Interview: Ustad Zakir Hussain - a wide-ranging chat with the Master of Percussion coming to DC at the WPAS Event

Click on Play to listen to Ustad Zakir Hussain chat with Bharati Mitra
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Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion presented by WPAS at The Kennedy Center on March 17Washington DC, March 13, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio) Residents and visitors inside and outside of the Capital Beltway are eagerly looking forward to the very special "Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion" concert presented by the The Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS - on Saturday, March 17 at 3 p.m. at Kennedy Center Concert Hall. In this audio interview, Bharati Mitra on behalf of WBRi chats with Zakir Hussain a few days before the concert in an endearing conversation touching upon diverse aspects of Indian classical music and the life, experience, training and works (do not miss the anecdotes) of one of the great musical geniuses of our times.

Along with the Tabla wizard, the concert features Fazal Qureshi on Tabla & Kanjira, Rakesh Chaurasia on Bansuri (bamboo flute), THV Umashankar on Ghatam (clay pot), Dilshad Khan on Sarangi, Navin Sharma on Dholak, Abbos Kosimov on Doyra and Meitei Pung Cholom - dancing drummer of Manipur. Tickets are $15-65 and available at or by calling 202-785-97.

Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion presented by WPAS at The Kennedy Center on March 17We all wonder how the Ustadji manages to cope up with the incredibly tight travel-and-performance itineraries literally criss-crossing the country and performing every day for extended periods of time. Traveling with fellow musicians is less tiresome than traveling alone, says he, and even when there is limited opportunity for practice, the Ustadji and his fellow musicians talk a lot about their music and performances, and not always at a serious intellectual level, which is also invigorating.

Ustad Zakir Hussain is known to prefer being addressed simply by his first name. Asked about how folks who want to address him in the respectful way they want to, the Ustad says it should come from the heart - just a mechanical movement to try to touch the feet of one's elders does not automatically mean respect is being shown. True respect can be shown in many ways if it comes from the heart - a simple act of shaking hands of giving a hug can be a very powerful show of deep-felt respect. Having said that, it is also the duty of teachers to inculcate humility in students - as an example, the Ustadji was recently at Science City in Kolkata with Pandit Ajay Chakraborty and others when Dr. Balamuralikrishna came in, and as Zakirji bowed down to touch his feet, Dr. Balamuralikrishna actually took his shoes off. There were two reasons, points out Zakirji - he did not want Zakirji to touch his shoes but his feet, and it was also a subtle hint at expected etiquette towards a senior musician.

Ustad Zakir Hussain WBRi Free Audio InterviewAsked the rather difficult question whether the Ustadji believes he would still have attained his stature if his father was not Ustad Alla Rakha, Zakirji says he really has no way of knowing, but then again he reminds us that his father had no such opportunity to learn music from his father. Among others, nobody in Uday Shankar's family played the Sitar before Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma was first in his family to play the Santoor, and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia's father was a wrestler!

Zakirji attributes his remarkable work with other musicians across the world resulting in fusion masterpieces to his inherent need to expand his musical horizons. Listen to his eloquent description on how he tries to grow as an artist by looking at his own music from the perspective of other world musicians, and vice-versa.

After talking briefly about the possibility of release of the film "The Speaking Hand", the conversation moves to the Ustad's days as an apprentice at the Ali Akbar College of Music. He recalls with thankfulness the great opportunity of learning from and playing with legendary musicians there, and also shares with us some humorous anecdotes. In true Bengali style, Ali Akbar Khan used to call him "Jakir" (Bengalis are notoriously challenged on pronouncing "Z" and often substitute "J" - so much so that Zakirji remembers a newspaper ad in Kolkata announcing Ali Akbar Khan and "Jakir" Hussain in concert at Kalamandir!) Do not miss his subsequent stories of how he was made to drink at age 21, why he ended up eating rabbit in Paris and how he saved Ali Akbar from a dropping Tanpura, as well as tales of legendary musicians making music with broken instruments!

Going into the future, Zakirji would like to continue to play music with more musicians and keep growing. His upcoming concerts include playing with a symphonic orchestra, and he hopes to continue to hold the very special workshops in California where students come and live with him for a few days. We end this little chat with our love, respects and best wishes for Ustad Zakir Hussain and eagerly look forward to many decades of discovering new musical wonders with the maestro.