indian subcontinent.

ustad zakir hussain

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