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Amercians are respectful of Indian music: Zakir Hussain

March 22, 2010

Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, who is out to present a picture of a new vibrant India through the music and rhythm of its diverse culture across the United States, says Americans are very respectful of Indian music and listen to it with “reverence and focus”.

“It has been going very very well,” Hussain told IANS over the phone after a show at the San Francisco Jazz Festival last week as part of a month-long 17-concert “Masters of Percussion” tour across a dozen American cities, including New York, Chicago and Atlanta.

“This is not just Zakir Hussain music. Each person performing is a great master. And it’s not just my concert and it’s everyone else playing together with us and it’s a unified statement,” he said.

Performing with Hussain this year are Taufiq Qureshi (various percussion instruments), Ganesh and Kumaresh (violin), Sabir Khan (sarangi), Sridhar Parthasarathy (mridangam), Navin Sharma (dholak) and the Motilal Dhakis from Bengal.

Enthused by the “big success” of the 1996 tour when he first brought outside India “rarely heard percussion traditions of India, whether they were in remote parts of India or well known cities of India”, the maestro has been doing it every other year.

“When I go round India, whether it’s in remote Manipur or Assam or Punjab or south India or central India, I find that drummers are people of tradition who are rarely seen and I try to bring them to the stage whether it’s in India or outside of India.”

The show has evolved over the years, Hussain said. While the core team remains pretty much the same, newer elements are added each time featuring different Indian states and masters of drumming from those states.

“Like on the last tour we had drummers from Manipur and Rajasthan. This year we have drummers from east Bengal as well as central India and south India,” he said.

“So it’s almost like giving a view of the lay of the land through the music and rhythm, a picture of what people of these parts of India are all about.

“The music has different shades at different concerts too as the drummers improvise responding to melody players bringing in new folk and classical melodies in every show. “It adds an interesting spontaneity to the show and that’s what’s so exciting,” he said.

The American view of music is very respectful, Hussain said. Having grown up in the Western classical world they understand the tradition of classical music. “So when they come to an Indian music concert, they bring that element of respect, of reverence and focus.”

Playing for American audiences has also changed over the years.

“Earlier they didn’t know much about Indian music, but now, having listened to it, there has been a great understanding of Indian arts and so the listeners are not only disciplined and focused and respectful but also quite well informed.”

Hussain, who has done some music for Bollywood films and also acted in a couple of movies, says, “That’s not my focus. I am primarily an Indian classical musician who travels a lot and performs a lot doing some 150 shows a year”.

“Though I have done music for some independent filmmakers like Sai Paranjape, Aparna Sen or Rahul Bose and stuff like that, but doing that on a regular basis is something that I have not been able to find time to do although I would love to when I get a chance.”

“I have done music for Hollywood too. I started doing music in the 1970s for Hollywood films like Francis Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’, and onwards to Merchant and Ivory films like ‘Heat and Dust’ (in which he also co-starred) and ‘In Custody’ and ‘The ‘Mystic Masseur’ and so on.

“But I write music for symphony orchestras, commissioned pieces for ballet and so that part of my music still exists while I am in this part of the world,” he said.

“But again my main focus is to play music and promote rarely heard traditions all over the world.”

“In films, you have to compose music to the situation required, but in a concert you have ample time to express yourself and be spontaneous and creative at the spur of the moment,” Hussain said.

“So you get a much more free rein to be able to build something interesting musically.”

On future plans, “Masters of Percussion” has just released a new DVD through his own record company, Moment Records.

“Just finished music for an English film done by a New York director. And I am writing pieces for a ballet company and working on a record for symphony orchestra with Detroit symphony.”

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