Tag Archives: Zakir Husain

Confluence feat. Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Ustad Zakir Hussain at Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore


One doesn’t often relate a banjo with a tabla or an upright bass in the same setting. They originated from different corners of the world (the banjo originated from Africa, despite its popular country-ish sound associated with American Folk music) and are associated with styles that seem, on first impression, like chalk and cheese. Ordinarily, one does not see Bluegrass or American Folk music blending in with the groove of an upright bass, set to Hindustani beats from a tabla. But then again, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, double bass maestro Edgar Meyer and Tabla legend Ustad Zakir Hussain are not your regular, ordinary musicians.

The 147-year old Bishop Cotton Boys’ School was the venue, on the 10th of February, for the event titled ‘Confluence’ featuring these three pioneers of their respective instruments. An enormous crowd gathered in front of the auditorium at around 6:30 PM, most of them in great expectation of watching the Ustad play.

The event finally started almost 45 minutes late, understandably due to the difficulty in handling a frenzied crowd. Edgar Meyer started out with a short bass phrase and Zakir punctuated it with a Middle-eastern drum sound and Bela followed suit with a progression that segued into their popular tune ‘Bubbles‘ from their CD Melody of Rhythm, which had followed their debut show with a symphony orchestra in Nashville, around 7 years ago. Any doubts of the instruments and styles not blending together were wiped out, as the trio moved as a unit, seamlessly from the familiar opening phrase of the song to Bela’s solo and back, and to Edgar’s solo and back. My only gripe was that considering that this was one of the few groovier songs, this could have been delayed in the set especially since the organizers allowed a few noisy latecomers to pour into the auditorium, staining the experience.

Edgar then began the second song ‘Cadence‘, also from The Melody of Rhythm CD, with a tune in minor scale and Bela countered it with a poignant and minimal phrase that would go on to define a very Indian and solemn setting for the song. But when the tabla kicked in, the song proceeded through a few pleasant and happy-sounding sections before resolving back to the hook of the song, almost like a slow ballet where you can imagine the stage lights darkening, reminding the protagonist of an impending struggle. The musically interesting aspect was that Bela’s style in this song was hardly American Folk or Bluegrass which came to be associated with him. He adopted a drastically different style and he made it his own. Edgar’s slow chromatic arpeggios and Zakir’s differently-tuned dahinas ‘agreeing’ to the opening melody were the other crucial aspects to ‘Cadence‘ being one of the best compositions of the set.

Zakir followed it up with a light-humoured introduction of Bela and Edgar before introducing the guest artist, Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew and disciple of Bansuri legend Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, on stage for the third track ‘Happy Drum Drum Monkey Girl‘. Rakesh himself opened the song with a few impressive tunes on the bansuri, accentuating and sustaining wherever necessary. Edgar joined in with a groovy bass line in 5-4 after which Bela added the distinguishing bluesy tune and Zakir filled in the gaps with those little nifty fills that made knees buckle everywhere. Zakir’s solo which made use of some interesting rhythmic variations had music aficionados in awe, keeping up with the 5-4 count. Following this was a solo by Edgar Meyer, which despite visible scale changes, chromatic walks and pentatonic phrases, seemed to lack in its ‘listenability factor’. But regardless of the bassist’s reputation, there was a lot of annoying chitchat in the audience. Seriously, what is it with people and bass solos?

The next was an upbeat song in 12-4 but despite the rhythmic jumps and the seemingly tricky time signature, it was effortlessly performed even without the artistes tapping their foot to keep time! Being one of the more up-tempo songs, the solos employed crescendos that the audience duly applauded. After Edgar made some friends in the audience with a knock-knock joke [I’m-a-pilap], the trio performed a Canon in a cycle of 15 beats, again to the surprise of many, without any visible time keeping. The Canon was played with a phase shift the length of the cycle itself, with Edgar leading the way and Bela following accurately in tow. Zakir matched the duo’s chemistry with dextrous improvisations in the gaps. Edgar’s sublime musicianship came to the fore as each time he had to think of melodies in two adjacent cycles and how they match up to each other, producing magical counterpoints! Pt. Rakesh Chaurasia reappeared on the stage and had a slow jam with Edgar before they broke into a pleasant Abhang-like world music piece. The resting place in the song was Zakir’s oriental-style playing, using melodies from the differently tuned dahinas. And then came, arguably one of the high points of the show – Bela Fleck’s solo piece which started on the lines of Hamsadhwani and then proceeded to a few diminished and country style variations. This was one of the solos that had it all – exploration, technique, soul, dynamism and showmanship. Following this was, ‘E’hem in the key of E‘, a slow jazz standard composed by Edgar and ‘The B Tune‘, a standard in four chords; in the latter however, Rakesh’s solo at times did not sit well with the complex syncopation employed.

