Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Zakir Hussain --On his way to Carnegie Hall

This has already been a banner year for Marin's Ustad Zakir Hussain, and it's barely four months old.

At the 51st Grammy Awards in February, Zakir, the greatest tabla drummer of our time, took the contemporary world music album Grammy home with him to San Anselmo for his work on "Global Drum Project" with the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart.

Beginning April 26, the 58-year-old master of Indian classical music curates a five-event "Perspectives" series at Carnegie Hall, celebrating the scope of his collaborative career with the likes of George Harrison, Van Morrison, Pharaoh Sanders, John McLaughlin and a pantheon of rock and jazz greats.

The series in his honor has him once again in the company of the finest players in contemporary

Audio: Hussain and Sharma - Drut Gat

music, among them banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, genre-busting double-bassist Edgar Meyer and as one-third of an trio with drummer-pianist Eric Harland and jazz saxophonist/composer Charles Lloyd.

Of their trio, Lloyd says it "swings like a (expletive). You can hear the blues, and you can hear prayers, and it can put a smile on your face and a lift in your step."

Zakir kicks off the Carnegie Hall series, a partnership with the World Music Institute, performing an evening of Indian classical music with his childhood friend Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the undisputed master of the santoor, an ancient stringed instrument considered the elder brother of the American hammered dulcimer.

And here's the cool part for those of us who aren't in a

position to travel 3,000 miles to hear Zakir and Sharma in Carnegie Hall. We don't have to. They will be right here April 11, playing in the 2,000-seat Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, a stop on their "Maestros in Concert" tour.

"What's nice for me is that it's rare that Indian classical musicians get presented at Marin Center," Zakir told me by phone from Louisville, Ky., hours before his concert there, the fourth of the tour. "Ali Akbar Khan has played there, and maybe Ravi Shankar once or twice. But it's rare that it happens. I'm really looking forward to it."

Plus Marin is his home turf. Born in Mumbai, the son of the tabla immortal Ustad Alla Rakha, Zakir has lived in San Anselmo since he came to Marin in the fall of 1971 to teach at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, now in its 42nd year.

"I love this place," he said. "Not to mention the fact that I ran into some fabulous musicians here. Mickey Hart is one of them."

Over the years, Zakir has recorded and toured with Hart aggregations, including Planet Drum, winning the first world music Grammy with that group in 1991.

Marin is also where he met his wife, kathak dancer and teacher Antonia Minnecola. They have two daughters, Anisa, 27, a film producer whose movie "Splinterhead" just premiered at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin; and 24-year-old Isabella, who teaches ballet and modern dance at Dance Theater 7 in Fairfax.

Zakir tours constantly with McLaughlin, with Hart's various aggregations and with his own groups. He's just gotten back from India, where he performed during the country's annual concert season, which began in November and ended in March.

Now he's back on the road with Sharma, playing 20 shows across the country through mid-April.

"I miss home," he confessed. "In fact I was so homesick the day before yesterday that, after finishing a concert in Ann Arbor, Mich., I flew home to be with my wife and daughters for about 18 hours. It was very nice to see them. I took the red-eye back last night and arrived here in Louisville two hours ago."

Zakir is famous for his work with rock, pop and jazz stars, but he hasn't forgotten his roots in Indian classical music, and he doesn't want it to be lost in the conflation of the traditional with the contemporary.

"Every other year I do a countrywide tour of Indian classical music featuring one of the maestros in a straight duo," he explained. "This year it's with Shivkumar Sharma. I worry that with so much musical interaction, with fusion, with world music, with whatever you want to call it, the traditional art forms may not survive. The idea of this tour is to make sure that people don't forget what the source is."

By performing in Marin, Zakir hopes to call attention to the Ali Akbar College, founded in 1967 by the ailing master, Ali Akbar Khan, known to his students and disciples as Khansahib.

"This month is his 87th birthday," Zakir noted. "He's on dialysis three days a week, and it's very difficult for him to get up and teach. He still attempts to teach for an hour or so a week and we're all praying that he'll make it, that he teaches some more, but the future of the college needs to be decided so that even after him it will continue. We are hoping if major Indian music shows start happening in Marin that will help in some way."

No comments: