Music

It's Ustad time again

Versatile musician: Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain performing in Kolkata earlier last year

Versatile musician: Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain performing in Kolkata earlier last year  

It's that time of the year when Ustad Zakir Hussain travels across India, giving performances almost every second day. In Mumbai, the tabla maestro will make an appearance with sitar exponent Niladri Kumar, keyboardist Zubin Balaporia and bassist Mohini Dey at the Shanmukhananda Hall on January 10 and with santoor player Rahul Sharma at the Nehru Centre on January 12.

As usual, the day-long Homage to Abbaji, in memory of his father Ustad Allarakha, will be held on February 3. Each year, he also plays at the Prithvi Theatre on February 28, on Jennifer Kendal Kapoor's birth anniversary. Obviously, Hussain is one of India's most respected and admired musicians. What make him special are his humility and total dedication towards his art.

I first saw Hussain perform with the Indo-jazz fusion band Shakti in New Delhi in 1984. Before that, I was a huge fan of Ustad Shafaat Ahmed Khan, who regularly accompanied santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and sarod exponent Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

Though I attended many Hussain concerts in the early 1990s, I got to meet him only in 1997, at the press conference of legendary jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul, where he was to make a guest appearance. The bonding was instant and I met him after the concert too.

There have been many memorable concerts by Hussain over the years. His appearances with sitar great Pandit Ravi Shankar, sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj, Sharma and Chaurasia were always treats to watch. So were his appearances with the group Remember Shakti, featuring guitarist John McLaughlin, mandolin player U. Srinivas, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and kanjira exponent Selva Ganesh. The annual Abbaji tribute, featuring a galaxy of international stars, has always been a delight to attend.

One remembers the day Ustad Allarakha passed away on February 3, 2000. I got a call in the wee hours of the morning and immediately rushed to file my report before visiting their residence at Shimla House, Nepean Sea Road. Hussain was a picture of steady composure, greeting everybody warmly.

Another incident that comes to mind is when there were media reports that Hussain had a serious injury on his hand which would affect his playing. Obviously these rumours were baseless. He was on tour with Remember Shakti in Switzerland. I was unable to reach him but connected with Mahadevan and sent the message through. Hussain promised to meet me once in Mumbai the following week. He stuck to his word.

As a musician, of course, what's most striking is his versatility. Whether he's playing Hindustani classical, fusion, or solo, or accompanying a Kathak exponent, he goes with the flow. Add to that a fantastic stage presence and a sharp sense of humour, and he's always a treat to hear and watch.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 4:01:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/its-ustad-time-again/article22366570.ece

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