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Ustad Zakir Hussain on performing on-stage and his reunion with fusion band Shakti

Updated on: 12 December,2022 11:05 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

As Shakti, the famed fusion band, prepares for its 50th anniversary next month, Ustad Zakir Hussain shares about the year ahead

Ustad Zakir Hussain on performing on-stage and his reunion with fusion band Shakti

Zakir Hussain

Mention his name, and the first image that flashes through your mind is that of nimble fingers dancing on the edge of a tabla. Having arrived in India in December, Padma Bhushan-awardee Ustad Zakir Hussain is busy with a line-up of schedules stretching into the New Year, including the much-awaited Shakti reunion tour.

Ask him about the experience of being on tour, and Hussain says, “The entire atmosphere of performing compositions in front of a live audience and knowing their response immediately is a different kind of high.” For a performer who has accompanied greats such as the late George Harrison, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar, that feels like a modest statement. He adds, “The general energy and response of the audience gives me encouragement to raise the bar with each passing concert.”

(From left) Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, John McLaughlin, Ganesh Rajagopalan and V Selvaganesh. Pic Courtesy/@RememberShakti on Facebook(From left) Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, John McLaughlin, Ganesh Rajagopalan and V Selvaganesh. Pic Courtesy/@RememberShakti on Facebook

The Grammy Award-winner has spent most of 2022 on tour in the United States, and has been on a pan-India tour since December. Having had back-to-back performances at the NCPA and in Thane last weekend, Hussain notes, “Indian classical music is a niche form that requires a certain amount of intimacy with the listeners.” 

Familiar listeners  will recall that a Hussain performance would be incomplete without his touch of mischief as he plays and interacts with the audience and musicians on stage. The veteran admits that he has missed that interplay over the last couple of years. “I love making eye contact and engaging with my audience as their enthusiasm motivates me to perform better. I have missed hearing “Wah kya baat hai,” and I am dying to hear these words again,” he admits.

Yet, the most awaited event on the calendar is that of the 50th anniversary tour of Shakti — the iconic fusion band with Hussain featuring alongside names such as John McLaughlin, V Selvaganesh, Shankar Mahadevan and Ganesh Rajagopalan. The tour will kick off in January 2023 with stops in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi before heading to Europe and America in 
the fall.

While he does not reveal much about the programme, he promises it is one to watch out for. “This reunion has been very special for me,” he says. It is also special for fans whose ideas of the genre of fusion music were shaped by the iconic band that was founded in 1974. The tabla maestro attributes that to the freedom of improvisation in Indian classical music. “The concept of improvising [creating spontaneously] allows players in the Indian tradition to think on their feet and adjust the creative process to suit any style of music,” he remarks. Hussain believes that it is one of the reasons the Indian form has been adopted by several genres like jazz and fusion through integration.

Such personal collaborations were hard to come by in the pandemic though, the musician admits. But he refuses to dwell on the negatives. “Personally, I took this as an opportunity to revisit some of my father’s old compositions while also brainstorming on newer collaborations. It has also brought the artiste community closer,” he reveals.

With the elements finally put behind, the maestro looks forward to a busy year. A performance alongside old friend, singer Hariharan is scheduled later this weekend, and so his stay in Mumbai has been extended. He will return again with Shakti in tow. “Things are looking bright in 2023. In the first half we have the 50th anniversary celebrations of Shakti in a unique way. Hopefully, there will be much more to follow,” he signs off.

On January 22; 6 pm
At NSCI SVP Stadium, Lala Lajpatrai Marg, Lotus Colony, Worli. 
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