The rhythm of life, “pulse”, was the leitmotif of Ustad Zakir Hussain’s percussion performance at Chowmahallah Palace in Hyderabad, India.
Ever the boyish student and globetrotting statesman of the art of the varied nuances of strumming the Indian drum, the concert in open air by the 60 year old tabla maestro who looks about a decade younger than he is, was very characteristic of the venue: cultural fusion at its best.
The palace in Hyderabad’s “Old City” as it is known, situated behind Charminar, the four pillared Muslim monument erected by the city’s Islamic kingdom in the 16th century, was the home of the Nizam (ruler) of the semi-autonomous principality under British rule. The Iranian Shiite structure was perfect for the clear evening during India’s best season, its approaching winter.
The program began with his mentee, Deepak Pandit’s band putting together a prologue of fusing the violin, an instrument common to both eastern and western music traditions, with tones from the tabla, drums, keyboard and the guitar.
Pandit’s fiddling, after a tentative warm up, exhibited skilled variations of tempo within a limited repertoire of compositions about nature and moods, the keyboard requiring more work to blend in, with the guitar sticking to jazzy plucks of the strings. The tabla synced best with the relentless but expert beating of a box by the drummer, in lieu of his western drums.
Hussain’s fusion, which followed for the next 2 hours, interplayed the tabla with the sarangi by Sabir Khan, the two instruments masterfully leading, synchronizing, and trailing, fading in and out of each other, as one man led, moved along, and followed the other seamlessly.
The composition was homage to the tabla, which originated in the ancient Hindu tradition of the dhamaruka nada or the sounds of creation and destruction- the cosmic dances of natya and vilaya tandava by the primordial couple, Shiva and Shakti – the pulse wafting together with the incense into the dusty and crowded night’s air outside Chowmahallah and the bazaars of Hyderabad’s laissez-faire throngs which have habitually co-existed for decades with members of the Indian Civil Service bureaucracy who had occupied the first three rows of the multi-religious audience.
Fun by improvisation ended the solemn seriousness with which the concert began.
The virtuoso’s coda was the inauguration of a new fangled instrument made of bells which adorn a cow’s neck during the harvest season in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
Yet, a lot of work remains to close the cultural distance between the east and the west in their dance to meet.