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Famous Musicians of India

Ustad Zakir Hussain : Music hijacked by the divine

I have interviewed and written about many artists on this website till date. This is first time when I am writing something about Ustad Zakir Hussain. I have countless memories which resonate with divine music of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Infinite impressions are created both by his music and his being. As I have many times said, an artist is not only his art but a lot more than that. Zakir Bhai, in true sense has a lot of this ‘lot more’.

zakir bhai
Zakir Hussain, through his music, has helped me many times and I am very much sure that I am one of the countless persons who are knowingly and unknowingly helped by his music. Through his music, I have learnt many lessons and learned a better way to live my life. One might wonder how listening to a Tabla performance can teach someone so many things. But yes, if the music is hijacked by the god, it can even wake up the dead.

Zakir Hussain and other Tabla players

Though I do not like to compare artists, I always like to discuss what makes the tallest peak ‘the tallest’. Undoubtedly, Ustad Zakir Hussain is the tallest peak in world of Tabla today. I have attended many concerts where Tabla was either a solo instrument or an accompanying instrument. These concerts were given by different Tabla players, Zakir Hussain being one of them. Keeping my eyes open helped me to learn many things about him which in my opinion differentiate him from the others. I will share them one by one.

1. Understanding music of the main performing artist

Ustad Zakir Hussain has tremendous understanding (sometimes even more than the main artist himself!) of the way artist he is going to accompany performs. If you listen carefully, other Tabla players play in same way every time, with every instrument and everty artist. On the other hand, the way Zakir Bhai plays changes with the artist, changes with the instrument. The way he accompanies Santoor is different than the way he accompanies Sitar or flute. In order to attain this level of performance, the accompanying artist has to have a deep understanding of the instrument and also the artist. On this front, he is beyond any parallel in today’s world.

Ustad Zakir Hussain

2. Thorough knowledge of sound system and acoustics

As we do, artists also tend to avoid the technical part- acoustics and sound check. My experience tells that Zakir Hussain has in depth knowledge of sound systems, acoustics and other technical things. In all the concerts I attended, Zakir Bhai religiously did the sound check, paying attention to the finest of the details. As a result, each of his concert is supported by highest quality of sound.

3. Humbler than the humblest

I respect Zakir Hussain for his humble nature. His humbleness is not borrowed. It is not for show. He is humble. It is very natural in his being. I have always seen him respecting old and learned people, forgiving organizers for small mistakes. I remember one of my friend telling me his first-hand experience where after a concert, Ustad Zakir Hussain lifted the Chappals (Indian type of footwear) of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and brought them to him. In fact, his understanding of music of other artists also comes from this humble nature.

Zakir Hussain as an accompanist

I look at Zakir Hussain as best accompanying artist. I also remember the lit up faces of many music lovers when they came to know that the particular artist was being accompanied by Zakir Hussain. As already discussed, he has good understanding of different instruments and artists and he performs accordingly. Is that the only thing which separates him out? No, and the list is very long.

1. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain

 

If someone asks me about which concert would be my highest priority concert, it would be this combination where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is accompanied by Ustad Zakir Hussain. I remember a concert by these two great artists where Pt Shivkumar Sharma said that accompanists like Zakir Bhai are rarely born. The music of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is meditative. His strokes and patterns are meditative. If the accompanying artist is not aware of this fact, his strokes tend to disturb this meditative quality of the music. The legacy of Zakir Hussain rests in the fact that his Tabla always adds to the meditative quality of music and it never disturbs it.

Accompanying Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is one of the most difficult task as the artist has to be highly attentive. Many times, a clear stress can be observed on the faces of artists accompanying him when they realize that they have lost it!

  I still remember a concert which took place around three years ago, at Ganesh Kala Krida Manch, Pune, where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma was accompanied by Zakir Hussain. The theatre was full, with not a single chair empty. It was the last part- the climax of the concert, very end of fast composition in Raga Puriya Kalyan.

