This Friday, Ustad Allarakha would have turned 92. A man ahead of his time, this doyen of the Punjab gharana popularised the tabla like never before. A disciple of Mian Kader Baksh, he studied voice and raag vidya from a teacher of the Patiala gharana. He worked for AIR and also composed music for Hindi films.
An electrifying soloist, Ustad Allarakha also played for a series of other musical greats like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Allauddin Khan, Vasant Rai and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
It was as Shankar’s accompanist that he introduced the tabla to the West in the 60s. The duo even performed at Woodstock in 1969. An interesting point about his stint as an accompanist is that he played for both Hindustani and Carnatic musicians.
In his three sons, Zakir Hussain, Taufiq Qureshi and Fazal Qureshi, he leaves behind an enduring gift to the world of rhythm. To mark his birth anniversary on April 29, his son Ustad Fazal Qureshi has conceptualised an explosive tribute that showcases the diversity of Indian percussion music and the rich possibilities generated when it is used in combination with other music and dance forms. Called Mega Drums, it seeks to commemorate the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) and perpetuate the vision of Ustad Allarakha.
Fazal Qureshi is a percussionist with significant interests in jazz and western classical music. And it is this passion that holds an event featuring such diverse musical motifs together. Elaborating on the concept of Mega Drums, he says, “Mega Drums brings artistes and percussionists from the length and breadth of India on one stage. It is a combination of unique styles of percussion, including instruments like the kartal from Rajasthan, which is a simple instrument made up of four pieces of wood or glass. From such basic percussion implements, we move to more complicated ones like the pakhawaj or tabla. Thus, there is a variety of percussionists along with the instruments they play — it is unity in diversity. Rhythm is central to our performance because it binds us together,” says Qureshi, speaking about the concept behind the event.”
Collaborations between percussionists are increasingly common on the music festival circuit these days. They accord importance to instruments that are very different from giants like the tabla or mridangam. The morsing, for instance, is played by sucking and blowing air through it, while it is held between the teeth and struck with one hand. Other instruments like the jaltarang blur the line between percussion and melodic music because sur plays a very distinct role — the musical and rhythmic elements are of equal significance.
Mega Drums will also feature artistes playing string instruments like the bass guitar and the sitar. Other treats in store include jazz vocalist Joe Alvarez and a Kalaripayattu artiste who will showcase a series of martial art sequences set to percussion instruments like the mridangam and the ghatam.
Qureshi, who briefly dabbled with working in the film industry, enjoyed the experience immensely and hopes to relive it in the future. “I had artistes like Kunal Ganjawala and Roopkumar Rathod singing for me. It was an art film that didn’t do too well, but working in cinema is some sort of a family legacy, because my father and Zakir bhai too worked in films,” he says.
Qureshi also spearheads a world music band called Mynta, which is based in Sweden. The process of working with collaborators by building bridges across cultural and musical differences and understanding the importance of teamwork means a lot to him. He says, “I always think that when you are performing with a troupe, the process requires a lot of thought and fruitful collaborative work between members to gain an understanding of each one’s music.
With Mynta, we have now achieved what we wanted to do with our own style of music — creating world music. It takes
a while, but collaborations have to be long-term affairs in order to be successful and to honestly
portray what you want to say.”

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