He is the illustrious son of an illustrious father. City-based eminent tabla artiste Ustad Shabbir Nisar, son of maestro Ustad Shaik Dawood goes on a nostalgia trip as we meet him for an interview at Thyagaraja Government College of Music and Dance in Ramkote. He has many anecdotes and happy memories to share about his father. “Baba was a tabla artiste, teacher and composer par excellence. He played tabla for generations and was also known for his humility,” he remembers. Shabbir grew up with tabla as his constant companion. He began his taleem when he was just four and gave his first public performance at six!
A young Shabbir continued learning tabla enthusiastically till he was 12 after which there was a break for four years. At 16, when he accompanied his father to meet singer Begum Akhtar, who performed at Ravindra Bharati, he encountered an awkward situation. Begum Akhtar asked him ‘Tabla bajaate ho kya?’ to which Shabbir replied, ‘Aisi koi bajaaleta hoon.’ Begum Akhtar snapped back, ‘Itne mahaan tabla Ustad ke bete ho; Sharam aani chahiye.’ Having been chided in front of a gathering, Shabbir felt angry. After two months, he took up the tabla again; this time there was no looking back.
About the guru-shishya parampara, Ustad Shabbir says, “My father would never take fees from his students. He would tie a ganda (red thread) on the student’s wrist and take Rs. 251 as a dakshina. He considered all his students as equals and would play for all artistes. Once a young girl at All India Radio wanted my father to play tabla at her performance. She had never seen my father and requested the person on duty if Dawood will play for her. My father heard her request and played tabla for her,” he recalls. Shabbir also calls his father a strict teacher. “If the rhythm is not right, he would not hesitate to hit. He was a stickler for riyaz,” he remembers.
Shabbir believes in pure music and doesn’t mince words when he equals fusion as confusion. “Our ancestors worked day and night to gift us with golden compositions. Some people try to do gimmicks and add fusion to these traditional compositions. Why change something which is unique and original?” he asks and adds, “If you are a fusion lover, create a new composition and do what you want to do with it. If you can’t create, you have no right to spoil.”
Along with stage performances everywhere, Shabbir also works as a teacher at Thyagaraja Government College of Music and Dance. His face lights up when he talks about the uniqueness of tabla among all the instruments.
“Tabla is a real instrument,” he explains. “It speaks the complete language and its compositions are like reading poetry. Tabla speaks to you and when you play it with your soul, the effect is magical. Only sincere tabla players will experience it. Jab tabla bajta hai, mazaa aata hai. ”
Why are there not many women tabla players? “One needs to sit cross-legged and practice for hours together. Playing tabla also needs physical strength. Earlier girls would get married and stop practicing. Now, we have very good women tabla artistes,” he says.
Now, his two sons Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shahbaz Nazir are carrying forward their family’s legacy and play tabla.
Shabbir is penning a biography on his father and plans to release it to coincide with his father centenary in 2016. “We plan to celebrate it for a year. This is the least we can do for such a legendary artiste,” he signs off.