Thursday, February 19, 2009

‘Young musicians need media coverage’

Says tabla maestro Zakir Hussain as he talked about the recent Grammy win and the necessity to remain a student, rather than a master

By Shevlin Sebastian

When tabla maestro Zakir Hussain left the Gokulam Convention Centre, Kochi, after his concert and walked towards the hotel, he created a mini frenzy. As photographers took snaps, and television crews followed him, people came up, touched him, and murmured words of congratulation. Guests who were leaving in their swank cars waved and smiled.

Holding a Farrukh Dhondy novel in his hands, Zakir walked so fast that Shyamala Surendran of Dharini, the organisation which held the musical event, in trying to keep up, lost her sandal. She stopped; so did he. Then Zakir followed Shyamala back to locate the missing sandal. Thankfully she found it quickly.

At the press conference, accompanied by sarangi exponent Dilshad Khan, Zakir spoke confidently, but with a slight American accent. And like most people for whom their job is their passion, he looked far younger than the 57 that he actually is. He also has a sense of humour – “I was hoping there would be a Hussain in the White House and now there is one.”

Here are excerpts from the interview:

You have led a blessed life. Are they any unfulfilled dreams?
My unfulfilled dream is to be able to play the best I can. My father always told me: just be a good student. Don’t try to be a master. If you walk like a guru or a master, you miss what is going on below your nose. It’s not the goal that you get to. It’s how you excel yourself in the journey.

Another great master said to me when I once told him, “Maestro, you really played the best.” And he replied, “Son, I have not played good enough to quit.” That is a very profound statement. If you think you have played the best you have you might as well quit.

How did you feel on winning the Grammy (for Best Contemporary World Music Album)?
To be honest I would have been happier if we had won three years ago when Ashish Khan and I were nominated for the ‘Golden Strings of the Sarod.’ That was a purely classical album. It would have been an apt recognition of the music of India.

How has been the media coverage?
There has always been good coverage for me. It is like the Ravi Shankar syndrome. When you asked people twenty years ago, “Do you know anything about Indian music?” they would say, “Yeah, Ravi Shankar. I heard the sitar.”

But who played with Ravi Shankar? Ustad Allah Rakha! But nobody knew that. Do you know another great sitar player apart from Ravi Shankar? Nobody knew.

So when Ravi Shankar played a concert, 3000 people turn up. When the equally great sitarist Vilayat Khan played, 400 people comprised the audience. Why? Because the media latched on to Ravi Shankar. And it did not bring forth the fact that Vilayat was also one of the greatest.

So what should be done?
Don’t forget the others. Don’t turn the Ravi Shankar syndrome into a Zakir Husain syndrome. Try to help others make a mark. That is how the music will make a mark. You made me, you made Ravi Shankar, you made Bala Murali ji. You made us. So now make the younger ones into the great masters.

You can talk about Tollywood, Kollywood, Bollywood, Firewood, or any other wood, but, please, once in a blue moon, do highlight a young maestro, like Dilshad. It just inspires them to do better and better. If nobody takes notice, the music dies.

How does the younger musician benefit from playing with a senior artiste?
When I was playing with older musicians like Ravi Shankar I learnt how to present my craft on the stage. In my second concert with Ravi Shankar, as we were tuning our instruments, he said, “Zakir, who are you playing for?” I replied, “I am playing for you, Sir.” Then he said, “Why are you sitting and facing the audience? See what I want to do and interact with me.”

That was a valuable lesson. When I watched the artiste I was able to tie into the music a lot more. So, similarly, when Dilshad plays with me he is learning a lot more about what he should do with his music.

Zakir pauses, leans towards Dilshad and whispers, in mock-seriousness, “Say yes.”

A smiling Dilshad readily says, “YES!”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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