And then came the highly expected Zakir Hussain tabla solo with all its ebbs and flows, and there did not seem to be any particular sound of the tabla that Zakir had missed! He introduced a sound and then he made a story around it. Tabla players are not supposed to deal with melody lines, but apparently Zakir missed the memo. Using the tuning hammer and of course, his sleight of hand, Zakir even made the dagga sing the opening line of ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik‘ by Mozart! And when it ended, needless to say, jaws dropped to the floor amidst a raucous applause! Following two more standards, the artistes were felicitated and the performance came to a close.

There were a few sticking points, however. It was disheartening to see premature departures for a sizeable number of the audience, in the middle of such a great show. Zakir jokingly enquired if we were still around to listen to the last two numbers. The crowd didn’t refrain from chitchatting in the middle of the performances either and some even turned up for the event, an hour into the show. And if this wasn’t enough, following the show, a few disgruntled and self-proclaimed ‘music-lovers’ angrily demanded to be let into the room backstage where the artists had a few minutes to relax after the show. The well-behaved portion of the crowd will want to take back only the music with them on their way out, but sadly they will also remember these untoward incidents.

To end on a positive note, it is noteworthy to mention that as evidence of this performance, the artistes were definitely neither a slave to their technique nor particularly keen on speed to which they noticed the audience’s spontaneous appreciation. Bela’s triplets were simple yet contained the perfect harmonizing notes and one achieves such musicianship and speed of thought only after years of devoted practice. One would be quick to assign the handling of the groove to the rhythm section, but the trio had the musical acumen to share responsibilities and Bela ably provided the pulse to let Edgar and Zakir explore and venture into more improvisational territories. The difficulty of playing an upright bass is often overlooked, but Edgar Meyer proved that he is truly a virtuoso not just as a bassist but also as a musician. Then we come to Zakir, whose playing never ceases to amaze the audience. His beats are often conversational, he finds the right gaps to insert the odd interjection, yet he retains the groove and does not overplay. Even musicians who attended the concert and who do not play these instruments per se will take home a lot of lessons.

An ideal concert is probably one that gives people a lot to think about in addition to the music that they’ll remember for a while. This was probably one of those events.

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Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.


The Bangalore International Arts Festival – Day 1





Bangalore is arguably the music capital of India and Malleshwaram has been the center of fine arts for generations now. In Malleshwaram is the iconic violin-shaped auditorium, Chowdaiah Memorial Hall – the holiest of holies for Indian Music. It is no surprise that the organizers of Bengaluru International Arts Festival (BIAF) chose this venue to kick off proceedings for the third edition of this annual arts festival which is said to be among the top ten in the country.

I arrived way ahead of time despite the excruciatingly slow traffic. There was the customary lamp-lighting ceremony, which was followed by welcome addresses by co-founders Dr. Suma Sudhindra and Kuchipudi exponent Veena Murthy Vijay. Then there were short and witty addresses by chief guests Mr. Ashwath Narayana and noted music director Hamsalekha. It was heartening to see that along with the usual shawls and garlands, all the VVIPs got a gift of a sapling: a gesture to encourage a greener Bangalore.

First on the agenda was the lovely Sonal Kalra’s Sufi Gospel Project from Delhi. I was consumed by curiosity about the “Sufi-Gospel” genre, wondering what they had in store for us. It turned out that the most obvious inference would have been correct. – their music is a delightful confluence of the East – Sufi, Bhakti, Thumri and the West – classic hymns, gospel jazz, negro spiritual.

The Sufi Gospel Project comes highly recommended just after four months from their debut and they will also be opening at the India Show that is to be held in Toronto later this year. The first piece was their rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ which began with alaaps on Rajesh Prasanna’s flute and Ahsan Ali’s vocals. Sonam Kalra then joined in with two verses of the widely beloved hymn. The music transformed seamlessly into a Sufi song with Ahsan’s impassioned wails of ‘Maula’, before giving way again to another verse of ‘Amazing Grace‘: only this time in Urdu! In all, this first piece was a spectacle in execution, thanks mainly to Alex Fernandes’ mastery on the keys. I was already beginning to wonder whether they had their CDs for sale in the lobby.

