Zakir Hussain (musician)

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Zakir Hussain, 2012

Zakir Hussain (born March 9, 1951 in Bombay , India ) is considered the most prominent living tabla player. Besides the tabla Hussain plays among other questionable time Indian tubular barrels dhol , dholak , Dholki and Khol and the boiler drum Duggi .

Outside of India he is mainly for his participation in John McLaughlin's group Shakti , the recordings with various percussion ensembles (e.g. Diga Rhythm Band , Planet Drum , Rhythm Experience ) and his collaboration with musicians such as George Harrison , Joe Henderson , Van Morrison , Jack Bruce , Tito Puente , Pharoah Sanders , Billy Cobham , Mickey Hart , Trilok Gurtu or Bill Laswell ( Material , Tabla Beat Science).

The north Indian musical tradition, from which he comes, still plays the most important role in his musical work. As he himself says, he plays 80 percent classical Indian music . That he has long been recognized as a musician in his homeland is also shown by the fact that he is a sought-after musician of masters such as Ravi Shankar ( sitar ), Ali Akbar Khan ( sarod ), Shiv Kumar Sharma ( santur ) or the Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj is.


At the age of three he became a student of his father, the tabla virtuoso Alla Rakha . He made his first public appearance with him at the age of 12 and was soon viewed by many as a child prodigy . At the age of 13 he met George Harrison , who had come to India to study with the sitar master Ravi Shankar . Alla Rakha was the tabla virtuoso with whom Shankar made most of his appearances and recordings. This is how Zakir Hussain got his first impressions of contemporary western pop music . Harrison was subsequently one of the first young Western musicians to introduce Indian music to audiences in America and Europe, in a fusion that Hussain himself would continue in later decades. Zakir Hussain, who is not known by the name of his Qureshi family, has two younger brothers who are also musicians: Fazal Qureshi (* 1961) and Taufiq Qureshi (* 1962).

In 1970 Zakir traveled to the United States for the first time in the Ravi Shankar group and had his first appearance outside of India at the Fillmore West in San Francisco . In the same year he moved to the USA. In 1973 he was a founding member of the Tal Vadya Rhythm Band , from which the Diga Rhythm Band developed in the following years (with which Mickey Hart first worked in 1976). Together with the saxophonist John Handy and the sarod player Ali Akbar Khan , he recorded the album Karuna Supreme in 1975 on the initiative of Joachim Ernst Berendt , which was followed in 1980 by the album Rainbow (reinforced by L. Subramaniam ).

In 1975 the British guitarist John McLaughlin was invited and, together with the South Indian violinist L. Shankar and the South Indian ghatam player T. H. Vinayakram , they created the "fusion group" Shakti at a time when there was still no term for it . This formation existed until 1977, recorded three trend-setting albums and played successful concert tours both in the West and in India. During the 1980s, Hussain played a number of concerts with Zakir Hussain's Rhythm Experience and was guest musician with a variety of mostly American pop and jazz musicians. Shakti's first reunion came in 1984 for a tour in India.

In 1992 he founded the record label Moment! Records . In addition to Hussain's world music albums - including his percussion ensemble Rhythm Experience - there are mainly live recordings of concerts by masters of classical North and South Indian music and the series Best of Shakti and Masters of Percussion .

From 1997 to 2000 McLaughlin and Hussain played together with a number of changing Indian musicians, including Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), in the group Remember Shakti .

Since the late 1980s, Hussain has also worked repeatedly with New York bassist and producer Bill Laswell . In the early 2000s they founded the group Tabla Beat Science , which created another form of east-west merger. He also worked in a duo with the jazz saxophonist George Brooks , with whom he also founded the Summit group with Fareed Haque , Kai Eckhardt and Steve Smith , which last released the album Summit: Spirit and Spice in 2010.

In 2015 he won the Down Beat Critic Polls in the Percussion category.


