In­dia’s got rhythm

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - Paul Wei­de­man

Santa Feans have the op­por­tu­nity to be im­mersed in the mu­sic of In­dia as Zakir Hus­sain brings his Mas­ters of Per­cus­sion troupe to the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Tues­day, March 9. Hus­sain is ar­guably the best-known and most ac­com­plished player of tabla, the com­mon hand-drum of In­dia. Like his late fa­ther, Us­tad Al­larakha (who was renowned for his work with Ravi Shankar), Hus­sain is an am­bas­sador of his coun­try’s tra­di­tional mu­sic but also blends in mu­sic from other tra­di­tions— he has col­lab­o­rated with West­ern mu­si­cians in­clud­ing Mickey Hart, John McLaugh­lin, Yo-Yo Ma, Charles Lloyd, and Bela Fleck.

Hus­sain as­sem­bles the Mas­ters of Per­cus­sion for a United States tour ev­ery two years. With him on the cur­rent tour are his usual tour part­ners, per­cus­sion­ist (and Hus­sain’s brother) Tau­fiq Qureshi; vi­o­lin­ists Ganesh and Ku­maresh (who are also broth­ers); and, from Ra­jasthan in the north of In­dia, Sabir Khan, who plays the sarangi, a lute­like in­stru­ment that is played with a bow. The com­pany also tours with a group of guest per­form­ers.

Pasatiempo: Where are you now? I’m call­ing on Skype, so I have

no idea.

Zakir Hus­sain: I’m at home in Mum­bai. Be­tween Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary it’s usu­ally the mu­sic sea­son in In­dia, so most mu­si­cians trav­el­ing all over the world re­turn home for the win­ter, and there are 30 or 40 con­certs in each city ev­ery week.

We don’t re­ally have a spring; we go right into sum­mer and it’s very hot, then it’s the mon­soons and it rains too much and there’s kneedeep wa­ter ev­ery­where, so for six months or so no one goes out much. Pasa: Tell us about your new guest per­cus­sion­ists this time. Hus­sain: We have Srid­har Parthasarathy, who’s a south In­dian

mri­dan­gam [a two-headed drum] player, and he also plays kan­jira [tam­bourine] and mors­ing, which is the In­dian ver­sion of the jew’s harp. Then we have Navin Sharma, who plays dho­lak [an­other type of two-headed drum]. Then we have the Dhakis from the vil­lages in the very far­thest east of Ben­gal, and th­ese are drum­mers who ba­si­cally wear their drums, huge drums with feathers and all kinds of or­na­men­tal things. Pasa: The Moti­lal Dhakis dance as they play, right?

Hus­sain: Yeah, but th­ese are dif­fer­ent than the Manikur drum­mers who were on the last tour. Th­ese are much more raw, vil­lage drum­mers who have th­ese things they play for wed­dings and pro­ces­sions and fes­ti­val ac­tiv­i­ties. This is their first trip out of In­dia.

Pasa: The Mas­ters of Per­cus­sion in­cludes play­ers from the Car­natic tra­di­tion from the south of In­dia and also play­ers such as Sabir Khan from the north­ern, Hin­dus­tani tra­di­tion. What does this col­lab­o­ra­tion mean, in terms of rhythm?

Hus­sain: We have a south In­dian drum­mer and a cen­tral In­dian folk drum­mer in the group. The thing is, when the south In­dian melody play­ers are play­ing, the drum­mer has a chance to play the reper­toire that they use to ac­com­pany th­ese mu­si­cians, so we are able to uti­lize that. And then the folk melodic struc­tures are brought forth by the vi­o­lin­ists from south In­dia, for ex­am­ple the snake melody, which is very com­monly played in the vil­lages to honor the Lord Shiva, who is shown in the stat­ues with the king co­bra as one of his or­na­ments. Pasa: What does the co­bra sym­bol­ize?

Hus­sain: Lord Shiva is shown in dif­fer­ent in­car­na­tions, dif­fer­ent garbs. One of his rein­car­na­tions is that he wears ashes and he’s very dirty, with snakes all around him. This is sup­posed to rep­re­sent one of the nine moods. That mood is called bib­hatsa, which means re­pul­sive. What hap­pened was that Lord Shiva was a very an­gry god and one time he chopped off one of three heads of Lord Brahma and the gods got to­gether and sen­tenced him to a life on Earth. But they made him very re­pul­sive-looking, and they were hop­ing he would live a life of iso­la­tion and be shunned by mankind. A god who’s not wor­shipped

and loved by mankind is one of the loneli­est. That was his pu­n­ish­ment, but Lord Shiva, even in that form, through his med­i­ta­tion and pra­jna [wis­dom] and yoga, rose above all that and ap­peared to mankind in his ac­tual true form, and he was wor­shipped.

So any­way, if the snake melody is played by Ganesh and Ku­maresh, Srid­har Parthasarathy will bring out his kan­jira or his jew’s harp and ac­com­pany him, or at least high­light that kind of folk drum­ming. Sim­i­larly, Sabir Khan will play Ra­jasthani folk melodies, which are based in the Sufi sys­tem and per­formed by Lang­has and Man­ga­niars [desert Mus­lim peo­ples from Ra­jasthan]. Navin Sharma, who plays the folk drums from that re­gion, will be able to high­light that kind of drum­ming.

When Srid­har Parthasarathy plays the mri­dan­gam, which is the south In­dian clas­si­cal-tra­di­tion drum, that will al­low Ku­maresh and Ganesh to play the raga sys­tem of south In­dia. And when I play north In­dian clas­si­cal rhyth­mic reper­toire, Sabir will be able to ac­com­pany me with melodic struc­tures. Pasa: Do you take turns, or do you all play to­gether?

Hus­sain: We are tak­ing turns, but there is also en­sem­ble work, and ev­ery­thing flows seam­lessly to­gether. It’s like a bird’s-eye view of the dif­fer­ent re­gions of In­dia and the way of life and the kind of mu­sic the peo­ple of that land en­joy and use for wor­ship.

Pasa: Is this sort of col­lab­o­ra­tion just for your U.S. tour, or is it also done in In­dia?

Hus­sain: It’s start­ing to hap­pen in In­dia. For in­stance, it took me a year and a half to get the Dhakis to leave their vil­lage and come to Bom­bay. They were a lit­tle bit wor­ried about leav­ing their place and go­ing to a strange city, but now af­ter two years they’ve played along with me in Delhi and Hy­der­abad and var­i­ous other cities.

Pasa: And how im­por­tant is im­pro­vi­sa­tion, in­cor­po­rat­ing spon­ta­neous ideas, in the mu­sic we will hear?

Hus­sain: Most of In­dian drum­ming— there are over 200 dif­fer­ent drum­ming tra­di­tions, and I’ve only been able to scratch the sur­face, show­cas­ing maybe 12 tra­di­tions in four or five Mas­ters of Per­cus­sion tours — but one of the ba­sic re­quire­ments of In­dian drum­ming tra­di­tion is to set a pat­tern and then de­velop it spon­ta­neously. So im­pro­vis­ing is very im­por­tant. That’s one thing that we all have in com­mon, im­pro­vis­ing, so we can then ex­plore rhyth­mic ideas and pat­terns, and, based on the folk or clas­si­cal melodies that are laid out, we have a base on which we can im­pro­vise.

Knights of the round tabla: Zakir Hus­sain; op­po­site, per­cus­sion­ist (and Hus­sain’s brother) Tau­fiq Quereshi

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