My father, my guru
Ustad Zakir Hussain's father once told him, 'Son, don't consider yourself the master, just be a good student and you'll get by just fine'.
And he’s lived by that. As a tribute to his father, the late tabla maestro Ustad Aallarakh Khan, Zakir organises a concert every year on his death anniversary. And on his 13th barsi this year, Zakir has managed to get an impressive line-up including a spiritual tribute by U Srinivas (mandolin), Abbos Kosimov (Doira drums), Fazal Qureshi (tabla), a tribute by mridangam player Kamalakar Rao to his guru Shri Palghat Mani Iyer, a performance by Bela Fleck and Edgar Myer and a jam session featuring Zakir himself along with a host of other musicians. The tabla maestro speaks to CS about his father’s influence on him as well as other aspects of his musical life:
To be able to be a little baby son, then a student, then an apprentice, then a colleague and then to be a friend — all those layers of relationship with my dad, it’s a very special place to be. From the age of 7 till I was 12, he used to wake me up at around 2-2.30 at night and that was my study time with him till around 6-6.30 in the morning. I would look forward to that time as I would be alone with my father.
It’s important for me to be able to learn more. There’s a great saxophone player called Charles Llyod. Once after a concert, he came back and was told by someone that he played perfectly that day. He said, ‘I haven’t played well enough to quit’. If you feel you’ve done the best you can, you might as well hang up your boots. I read somewhere that when Carlos Santana came to India and was asked who he’d like to work with, he took my name. I was flattered but the fact remains that he doesn’t need to do that. He’s one of the greatest musicians in the world, but his urge to learn and discover more and therefore, enrich himself is inspirational.
As a senior person, Ravi Shankarji taught me how to take what I know and take it in my interactions with music. His ability to be able to convey to the audience music in its deepest complexity in a manner that it came through in a simple expression to the audience, is an inspiration. But he was a senior and I needed another level of understanding of my music. I needed a contemporary to be able to bounce ideas off him. And that colleague was Shiv Kumar Sharmaji. I consider both my gurus. In the west, John McLaughlin and Mickey Hart really helped me develop what I knew from here to be able to utilise it there.