At that point, where both the artists could not afford to stop for even a fraction of second, one stoke of Ustad Zakir Hussain slipped a bit. Hardly anyone of thousands of people noticed it- it was a very subtle issue. The greatness of Zakir Hussain is, he touched his right ear even at that moment.

I appreciate this honesty, of accepting one’s mistake, so small that no one can even notice it. On the other hand, I have seen many famous Tabla players going out of rhythm with a wide smile on their faces- to pretend the crowd that they are playing with rhythm and nothing has gone wrong.

2. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain

Once, I had this opportunity to listen to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and the accompanying artist was Zakir Hussain. I could not attend the concert as I had to visit another city. But, I have an album, named Posession where Hariji and Zakir Bhai perform together at Osho Ashram (Now Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune). The album has Ragas Hansdhwani, Puriya Kalyan, Kala Ranjani and Pahadi.

This album possession truly shows what Zakir Hussain is. His Tabla talks with the flute. One can feel that both the instruments are having a conversation with each other. Infinite number of times I have listened to all of the recordings but still, they are fresh and they are alive.

3.Ustad Zakir Hussain: The king of Humor

Zakir Bhai is one of the most lively and humorous artists. His humor is pure, fresh and innocent. I have many impressions of his humorous behavior left on my heart. I remember a concert where the anchor was praising him without any limits. Silently, Zakir Bhai left his seat, stood behind the anchor and made him horns with his hands!

In another concert, where Niladri Kumar was frustrated while tuning his instrument (and which was not getting tuned), Zakir Hussain called him and asked him if he needs the hammer to tune it.

Zakir Hussain as a Solo Tabla Player

Playing Solo Tabla demands an altogether different judgment and RIyaz compared to playing Tabla as an accompanying artist. If you have to be best at both, you have to be Zakir Hussain.
Everyone has his own purpose behind watching or listening to any art form. What is my purpose? What am I looking for when I attend a concert? During a concert, if the artist is divine enough, there comes a time where the controls of the performance shift from artist to the divine. This is what I call as ‘hijacked by the divine’. This transition is something for which the artist performs. I can experience this transition in Zakir Bhai’s music. Whenever I go to a concert, I am waiting for this transition- it may happen or it may not. When Zakir Hussain is performing, it always happens!

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Famous Musicians of India

What did music teach me?

As far as I can remember my past, I find some place for music. The oldest memories which I have about myself, have a tint of music, a unique flavour of records of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi that my father used to play in our house. Those days are still clear in front of me, now. Then came the days when I started practising music. I remember those days when my friends used to laugh on me; saying why you waste the time which you get to play. I do not know the reason, but I always loved sitting alone and practising my music than playing in a crowd of kids.

Almost always it happens with music students that they loose their touch with music when they face their tenth standard board exams. Same happened with me also. But, rare thing is, the thread connecting me and music did not break. It was a temporary separation.  When favourable conditions came, the love for music sprouted up. The reason behind digging out all these things is, an interesting discussion with a friend. The friend very bluntly asked me to tell him what I got out of spending so much of time.

As for as I am concerned, the question makes no sense. We do not do all things because we get something. Rather, doing some things bring so much of joy with them that you do not need any other reason. But still, I can understand the mindset of my friend. He also needs an answer for his rational mind. So, I ask myself: leave the joy aside. What else did I get from spending so much of time on music?

The answer is quite big. There are many outputs, some minor, some significant but all of them are valuable. Playing flute taught me how to be stable. It taught me the art of being unaffected by the surroundings. Stability of breath makes one’s life stable in all the situations. Practising music taught me to sit silently at a place, without getting tired and distracted. I sit in front of my Guru, listening for hours what he teaches. Music has improved my concentration and awareness.

