In the thick of rhythm

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SOUL OF MUSIC Taufiq Qureshi: `There's a certain rhythm to everything from breathing to walking to talking'
SOUL OF MUSIC Taufiq Qureshi: `There's a certain rhythm to everything from breathing to walking to talking'

Taufiq Qureshi has a lot more to him than just being the younger brother of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. He will soon release his new album, Forest

Think Taufiq Qureshi, and one of the first connections one makes is with his elder brother Zakir Hussain or his father Allah Rakha, depending on which side of the generation gap one is on. A comparison that Taufiq accepts is inevitable, but one that has constantly pushed the percussionist to step outside the realm of classical music and find his own paradigm in the welcoming arms of world music. "As far as the tabla was concerned, you had everything from A (Allah Rakha) to Z (Zakir Hussain), and there wasn't anything before or after that for me to do. Playing with them was really like two lions playing with a sheep." And so it was that in his 20s, Taufiq began a journey into world music, one that has led him to the soon-to-be-released Forest. This latest album, explains the singer, explores the forestscape through its great length and breadth, rather than simply trying to simulate a single kind of forest. "If you pick a particular kind of forest, then you have to show certain specific elements in those forests, which has been done a number of times before. But the forestscape has never been explored in the Indian music context." Created from visualisations based on Taufiq's own experiences in Coorg, Ranthambore, Sariska and so on, the album provides snippets of a day in the forest. Thus, for instance, the first track marks the arrival of dawn and the waking up of the various creatures of the woods. Another gives a bird's eye view of the forest as it follows a single bird through its flight. And so forth till night falls again. In all this, says Taufiq, he has attempted a number of fresh experiments, such as using a saxophonist and flautist to represent the bird's flight, bringing in a child's perspective by the use of his 10-year-old son's voice and ideas, vocals in the Dhrupad style to simulate predators stalking their prey and so on. With Forest, Taufiq has certainly come a long way down the road and with him the genre of fusion or world music too. While he admits that fusion still lies on the boundary between classical and popular music and audiences still find it difficulty to place artistes like himself, Taufiq finds fusion with a much better platform to launch itself off than classical music. "Fusion music is getting a good response considering its not film music or indipop. It is the ideal kind of music for any sort of live event nowadays because the current generation doesn't have the patience to listen to three hours of classical music. With fusion on the other hand, you can showcase so much in so little time." For Taufiq, the greatest victory was the day he managed to win over his father, who was never enthusiastic about his world music experiments. "I found out that my father was upset about the decision because he felt that the tabla had lost a good pair of hands. As the years passed, and he saw some of my concerts, he realised that I was still playing his music. He once saw me perform and commented that I was still playing the tabla only, despite changing the instrument in my hands." That has in fact been one of the two great characteristics of Taufiq's music in all these years, the other being a strongly-academic, almost obsessive desire to push beyond merely juxtaposing Indian and Western rhythms, and finding a common language and space for them to coexist within. "For my vocal percussion, for instance, I listen to a lot of African music, since many African folk singers even use the intake of the breath to make sounds. It's a form of circular breathing, and I am trying to work out how to use that in the Indian framework. Another thing I am interested in is body percussion, after I once saw a group of kids perform a whole piece just using their cheeks."Much of that obsession with rhythm comes from his belief in the primacy of rhythm to all of life, says Taufiq. "For me rhythm was the first thing to come, and everything else followed after. Even in the womb, the first thing a child hears is the rhythm of the mother's heartbeat. There's a certain rhythm to everything from breathing to walking to talking... I am trying to use these concepts in my music." RAKESH MEHAR




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