The crowd of more than thousand that gathered to listen to the tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain, at Cross Maidan Gardens, Mumbai for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival wasn’t a usual one. Among the noted musicians and amateur artists, there were many other music enthusiasts. However, the millennial formed the biggest crowd there.
Several young professionals came straight from work and still had their id cards hanging around their neck, college-goers were sitting in groups and chatting before the performance, and several high school kids had also shown up, either with parents or friends.
After the event, when Zakir Hussain was asked why he thinks youngsters like to hear him play, the tabla maestro joked, “Because I'm silly or something." He then said, “I think they like the way I present the music. That has a lot to do with the energy and the love I have for this art. I think it projects and they see that it is an honest presentation. It is not made-up or rehearsed. It is spontaneous and they feel like they are a part of the living room atmosphere that I create."
Zakir has probably got it right. Several teenagers at his show said that they enjoy hearing him play because his events are 'casual and fun'. Shama, a 20-year-old architecture student said that she really liked the ambiance of his show and is very fond of his music. Saheli Desai, a 19-year-old Applied Arts student, gushed about her love for Indian classical music. "Classical music gives me a boost. I listen to it when I work on my assignments. I do not know how to play any instrument and I am not a trained singer. But, Indian classical music still interests me, which is why I am waiting to listen to Zakir tonight," Saheli told News18 before the event. Rubi, 28, said that she has been recently initiated into Hindustani classical and she enjoys a good jugalbandi. “As the tempo of a classical performance picks up, it tends to get heady. It is almost like listening to a rock concert and makes you want to headbang," she said.
Youngsters are increasingly growing an interest in Indian classical music these days. They not only show up for many music performances but are also listening to classical music online. "There is a new found confidence among young people in our culture," observed Zakir. "They are not hesitant to acknowledge that they are Indians. A few decades ago, the youth was running after the west, the glam. It was out of the feeling that we don't have anything that the world recognizes," said the maestro.
"Now they can stand up and say, 'yes, I'm Indian and I love Indian music.' They have nothing to be ashamed of," he added. The legendary tabla player recounted that in his younger days Indian musicians were never invited for the weddings and dinners of the 'so-called beautiful people'. They were relegated to waiting in the kitchen and then called upon to play in the evening. However, that has changed today and Indian music is a socially acceptable profession, he observed.
A whole new crop of young musicians have also grown in the recent years and Zakir doesn't just acknowledge their talents but also makes it a point to actively promote their talents by sharing the stage with them. He mostly performs with young upcoming artists such as Niladri Kumar, Rakesh Chaurasia, Rahul Sharma and Purbayan Chatterjee, among others. At the Kala Ghoda Festival in Cross Maidan, he played with Sabir Khan, son of the legendary Sarangi player, Ustad Sultan Khan. He revealed that it is a very conscious decision on his part to play with young talents.
"These artists, at a very young age, are frighteningly complete musicians. Because they had all information available to them at an early age, they grew up listening to all kinds of music-- Indian classical, folk, Bollywood, rap, hip-hop, jazz, rock, and pop -- and at the same time, figuring out as they learned how to incorporate all these things together to create one universal statement."
Zakir confessed that playing with young talents helps him grow as a musician. "When I play with them, I get to see the music as it now is. I see it from their point of view and it gives me new insight. It helps me to find different ways to be able to interact with them, interpret what they are doing and grow as a musician. It is a learning process and I find that playing with them helps me as an artist," he said.
The tabla maestro, however, has a complain. "Media pays very little attention to the bench strength. They like to only take interviews with the main artist. Shiv Kumarji. Hariprasadji, Amjad Ali Khan. They don't take the time to see what else is out there,” he said.
He feels that it is important for him to showcase them and give them a platform to display their worth. "When Sabir Khan is playing with me, he is just not my backup, he is an equal partner, in what happens. And that must be projected. So the audience understands the depth of his artistry, his talents, and his ability. Same with Niladri and others. That's the only way to get people to hear these young talents. So I take them all around the world with me and put them up in places like Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Lincoln Centre and Disney Hall. Once I get them up there, it is up to them to convince the audience of their ability and they are doing it. You saw that they are doing it," he said.
Zakir Hussain has won Grammy, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the prestigious 2017 San Francisco JAZZ Gala honoree, among tons of other accolades and awards in his lifelong illustrious career as the master of percussions. He has recently given music for the upcoming Bollywood film, Manto. Manto is a film directed by Nandita Das and based on the life of the Urdu writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. Zakir had previously given music for Aparna Sen's Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and had played tabla for soundtracks of movies like Little Buddha and Apocalypse Now.
Talking about Manto, the maestro said, "I saw the film without the music and I was very taken by it. You see my father (Ustad Allarakha Qureshi) was right here in the Mumbai film industry in the same studio where Manto was."
Zakir recalls that in the early 1950s his parents would discuss Independence and partition in the middle of the night as they had just witnessed it and as a child, he heard those stories. He said Manto reminded him of all these stories he had heard from his dad about the hesitancy in the world of art with the independence arriving and the partition taking place. Zakir remarked, "Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) has acted so well; he is just amazing as Manto. Nandita has made a very fine film. She was very convincing and it just made sense to be a part of the film.”