Father’s Day 2024: Tabla Maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain Talks About His Late Father Ustad Allarakha

Father’s Day 2024: Tabla Maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain Talks About His Late Father Ustad Allarakha

Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain has a vivid but different memory of his father Ustad Allarakha

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Sunday, June 16, 2024, 02:13 AM IST
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Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain has a vivid but different memory of his father Ustad Allarakha. He recalls, “We were staying in Mahim those days. I was a little boy and I remember him riding a bike up and down the lane for what seemed like an hour or two. It still plays like a re-run of my most favourite black n’ white movie. It was the first time I had seen him do anything other than sit and play the tabla. It was something athletic, and seemed like a very happy memory.”

Hussain has many observations about his father, the tabla legend who represented the Punjab gharana. He says, “The biggest advice he gave me, just about every time we sat down to talk music, was to remain a good student, and not to try to be a maestro. That advice has hopefully kept me on a balanced even footing while I walk through life. We never stop learning. Whether one is an engineer, doctor, computer programmer, taxi driver or musician, we are students all our life.”

The other relevant point, he says, was that Ustad Allarakha was like a father figure to all his students. He elaborates, “Everyone called him Abbaji, and not Guruji. He did not come from a musical family, and he didn’t do a nine to five job, or get ready to go to work daily. He would be happy to teach at any time of the day, and as a teacher, was keen on imparting education, and being happy when the student picked up the skills or did something good. And it wasn’t just tabla or music. He was the kind who would give his last penny to his student if he needed it.”

According to Hussain, many young tabla players wanted to follow Abbaji’s style of playing. He adds, “As far as I was concerned, I don’t know whether he inspired me or gave me a pep kind of a talk. He gently pushed me into the world of tabla. I watched him since I was a baby and he just seemed larger than life, God-like even. To want to be recognised and acknowledged by him was something that I craved. There were other students around and I wanted to be the one he would focus on. That drove me wanting to do my best. You may call it inspiration, but I will call it a desperate need to be touched.”

Hussain was a young boy when Ustad Allarakha did a string of concerts in the US with sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar in the 1950s. When he was in Mumbai, he would call students to their Mahim place. He recalls, “There were Vinayak Ingle, students named Naseer, Shabbir, Achrekar, Indorkar, some others. The sessions would sometimes go on till night. Everyone would sit on the floor with their tabla, and he would sit on the sofa chair reciting bols and guiding them.”

Hussain adds, “Later, we moved to Nepean Sea Road, and he taught at the institute he started in Shivaji Park. Besides me, he taught my brothers Fazal and Taufiq, Yogesh Samsi, Ashok Godbole, Nitin Shankar, Anuradha Pal and a few others. It would be a very happy environment with music flowing and rhythms prancing around.”

When Hussain moved to the US in the early 1970s and started traveling to other countries, he was delighted to know that many foreigners were familiar with the tabla. “Credit for this goes to Abbaji. The tabla became recognised along with other top percussion instruments in the world, like the drum set or conga-drum or bongos,” he says.

One of the turning points came when Hussain heard Abbaji play with American drummer Buddy Rich while recording the 1968 album Rich A La Rakha. “My father could play with anyone, be it Hindustani or Carnatic music. But to hear Buddy Rich come across the river and play with Abbaji in his domain was very inspiring. It was eye-opening for me that even I could play with those who were not playing Indian music,” he says.

According to Hussain, that collaboration opened the door for him. “It was like an a-ha moment, and it’s stayed with me forever,” he says.

Allarakha passed away in Mumbai on February 3, 2000, at the age of 80. On that date each year, a Barsi concert has been held to celebrate his life and music. Besides Indian music, there have been some great international collaborations, with artistes talking of how Abbaji touched their lives. The inspiration continues.

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