It can be an advantage if you are surrounded by geniuses in the family. But on the flip side,it can make or break you if there are too many expectations to meet. “I had two of the greatest tabla players of all time in my family in my father Ustad Allarakha and brother Ustad Zakir Hussain. This was the reason I had to forever contend with high expectations of the audience,which I cannot always fulfil. This can be very frustrating for some budding artists. In my case,however,it works the other way round,as I take these high expectations as a challenge rather than injustice of the listeners,” says tabla maestro Ustad Fazal Qureshi,who is on a visit to the city to perform in the Saptak Music Festival.
Qureshi has dabbled in different musical genres such as Jazz and Rock,but has nevertheless carved a niche for himself in the Indian classical music scene.
Unlike his famous elder brother,Qureshi started learning the tabla late. “I was not serious about the tabla. My father was a very liberal man and he never forced me to learn it. But when I was 14,I met a student of my father who had come to India all the way from the US to learn the instrument. Seeing his dedication and watching his devotion to the guru,I felt that the man was braving all odds to learn something that was my family’s identity. It was then that I requested abba (father) to teach me the instrument,” says the maestro who devotes much of his time in teaching tabla in the Ustad Allarakha Institute of Music,which was founded by his late father.
So,was it anything different when he was a student? Has anything changed now when he is a teacher himself? “Yes,it is different and it is about the Guru-Shishya parampara (teacher-student relations). In those days,the students lived with the guru all the time; and the guru not only taught his students the finer points of tabla but also moulded their personalities to make them good artists. Now,with the end of that tradition,you have students coming to you at an appointed time,learn from you for an hour or so and go away. In such a situation,the guru cannot know for sure how well the student has received the training. As a result of this,out of 25 students,you find only one who is prepared to work hard. In my father’s time,all his students were hard working,” he said.
Qureshi further said that today,not all students of tabla aspire to be classical music artists. They want to be percussionists and earn name and fame early. “It requires a great deal of learning to be a tabla player and you can play in public only after the guru permits. Most students today do not have patience and start playing whatever that gives them money and publicity. We can say that the level of artistry has declined in comparison with the old times,” he said.
Laya and taal are as important in classical music as sur and raga are. Therefore,the knowledge of tabla is important for any musician.
Ustad Qureshi had his first public performance at the age of 18.
“In order to be a competent accompanist,you have to learn the subtle nuances of every raga. If the artist is singing or playing a serious raga like Marwa,you have to play the tabla in such a way that the seriousness of the raga is not disturbed; if it is a lighter raga like Khamaj or Mand,you have to keep the lighter verve alive. I think one must aim to become a complete classical music artist and not just a vocalist or an instrumentalist or a percussionist,” said Qureshi.
The maestro said that his most memorable concert was in 1986 in Mumbai when he gave a solo performance after his father and brother had completed theirs. “There was no huge crowd. The lehra (a short composition played repeatedly on either the sarangi or the harmonium during a solo tabla performance) that the well known singer Ashish Desai was playing had absorbed me so much that I had completely lost sense of time and space while I was playing, he said.
Today in Saptak
* A solo tabla recital by Kumarlal Mishra of Banaras gharana. He will be accompanied by Ramesh Mishra on the sarangi.
* Thumri and Dadra exponent Dhananjay Kaul will be the next to perform with Hemant Joshi on the tabla,Bharat Bhushan Goswamy on the sarangi and Amit Thakre on the harmonium.
* The evening will conclude with a santoor recital by Pandit Shivkumar Sharma with Vijay Ghate on the tabla.
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