The Masters of Indian
By Vanitha Suresh
On Thursday, April 27th, 2017, at 8 p.m. in
Shannon Hall, two musical icons from India —
Zakir Hussain and Rahul Sharma — will
collaborate to introduce Madison residents to
North Indian Classical (Hindustani) music on
their unique instruments. Both Zakir Hussain,
and Rahul Sharma are internationally renowned
for their skills on their respective instruments
— the Tabla and the Santoor.
The Tabla is comprised of two single headed,
barrel shaped drums of slightly different sizes
and shapes; baya and daya, meaning left and
right. The left handed drum, baya, is the bigger
of the two. Each drum is made of hollowed-out
wood, clay or brass, and laced with hoops,
thongs and wooden dowels on their sides, to
help tighten the tension of the membrane. The daya is tuned to the tonic, and the baya is a fifth to an octave below the daya drum. The musician
uses his hand’s heel pressure to change the pitch and tonality of each drum. The fingers and palms are used in several combinations to
produce many distinct sounds called bol. Zakir Hussain is the prodigious son of the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha — one of the greatest Tabla
players ever who was also well known as longtime accompanist for Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar. Zakir Hussain is considered a national
treasure, and has collaborated with several internationally renowned musicians like Yo Yo Ma, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Mickey Hart,
and John McLaughlin. He is also a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts – National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given to
traditional musicians and dancers in the United States.
The Santoor is a 100-stringed trapezoidal hammer dulcimer with every note being represented by two to four strings per note that give it a rich
volume. The instrument itself is mentioned in ancient scriptures as the shata-tantri veena (100-stringed melodic instrument), and has 25
bridges with 4 strings per bridge stretched out on a hollow wooden box, and played with two mallets shaped spoons. The Santoor is known by
different names in different parts of the world — Yang Quin in China, Cimbale in Central Asian countries, Santoori/Santoor in Greece/Persian
countries, Hackbret in Germany, Cymbalom in Hungary, and the Hammer-Duclimer in America. Legend has it that gypsies from India traveled to
different parts of the world and carried the instrument to other cultures. Rahul Sharma hails from a family of legendary musicians. His
grandfather was the first to introduce the Kashmiri Santoor to the world of Indian Classical Music, and his father — Pandit Shivkumar Sharma
— continued to experiment with the instrument construction, the posture of the player, and the position of the mallets to give it the present form
and tonality. A torchbearer of his father and Guru’s music the world over, some of Rahul’s best known collaborators include Kenny G and Deep
Zakir Hussain’s collaborative performances with the rare Santoor go back to many years ago, where he, in his own words, built his Tabla
career playing alongside Rahul Sharma’s father — Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. In a phone interview with this columnist, Zakir mentioned that if
one were to recount the most special of the sheer number of performances that he has performed, it would be with Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.
Zakir recounted how playing with the legendary Santoor player is what made him a Tabla player of renown. While Zakir’s father, Alla Rakha,
meticulously trained him and equipped him with all the tools and the wizardry that he needed , it was performing with Pandit Shivkumar
Sharma that helped him put those tools to practice and give him the extra edge as a performer.
Today, Zakir is switching roles and playing mentor for Rahul Sharma. In the interview, Zakir recounted fondly how he watched “Rahul Sharma
as a young baby going on to become a notable musician under the watchful guidance of his legendary father.” Zakir’s respect and admiration
for Rahul’s father is evident when he spoke about how he “took an obscure instrument like the Santoor that was originally a Folk instrument,
and introduced it to connoisseurs of Indian Classical Music.” Rahul is internationally “well accepted as the torchbearer of the art of playing
Indian Classical Music on the Santoor”.
The concert on April 27th is bound to appeal to both connoisseurs and laymen alike. The rich and unique sounds of the Santoor in unison with
the rhythmic syllables emanating from the Tabla can be a culturally and spiritually invigorating experience. Despite the long history of playing
with Rahul’s legendary father, Zakir will adopt a completely different style of playing with Rahul, a characteristic that is expected in Indian
Classical music Ragas where there is tremendous scope for creativity and individuality. As Zakir rightly said, he will “not be playing against
an instrument, but against the person."
Speaking of Indian Classical Music on the Santoor, Rahul Sharma’s father Pandit Shivkumar Sharma once said, “It was my life-long dream to
play such kind of music which will make the listeners forget to clap; which will make them silent. My dream came true once… I played one
raga, while the listeners immersed deep into meditation and I experienced a state of thoughtlessness. This silence was so nourishing, so
fulfilling, there was no need to play anything else.” As they say, the apple does not fall very far from the tree, and his illustrious son Rahul
(accompanied by Zakir) will surely not disappoint. On a personal note, as an Indian Classical Music aficionado, this columnist would like to
add that if you close your eyes and listen to the music from these rare and ancient instruments, you will be transported to the heavenly snow-
clad mountains of the valley of Kashmir.
Ticket Information : UW-Madison students are $10, Youth up to 18 are $20, Union Members and non-UW students are $32, $28 and $25, UW
Faculty and Staff are $34, $30, and $25, and the general public are $36, $32, and $25. Tickets can be purchased on their website, at the
Memorial Union box office or by calling 608-265-ARTS.