Zakir Hussain’s “Masters of Percussion” performance to summon cultural traditions and break musical barriers
Zakir Hussain doesn’t want to assign boundaries to his music.
Hussain’s legendary work as a composer and percussionist has solid roots in the traditions and culture of India. As a tabla player and as an artist, Hussain has spent decades pushing the boundaries of Hindustani classical music, work that echoes the legacy of his father, percussionist Alla Rakha.
But that component has always been just one part of Hussain’s broader approach to creating music and breaking down creative barriers. His professional accomplishments are hardly confined to simple labels; in work with rock, jazz and pop artists ranging from George Harrison to Mickey Hart to Bill Laswell, Hussain has sought to spotlight commonalities in lieu of silos.
“When we play music, we don’t think of all of those forms—jazz, rock, pop—as something other than what we do. We think of all of those forms as music,” Hussain told an interviewer in 2019. “When you have that kind of a mindset, it becomes easier to interact. If you arrive with your flag and say, ‘I’m an Indian musician and I’m just going to do that,’ then obviously the languages won’t meet, you won’t be copasetic or sympathetic to whatever is coming at you.”
Hussain brings that same, all-encompassing approach to “Masters of Percussion,” a concert tour set to arrive at the Macky Auditorium on April 4. The performance serves as a showcase of percussion and drum styles from around the world, with Hussain’s Grammy Award-winning virtuosity on the Indian tabla drum as its fulcrum.
This all-star approach spreads the spotlight to musical idioms and beats from across the globe, including progressive jazz styles from the United States. Hussain’s dedication to offering a platform for a diverse array of drummers (and even the occasional string player) to flourish didn’t spring from a vacuum. “Masters of Percussion” is an offshoot of similar tours with his father who made his own strides in fusing Indian musical traditions with other forms from around the world.
As a teacher, a mentor and an artist, this tour offers Hussain the chance to spotlight the work of other players striving to find common musical ground among different musical traditions. Hussain’s performance at Macky is bound to summon ancient traditions and introduce new trends at the same time … and he won’t be doing it alone.
“I’m not the only one who’s known for fusion,” Hussain says. “There are so many musicians in India, especially young musicians these days, who are really crossing boundaries in very commendable ways.”
Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion perform at Macky Auditorium on the Artist Series April 4.