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Learning Keeps Me Going: Ustad Zakir Hussain


Learning Keeps Me Going: Ustad Zakir Hussain

NEW DELHI, (IANS) – Every day, when his father, Ustad Alla Rakha would wake him up at 3 a.m. for lessons, the first thing he would say was, “You mustn’t try to be a master. Just be a good student, and you will go a very long way.”

Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain still remembers that lesson and stresses that it has been instrumental in shaping him, in ways more than one.

The Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibushan recipient adds, “Why do you think George Harrison came to Ravi Shankar? Despite being one of the greatest musical successes, his yearning to learn more pushed him. He wanted to find another language to speak his story, his music… The same holds true for John Coltrane and Charles Lloyd, who played with several major Indian classical musicians.”

The 72-year-old Ustad says that many great musicians came to India to learn as they wanted to have a more panoramic view of music.

“And this is what I want for myself, an all-encompassing field of vision to ensure that I am constantly learning and evolving. I am clear that there is a lot to learn, enough scope of reinvention and rediscovery.”

Hussain, who was recently seen in Shakti’s 50th anniversary India tour and performed at the ongoing Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa where he led an ensemble featuring talents like Ranjit Barot, Rakesh Chaurasia, Zubin Balaporia, Sanjay Divecha, and Sheldon D’silva, stresses that he makes it a point to play with young Indian musicians like Niladri Kumar, Kumresh and Ganesh to look at music from their point of view.

“It is such a revelation to see the bravado they have about music… it just makes me want to respond differently. I want to discover a new way of interacting from what I have been doing for 15 years…. To think that I have already mastered everything would be such a folly. And that would mean there is nothing left but to hang my boots,” says this percussionist, who won the Grammy (2009) in the Contemporary World Music Album category for his collaborative album ‘Global Drum Project’ with Mickey Hart, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovanni Hidalgo.

Someone who has collaborated with musicians across genres and continents stresses that it is paramount that he knows instruments other than tabla too. This ascertains that he can smoothly converse and interact with music that does not belong to him.

“Therefore, it is important to learn vocabulary and grammar. So, I need to speak jazz, hip-hop, rap, and Jazz. Then it becomes easier to explain myself to them in the words they would understand. And it is just to let them know that I have taken the time to understand where they come from. Thus, it becomes important that I learn diverse musical forms, ideas, and patterns.”

Adding that when he is with South African or Brazilian musicians, it is a completely different world, the tabla maestro says, “One notices the distinct style in which they talk to each other, pat each other. You learn that way of life, and that Chutzspa. I enjoy listening to all sorts of music because it enhances my ability to be valid in every kind of music conversation.”

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