Zakir Hussain, 2001

Hussain's music is characterized by the knowledge of Indian classical music he has acquired over many years, his outstanding technical virtuosity and his talent for improvisation . Although his playing is deeply rooted in Indian tradition, today he is considered one of the creators of so-called world music as a result of his diverse collaborations with Western musicians .

His work can be classified into two broad areas:

  • On the one hand, the collaboration with western musicians from jazz , pop and avant-garde , in which he brings the element of "world music".
  • On the other hand, Hussain also plays again and again - and in total more often than with Western musicians - in India. He deserves particular merit in bringing together masters of the North and South Indian musical traditions; a path that had already started with McLaughlin's Shakti .

Hussain also composed music for films again and again . As early as 1979 he was involved in the film music for Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now . In 2003 he composed the music for Vijay Singh's film One Dollar Curry . In 1993 he composed and played the music for Ismail Merchant's film In Custody and Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha . In Little Buddha he also appeared himself as a Vanaprastham , a hermit living in the woods who has left material needs behind. In 1996 he was one of the composers for the music for the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta , and in 2002 he was responsible for the background music for Mr. and Mrs. Iyer .


A selection of publications with / by Zakir Hussain:

  • Shakti (Shakti, recorded 1975) - the debut album of the group assembled by McLaughlin.
  • Natural Elements (Shakti, recorded 1976) - the second Shakti album (without Ramnad V. Raghavan , Mridangam).
  • A Handful of Beauty (Shakti, recorded 1977) - the last studio recording by Shakti with the original line-up.
  • Making Music (Z. Hussain, 1986) - the first album released under his name, described by critics as "one of the most inspired East-West fusion albums ever recorded".
  • Who's To Know (L. Shankar, 1990) - a milestone for violinist L. Shankar, who here with Z. Hussain revived classical Indian music in his own way.
  • Planet Drum (Z. Hussain with Mickey Hart, 1992) - the multiple award-winning album that combines percussion traditions from around the world. Made on the initiative of former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
  • Remember Shakti (Remember Shakti, 1997) - Live recordings of the group, some of which have been re-cast as Remember Shakti (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, TH Vinayakram, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Uma Metha)
  • Tala Matrix (Tabla Beat Science, 2000) - the first album by the group initiated by Bill Laswell, which also includes sarangi player Sultan Khan .
  • Remember Shakti: The Believer (Remember Shakti, 2000) - Live recordings of concerts played in Europe (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, U. Shrinavas, V. Selvaganesh)
  • Remember Shakti: Saturday Night in Bombay (Remember Shakti, 2001) - Live recording of the final concert of the Remember Shakti world tour, in addition to McLaughlin and Hussain, a number of top-class musical guests from India can be heard


Zakir Hussain has already received a large number of different prizes and awards, the following are some of the most important:

  • Padma Shri (1988) - the fourth highest civilian award given by the Government of India for service to the country. Zakir Hussain was the youngest percussionist to ever receive the award.
  • Indo-American Award (1990) - for his exceptional achievements in the field of cultural exchange between India and the USA.
  • Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1991) - an award given by the President of India by the country's leading cultural institute.
  • Grammy (World Music Category, 1992) - for the Planet Drum album producedby Zakir Hussain and Mickey Hart .
  • Best World Beat Album (1992) - Award from Downbeat magazine, one of the leading publications on jazz, also for Planet Drum
  • NARM Indie Best Seller Award (“World Music Recording” category, 1992) - Award from the National Association of Recording Merchandisers , again for Planet Drum
  • National Heritage Fellowship (1999) - the most prestigious award given in the United States to masters of traditional arts.
  • Padma Bhushan (2002) - the third highest civilian award in India, in his case for his contribution to Indian music.


  • Mickey Hart , Fredric Lieberman, DA Sonneborn: Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm . Acid Test Productions, 1998. ISBN 1-888358-20-3 .
  • Mickey Hart, Jay Stevens, Fredric Lieberman: Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion . Acid Test Productions, 1998. ISBN 1-888358-18-1 .
  • Stephen Slawek: Hussain, Zakir. In: Grove Music Online, May 28, 2015

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