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Zakir Hussain creates magic in Chicago

Attending a Zakir Husain concert, for lovers of classical music is akin to going into a hypnotic state where all you hear is the beats of the tabla. Those who have attended his concerts will vouch that how rhythmic beats can be both spell-binding as well as captivating.

But recently, when the Ustad who popularized tabla across the globe and was one of the first classical musicians from India, to give us a taste of what east meets west fusion, came up with a unique genre-binding performance, there was bound to be magic.

So, on a hot spring day in Chicago, Ustad Zakir Hussain joined hands with legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland for a collaboration called CrossCurrents. Ustad Zakir Hussain, along with his band created a magnetic spell on stage and showed to the world the dynamism that classical Indian music can entail. Held at the Chicago Symphony Centre, the event saw a smattering of music aficionados. While a large number of the crowd comprised Indian American fans of the tabla maestro but an equal number of Americans too were eager to see this unique exchange of music and cultures. The group on a 12-day tour to the US performed at various cities across the country.

Singer Shankar Mahadevan lent lyrics and left the western audiences wanting to know more about Bollywood music. Joining the stage were other stalwarts of music such as jazz performer Chris Potter, drummer Gino Banks, keyboardist Louiz Banks and guitarist Sanjay Divecha.

Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain & Chris Potter | PC:

The performance was truly landmark as even though distinct genres came together, there was an unexpected symphony. While Ustad played the tabla with such dexterity and finesse that it almost seems unbelievable that such a quick co-ordination can even be possible. Dave Holland, whose work has been earlier defined as Avante-Garde left no ear in the auditorium unmoved.

Hussain and Holland performed across each other on stage. As other members of the group surrounded the stage, it was Shankar Mahadevan and Chris Potter who performed on the centre of the stage. Amongst the many songs that were performed on the stage, it was difficult to say which ones stood out. Because all of them spoke to the audience on a certain level. But to pick some of my personal favourites – Shadow by Chris Potter, ieena, meena, deeka, a Bollywood classic, which for the uninitiated is full of jazz and of course the finale song Shankar Mahadevan’s famous Breathless.

What left the audience mesmerized was an unheard Bollywood meets jazz meets classical Indian jugalbandi of sorts. No music form seemed to overpower another genre and in fact managed to so seamlessly blend into each other that it truly felt it belonged together.

The 90-minute concert also broke the predictable structure of western music concerts where a constant stream of beats is maintained. This may have come as a pleasant surprise to those not very familiar with Indian beats that the pace and rhythm of music oscillated between tepid to fast to gentle throughout the show. Apart from the revelation that tabla compliments double bass so beautifully, the concert also opened a new chapter of classical Indian music.

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