Through this passion, I came to know so many divine artists and could meet them. Each of them taught me something different. I have not met many artists; their music teach a lot even in their absence. Guruma Annapurna Devi teaches us highest level of dedication; towards Gurus, music and even one’s disciples. She is an goddess who takes us beyond all the material aspects, where music is pure, divine. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma taught me meditation. He is simply a yogi. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia is a perfect incarnation of lord Krishna. His love and affection towards his disciples is phenomenal. Pt. Nityanand Haldipur teaches us to devote ourselves to our Gurus. It feels really blessed to be among all of them. The list does not end here. Pt. C.R. Vyas teaches us to manage day-to- day life and music together. His dedication, hard work, devotion are beyond imagination. Pt. Suhas Vyas teaches us how a Guru should be in changed scenarios where there are newer challenges in front of music learners.

The list is unending. There is so much to learn; lives will be insufficient to contain all this wisdom.  What music has taught me is beyond all the books and scriptures. It needs a blessed one to get all this.

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Pt. Shivkumar Sharma

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma- Sawai Gandharva 2012

The number of concerts of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma attended by me cannot be counted on fingers. I have heard Panditji live for more than 10- 15 times, but still, every concert is different. Every concert attains a different height.  I have heard Pt. Shivkumar Sharma sitting 5 feet away from him also among thousands of listeners. The physical distance never matters. The spell of his music can catch you even if you are miles away. I would say, his music is filled everywhere and hence it can felt everywhere.

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma at Sawai Gandharva Fest 2012
Pt. Shivkumar Sharma at Sawai Gandharva Fest 2012

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma always says that he is a medium. It is absolutely true. Such a divine music is not a cup of tea of any human being. It can descend down only through a medium. Panditji has been a medium between all the listeners and the divine vibes which have filled the entire universe.

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma performed Raga Antardhwani in Sawai Gandharva Festival 2012. Antardhwani means sound from within; but it also means sound present everywhere around us. Sound inside a human being is nothing but echo of the universal sound, the Nad Brahma present everywhere. This Raga Antardhwani is created by Pt. Shivkumar Sharma himself. This Raga even if heard for a second or two, makes you introvert. It has some strange power of cutting you from the outside world and taking you inside you.

The concert started with Alap, Jod and Jhala. The entire crowd of 15,000 people was absolutely silent. Antardhwani had casted its spell everywhere. Eyes of almost all the persons were closed on their own. After Alap, Jod and Jhala, Panditji played three compositions in the Raga Antardhwani and each of them was making the Raga more penetrating, more realizing. This aura of notes resonated in the concert hall for more than one and half hour but it is resonating in the hearts of thousands of listeners even today.

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma again did it as he always does. He is a medium who serves bliss.

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Photo Credits- Kanchi Bhawalkar

 

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Pt. Shivkumar Sharma

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma Concert at CoEP

It is said that god balances good and bad in every person.Right now, I have made it clear in my mind that this rule also applies to institutes in general. Otherwise, why should heavenly feet of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma touch CoEP? I know, he came just to balance the negative aura of dirty and rude professors. Let it be.

Three years ago, this institute had given me opportunity to experience the presence of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia. Now, when I had just passed out, it gave me opportunity to experience one of the best concerts in my life.

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is not only a musician but also a mystic. He does not play Raga to entertain people. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma has devoted every stroke of his Santoor for up lifting the human consciousness. His every stroke of Mallet adds a bit to the meditation.

The personality of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma itself shows that he is beyond personality. One can feel the presence of divine through his every movement, through his every glance. When Pt. Shivkumar Sharma arrived, his brilliant personality made everyone silent. His appearance was like moon in the sky; mild yet very charmful.

When he had taken his Santoor in his lap, he got absorbed in some different world. Very carefully he was again and again checking fine tuning of each and every note. Pt. Shivlumar Sharma , was now a totally different person; absorbed in the divine vibrations of music.

He played Raga Yaman. I was fortunate to sit on the stage itself, a few feet away from him. For a long time, I was feeling like I am sitting in presence of a saint. His eyes, his hands, his Santoor, those divine notes….everything was out of this world.

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma also spoke a lot to children, students, media. I will cover it in the later posts.

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