When Zakir Hussain played the tabla for Zakir Hussain
It would not be an exaggeration to credit the recognition of tabla as an aspirational instrument for Indians to tabla player and music producer and composer Zakir Hussain. He has continued to be at the top of the league and for him the “mileage is still strong” because of the exposure he received, and chose to not to do more than two concerts in one major city.
When the maestro recently took to the stage in Delhi — after almost eight years — for a concert organised by Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, he was filled with nostalgia of how he was introduced by his father, tabla virtuoso Alla Rakha, at one music festival in the city.
“I wasn’t supposed to be [performing]… I had come with my father, who was playing with [sitarist] Ravi Shankarji. They were waiting for the dignitaries to arrive and thought that until then, ‘let’s put the young boy up there, and then we’ll start the concert’. So, I was what they call a filler act. But as it was announced, ‘Now, you are going to hear a tabla solo by Zakir Hussain’, in walked Dr Zakir Hussain (the then President of India). You couldn’t have planned the timing better! Anyway, I got to meet him and play for him, too,” says Hussain, in his usual inimitable humour.
“I was 15 then, and now I’m 68,” he says, looking back at his journey with gratitude for his contemporaries.
“You can play music until the cows come home, but if you don’t have the visibility you don’t get the kind of focus from the audience. There are 15 or 20 incredible tabla players around now; I’m not the best one but I’m one of the good ones. It’s just that what I do resonates with people. More than that, there’s facial recognition that has helped a lot. And I just like to think of this as normal….”
Despite such a fan following, the artist says he didn’t come back on-screen because of two reasons. “My first and last love is music. I know that I do it better than I do anything else. So, what’s the point in me doing something which is going to be mediocre, when I can actually sit with my instrument and deliver the good as it should be delivered? That’s why I didn’t actively hire an agent to help me get film roles because I felt that the value of my word would be watered down if I did five ads of different types. And, I did only that one because I had time for only that. I was travelling all over the world, and playing something like 180 shows a year,” Hussain says.
Asked if he chose to perform selectively to tease his fans, the maestro, his caustic humour, says, “No, I’m actually lengthening my musical life. Rather than doing 10 concerts in one year and being done in three years, I’m doing two in a year and going on for 15-20 years. Also, I don’t know much music, so I don’t want to run out of things to play.”
Ustad Zakir Hussain was introduced by his father, tabla virtuoso Alla Rakha, at a music festival in Delhi, where he performed for former Indian President Dr Zakir Hussain