Art Talk with Tabla Musician Zakir Hussain

By Adam Kampe
Image of Zakir Hussain and tabla drums

Zakir Hussain. Photo by Jim McGuire 

Today's Audio Art Talk is with North Indian master tabla drummer and 1999 NEA National Heritage Fellow, Zakir Hussain Allarakha Qureshi. Hussain grew up immersed in music; his father, the legendary Ustad Allarakha Qureshi, taught students and entertained maestros in the family house throughout Hussain's youth. According to Hussain: "[2010 NEA Jazz Master] Yusef Lateef came to India, I met him because he was my father's friend. George Harrison came for lunch, hung out with us, played the Revolver album for us. Ravi Shankar held a press conference in our living room. Various things happened, little impromptu shows in the house, concerts. All that happened, it was great."

By the age of seven, Hussain chose to play the tabla like it was a full-time job. His father became his teacher. Young Hussain soaked up all that musical knowledge like a sponge and practiced relentlessly until he, too, became a master. Years later, in 1970, he arrived in the Bay Area and befriended and performed with members of the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Grace Slick. "There was a club called Lion's Share where musicians got together and on any given night you could see Carlos sitting in with a local band or Jerry sitting in with a local band and all kinds of stuff that was happening and we were all hanging out and getting up on stage and playing. It was like being a child again and learning in that magical atmosphere." Plugged in and open-minded, Hussain found himself being called upon to perform with myriad musical icons, including Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and NEA Jazz Masters Charles Lloyd (2015) and Pharoah Sanders (2016)

Raised on a unique blend of traditional Indian music, jazz, and rock, Hussain developed his own style and continues to push music forward today. For Hussain, music and art are on par with air and water. "Art is the most positive energy on this planet, it's the most pristine and pure prayer that exists, it's the most universal player that the whole humanity chants. There's nothing more spirit cleansing in the world than art--it does matter, it's for our good, it rejuvenates us, it reenergizes us, it purifies us."

Click on the related audio below to listen to our conversation with Hussain on how his father became his teacher, what it was like performing with Lloyd and Sanders, and why it's important to always be in a state of learning.

(BONUS LISTEN:  Charles Lloyd on Zakir Hussain in a NEA Jazz Moment. [:59])

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