The next song was called ‘The Confluence’. The opening bars took me back many generations, perhaps into a royal durbar. This magic was created by Ahsan Ali, this time on the Sarangi, and Amaan Ali on the Kanjira. I could never have imagined that the essence of the song was actually an old Negro Spiritual, ‘Down to the River’, in the guise of a Bhakti song. Sonam Kalra’s voice was absolutely languorous as the band easily mesmerized half the capacity of the audience into a hushed silence.

Next up was a Ray Charles’ gospel jazz number, ‘Hallelujah! I Just Love Him’. What really stood out in this song was the solo section: first the flute, followed by the sarangi, the tabla, Daniel Paul on the bass and finally Alex Fernandes on the keys. Gandhi’s favourite hymn ‘Abide With Me’ was next, which magically transformed into an ancient Kabir song, ‘Moko Kahaan Dhunde Re Bande’, which had Sonam Kalra and Ahsan Ali crooning together to form a soothing, lilting harmony. The Sufi Gospel Project wrapped up things with their rendition of Bulleh Shah’s ‘Chal Bulleya Chal Othe Chaliye’, a fitting upbeat farewell to a delightful little show.

Next Up was Laya Lavanya, an Indian percussion ensemble lead by Vidwan Anooru Anantha Krishna Sharma. The cast for this show included three tablas, a kanjira, a chenda (temple drums), a madal, drum pads, congos, a mridangam and two morchings. It was clear that this was going to be a treat to my already heightened senses. I didn’t manage to get everyone’s names, but I did recognize Pramath Kiran, the live wire percussionist who played at this year’s Fireflies Festival with Dr.BC Manjunath’s Spinifex. The fact that the individual introductions of all the members of this super-troupe took ten minutes is testament to the fact that this was a collection of the very best of India’s Carnatic percussion vidwans. Anooru Anantha Krishna Sharma (or, Shivu, as he is also known) introduced us to the concept behind this project. ‘Laya’ means tempo and ”Lavanya’ means beauty. While the troupe was busy tuning their instruments Shivu kept the audience engaged in a delightful banter consisting of humourous personal anecdotes. This concert was very different from the kacheris (traditional carnatic concerts) that we are so accustomed to, with the performances more familiar and contemporary.

The entire performance lasted about forty minutes and comprised of just one composition, in adi tala, which transported the audience into magical lands from a faraway time. The opening movement was a Konakkal, but in five part harmony! The message was loud and clear. These stalwarts of the ancient art were going to give us something quite unorthodox and extraordinary. Two of the artists did a short burst with their morchings, and the stage was set for the next thirty minutes. The solos were perfectly executed in turns while Shivu looked at his fellow musicians with an almost benevolent pride. The pauses between the solos were filled with the soft rasping sound of audience keeping time, patting their thighs (another thousand points to Chowdaiah Hall’s acoustics.)

In entirety, the performance went from sedate and mesmerizing to aggressive and thrilling and back again. Anooru Anantha Krishna Sharma was brilliant as expected, and so was every other vidwan. Pramath Kiran was undoubtedly the star of the show, playing the drum pads, morchings, congos, and two other unfamiliar instruments.

Last on stage was Vijay Prakash and troupe. Vijay Prakash first shot to fame in a singing reality show in 1998, and has then gone on to record for many films in many languages. He has worked with all the big names in the Indian film music industry, including A.R Rahman, Ilayaraja and Shankar Ehsaan Loy. He has also performed with the likes of Zakir Husain and Sivamani, at events as big as the Kala Ghoda Festival and at the Prithvi Theatre Festival. Event anchor Deepthi urged the audience to come and occupy the seats in front because this performance was something “not to be missed.”  I was quietly hoping that the evening wouldn’t turn into another “Bollywood night”, but after the first few songs, it did. I sent a distress message to my editor and bailed out. Not that I had any grouse with the quality, but the hushed awe and sanctity that was created by the proceedings so far were torn apart by this unfortunate choice of genres. Among their first few songs, I particularly liked ‘Lat Uljhe Suljha Ja Baalam’ and the sound check (!), which had a superb flute solo.

Overall, it was an evening well spent. I was secretly thankful that not all roads led to Chowdaiah that evening, because I was looking forward to an intimate experience with these ancient arts (selfish, yes). The BIAF was kicked off in grand style, and I look forward to more such events in the future.

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Rohan Arthur

Rohan Arthur is a Photographer + Writer at What's the Scene who enjoys all music that does not involve growling/vomiting into the microphone. Rohan is the vocalist of a blues rock band and also manages another folk rock band. At every given chance, he runs away to the jungles, which he believes are his home.