Described as the best tabla player in the world, Zakir Hussain gets ready to jam in Dubai.
The best of the best on the Indian classic and fusion music scenes get together for the first time live in Dubai on January 25 – with no rehearsals. Tessy Koshy meets Zakir Hussain to hear more about his role in the live jam
His familiar mop of curly hair creates myriad shapes as, entranced by the music, he swings his head from side to side while his fingers weave their magic on the Indian percussion instrument, the tabla. Although he looks serious and deep in concentration as his hands masterfully create the complex music, the twinkle in his eyes hints that he is ready to spring a surprise on the audience at any moment.
Described by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper as “the world’s greatest tabla player alive”, Zakir Hussain is known for creating unforgettable experiences for the audience every time he takes the stage.
The 62-year-old Grammy awardwinner from Mumbai has collaborated with, among others, the Beatles, percussionist Mickey Hart, the late sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, guitarist John McLaughlin, banjo player Bela Fleck and a string of other renowned musicians the world over. Now music lovers in Dubai can see his percussion fireworks live when he teams up with other top musicians. Accompanying him on stage for the first time will be Louis Banks, the godfather of Indian jazz, sitar player Niladri Kumar, awardwinning singer and Bollywood composer Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir’s younger brother, percussionist and composer Taufiq Qureshi. Aptly titled Nirvana (which means a state of perfect happiness in Hindi), the musical extravaganza will take place next Saturday, January 25, at the Madinat Arena.
“The musicians who will be performing with me are the best in their fields and what’s going to happen on stage can only be astounding... and unpredictable,’’ says Zakir, in an exclusive interview with Friday. Incredibly, the musicians have decided not to have any rehearsals prior to the show so the performance will be a once-in-a-lifetime live experience. “There will be no recordings of this show,’’ says Zakir. So the only way that the music the five artists create will be preserved will be in the audience’s memory.
The Nirvana series of concerts is not new to the tabla maestro who performed last year alongside American musician Edgar Meyer, who plays the
upright bass, Bela Fleck on the banjo, mandolin wizard Uppalapu Srinivas and flautist Rakesh Chaurasia.
This year, however, the concert, in its seventh edition, features an allIndian ensemble. “All the musicians are experienced in many genres of music and that would make the interaction very global,” reveals Zakir, son of the celebrated Indian tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha. “There will be a bit of Indian, some jazz, Carnatic music, Bollywood tunes and folk.”
A child prodigy, Zakir has been touring the world to perform since the age of 12. “Every time I go on stage I look forward to establishing a connection with the audience,” he smiles. “I find it easy and joyful to bond with the audience in Dubai as they are well informed and very discerning.”
Improvisation could well be key at the event and fellow performer Shankar is expecting a lot of freshness and spontaneity at the show. “There will be a lot of eye contact among the performers... we will pick up cues from each other and create music in our own way. We will definitely be having a lot of fun and, I am sure, so will the audience,” says the 46-year-old, a household name in India thanks to his song
Breathless, which he is believed to have sung in one breath, and for his innumerable Bollywood hit tunes.
Zakir is excited to be back; “Every time I play in Dubai, I learn more about the music here. I take back lessons that help me to get better as a performer and I feel blessed to be on stage with the elite of the music world.”
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Louis Banks is one of the musicians who will be on stage with Zakir (top)
Niladri Kumar is an accomplished sitar player
Left: Taufiq Qureshi is known for his magic with percussion
Shankar Mahadevan is not new to Dubai fans