Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 5:46 pm | Fair 66º


Zakir Hussain Brings His Indian Classical Musical Mastery to UCSB

Tabla master teams up with Shivkumar Sharma in Arts & Lectures performance Thursday

Even if you don’t know him, it’s quite likely you’ve heard the music of Zakir Hussain. Son of the renowned Indian tabla master Alla Rakha — who is credited for popularizing the Indian drums in the West — Hussain continues the tradition his father started, collaborating with artists near and far.

Tabla master Zakir Hussain has played with a range of artists since following in his father's footsteps on stage.
Tabla master Zakir Hussain has played with a range of artists since following in his father’s footsteps on stage. (UCSB Arts & Lectures photo)

“I’m still learning how to play the tabla,” the virtuoso said in a recent interview with Noozhawk. What keeps him going, he said, is the need to learn more, and to expand the repertoire of his instrument.

The tabla — a set of two hand drums, one bigger than the other — is a hard instrument to miss, with its melodic tones, pops and rings. And yet it’s the kind of sound that can fit in perfectly with different genres, said Hussain, who has played with a range of artists from the Indian classical musicians he grew up with to American folk-style musicians like Béla Fleck to remix artists like Talvin Singh. He’s also played on movie soundtracks — Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

But when Hussain and fellow musician Pandit Shivkumar Sharma come to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday for a performance sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures, it won’t be about the fusion of Eastern and Western sounds.

“This is about getting back to the roots,” he said. “It is nice to go back to the traditional art form, and let people see the where it all comes from ... it’s refreshing to work with Shivji on a tour that will keep me in shape with my traditional music.”

As far as Indian classical music instruments go, the tabla is a latecomer — about 320 years old in a tradition of music that goes back almost 5,000 years.

“It took a while for the new instrument to absorb the repertoire that came before,” said Hussain. Prior to that, the rhythm of the music of the courts and the temples were played on a single, double-headed drum.

“The music kept growing and instruments kept being invented, and a there was a need for different sounds,” he said.

And it’s been a lot of work, for both the instruments and the musicians who play them. It wasn’t until the last century that tabla players were even recognized at the same level as other Indian classical musicians.

The same kind of emergence has been happening for Shivkumar Sharma’s santoor, a dulcimer-like instrument.

The santoor has existed in the valley of Kashmir for almost 1,800 years, Hussain said, but it was confined to the folk tradition. It wasn’t seen as an instrument complete enough to capture the details of Indian classical music.

Not to be undone by the purists and the critics who railed against him after a national-level concert in 1955, Sharma retooled his santoor to be able to play a wider range of notes, as well as developing a new technique of playing that captured the nuances of Indian classical music. Eventually he won over the naysayers.

“In his lifetime, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma has helped the santoor go from folk instrument to major classical music instrument,” said Hussein. “That’s a great accomplishment.”

Hussain and Sharma go back decades, virtually their entire musical lives, a boon when you consider the highly improvisational nature of the music, which has a definite structure, but a lot of room to play in. Click here to hear a clip of the two musicians together.

“It’s like working with your twin, and thinking about the same thing at the same time, executing the move at the same time. It’s fun when you get to that point,” said Hussain. But aside from trying to predict each other, the two virtuosos are going to try to outwit each other.

“Pandit Shivkumar Sharma is not going to tell me what he’s going to play,” said Hussein. “I’m going to find out onstage.”

The concert is 8 p.m. Thursday in UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Tickets are $40, $15 for UCSB students. Click here to purchase tickets or for more information, or call 805.893.3535.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >