Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion Live at the Chan Centre, Vancouver BC April 1, 2012
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Zakir Hussain should need no introduction. As the world’s greatest living master of the Indian tabla, he has spent decades tirelessly touring the globe and exposing audiences to the ancient percussive traditions of South Asia. Hussain first came to prominence in the west in the late sixties when his father Ustad Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar’s tabla accompanist brought him to California to stay with the Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart while he was away on tour. That introduction to the sixties psychedelic music scene lead to celebrated collaborations with Mickey Hart’s Diga Rhythm Band and John McLaughlin’s Shakti collective. Over the years, Hussain has recorded with Van Morrison, Bela Fleck, Bill Laswell and many others while continuing to work with Mickey Hart’s Grammy winning ‘Planet Drum’ ensembles and John McLaughlin’s ‘Remember Shakti’ reboot of the much loved improvisational troupe. Still, as impressive as these credentials may be to western jazz and rock fans, the sold out crowd who gathered to hear Zakir Hussain play in Vancouver last Sunday night were there to hear him share the Indian classical music he loves best.
With Ravi Shankar’s 92nd birthday just around the corner and his touring schedule drastically cut back in deference to his age, Hussain is certainly the most recognizable proponent of traditional Indian music in the world today. It is obviously a role and mantle that Zakir takes seriously as the diversity of music on offer and the almost curatorial approach he takes to presenting the various percussive traditions of India attests. Saying this, there was nothing dry or academic about Sunday’s concert. The evening began with Nigombam Joy Singh’s whirling, synchronized performance of a Manipuri dance and drumming piece that at times challenged belief that one person could create such an earthquake of sound and fluid motion. From there, audiences were treated to a deep, rhythmic exploration of the sounds created by a clay Ghatam, an instrument originally created to carry milk and other liquids. As the sounds of the reverberating ghatam faded, Hussain took the stage to interact with the deeply hypnotic melodies created by Sabir Khan’s stringed sarangi. There are no words to capture the deeply resonant and beautiful sounds the two men effortlessly coaxed and channeled out of their instruments before sending their audience floating into the lobby for just long enough an intermission to let the music sink in.
If it is possible to say so, the music played during the second half of the program was even more beautiful and transcendent than what Zakir and his ensemble offered during the first section. Taking to the stage with Rakesh Chaurasia, the nephew of the great flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, the pair improvised for nearly an hour throughsome of the loveliest ragas I had ever heard. With musical sounds ranging from ferocious tabla rhythms–with booming reverbs and delays created by Zakir’s fists, wrists and palms that often sounded like techno music without the technology – to the most lovely, ethereal suggestions played on the flutes, the pair were completely locked into each other’s movements and breath as time slipped away and the audience fell completely under their spell.
As Chaurasia’s flute faded and echoed through the Chan Centre, Hussain brought all of the musicians onstage and explained the lineage of each of the players in the ensemble before jumping into one final number and sending the saturated, but delighted, audience home.
Like many in the Vancouver crowd, I have had the good fortune to hear Zakir Hussain play live countless times over the years and in several different formations. At the age of 62, Hussain is still in great shape and playing at the peak of his powers. He is one of the world’s great musical treasures, but like all of us, he wont’ be around forever. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience his show if you have the opportunity. You never know when it will come again.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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