One of my resolutions this year was to start picking up the Tabla again1 courtesy a not so gentle nudge from my supportive partner.
This has obviously led me to scouring Youtube for videos of the great maestros. Ustad Zakir Hussain is one of them.
Here’s a few videos from my collection with some context explaining why he’s a gift to the world of music.
What is the Tabla?
If you want to get a quick peek at this supremely delicate Indian percussion instrument here’s a starter video.
Zakir (👂🏽) is worshipped like a rockstar in the Indian classical music scene. A video of literally the start of the concert where the audience goes nuts.
Zakir (👂🏽) helping the sound guy out
After tapping the stage he says “Low-Mids Thoda Kam Karo” (reduce the low-mids a little). Just from hearing the acoustics of the stage he’s able to tell the sound guy to reduce the low-mids. You have to be a master of sound to be able to do that.
Zakir (👂🏽) messing with the sound guy
Doesn’t get flustered or annoyed. His child like curiosity with the moment gets him to use it as a prop for his show.
Respect for other maestros
He is without doubt considered one of the grand masters of the Tabla even by most of his peers. But he doesn’t let it get to his head. Here’s how he reacts when he meets some of his contemporaries.
Another one of those tender moments right at the start. Read the text after the video for context.
Singer Hariharan as a mark of respect says “Ijazat ?” (roughly translating to “permission” in Urdu). While the vocalist is usually the primary performer, the accompanying percussion artist here is one of the most knowledgeable souls in Indian classical music. Zakir (👂🏽) without missing a beat responds “Bismillah” which translates to “by the grace of God”, implying he has no permission to give.
Ok, so what’s with the 👂🏽?
This comes from an age old practice in India. Addressing teachers, masters or mentors with their names is considered forward and disrespectful - especially true in Indian classical music. So every time the pupil mentions the teacher’s name or plays their composition, they instinctively touch their ear as a mark of respect and an ask of forgiveness if they don’t do the same levels of justice to the teacher’s composition.
While I don’t share much publicly about my classical music background, after coding it’s the activity I’ve spent most of my life pursuing. ↩︎
Yes they’re a family of percussion wizards and before Zakir, his father was considered one of the greatest Tabla players of our generation. ↩︎
Ustad is a title for musical maestros that practice Islam and Pandit for those Hinduism. Countries were divided on account of the differences between these two religions; but not in music ♥️. ↩︎