Zakir Hussain (musician)

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Zakir Hussain
Ustad Zakir Hussain 1.jpg
Background information
Birth nameZakir Hussain
Born (1951-03-09) 9 March 1951 (age 69)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
GenresHindustani classical music, jazz fusion, world music
Years active1963–present
Associated actsRemember Shakti

Ustad Zakir Hussain (born 9 March 1951) is an Indian tabla virtuoso, composer, percussionist, music producer, film actor and eldest son of legendary tabla player Ustad Allah Rakha.[1]

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002, by the Government of India presented by President Abdul Kalam.[2][1] He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990, given by the Sangeet Natak Academy, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama. In 1999, he was awarded the United States National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given to traditional artists & musicians.

Early life and education[edit]

Zakir Hussain was born on Friday, March 9, 1951 in a nursing home in Mahim (a suburb of Mumbai) at about 11:00 a.m[1] Hussain was born to tabla maestro Alla Rakha.[3] His mother's name was Bavi Begum.[1] It was said that Hussain was an 'unlucky' child since his father was extremely ill around the time of his birth.[1] Although their family name is Qureshi, Zakir was given the surname Hussain. He attended St. Michael's High School in Mahim, and briefly attended St. Xavier's College, Mumbai.[4][1]

Hussain was a child prodigy. His father taught him Pakhawaj from the age of 3 years.[5] His father would wake him up at 3 a.m. and would teach him vocally by reciting different rhythms till 6 a.m.[1] Zakir's father Alla Rakha belonged to the tradition of tabla-playing known as the Punjab baaj style, the others being Delhi, Benares, Ajrara, Farrukhabad, and Lucknow.[6][7]

He gave his first concert at the age of seven and was deemed a child prodigy.[1] He was touring by the age of eleven. He went to the United States in 1970 to accompany sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.[1] After the tour was complete, Ravi Shankar advised Zakir to stay in America and take a teaching job at the University of Washington in the Department of Ethnomusicology.[1] He planned to study for a PhD but midway he moved to the Bay Area to accompany Ali Akbar Khan who was in need of a tabla player.[1] After that he began his international career, including more than 150 concert dates a year.[4][8][7]

His career[edit]

Ustad Zakir Hussain performing at Konark, Odisha

From a young age, Zakir has been accompanying all the leading lights of Hindustani classical music, both vocal and instrumental - from Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit VG Jog, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, and many more.

In addition to being an outstanding accompanist, Zakir brought great attention to and raised the profile of tabla players, both through his solo excursions as an accompanist and through his solo tabla performances. His on-stage charm and virtuosity single-handedly raised the visibility of tabla players, who in times past were not considered very important to the performance. Zakir made stars out of tabla players, and a whole generation of young tabla players grew up imitating his head gestures and even his hair style while performing. It is fair to say that, with the advent of Zakir Hussain, there was finally an audience in a Hindustani concert tat came not just to listen to the main melody artist but to the supporting tabla artist.

Zakir's fame spread internationally following many tour performances in the US and Europe. He also collaborated with many musicians from all over India and the world. He collaborated with violinist L. Shankar, guitarist John McLaughlin, mridangam player Ramnad Raghavan, and legendary ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram in forming the fusion group Shakti, which performed worldwide to great acclaim. Twenty years later, a second version of the Shakti group, called Remember Shakti, was created featuring U. Srinivas, Zakir Hussain, TV Selvaganesh, and Shankar Mahadevan.

Hussain played on George Harrison's 1973 album Living in the Material World and John Handy's 1973 album Hard Work. He also performed on Van Morrison's 1979 album Into the Music and Earth, Wind & Fire's 1983 album Powerlight.[9]

Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, who had known Zakir since the 1960s,[10] invited him to create the special album Planet Drum, featuring legendary drummers from different parts of the world. Featured along with Zakir, from India, was Vikku Vinayakram, with whom Zakir had collaborated in Shakti. The first Planet Drum album, released in 1991 on the Rykodisc label, went on to earn the 1992 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album, the first Grammy ever awarded in this category.[11][12] The Global Drum Project album and tour brought Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju, and Giovanni Hidalgo together again in a reunion sparked by the 15th anniversary of the ground-breaking album Planet Drum. The album Global Drum Project won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 51st Grammy Awards Ceremony held on 8 February 2009.)[13]

Zakir composed, performed and acted as Indian music advisor for the Malayalam film Vanaprastham, a 1999 Cannes Film Festival entry which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI Fest) in 1999, and won awards at 2000 Istanbul International Film Festival (Turkey), 2000 Mumbai International Film Festival (India), and 2000 National Film Awards (India). He has composed soundtracks for several movies, most notably In Custody and The Mystic Masseur by Ismail Merchant, and has played tabla on the soundtracks of Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha, and other films. He starred in several films specifically showcasing his musical performance both solo and with different bands, including the 1998 documentary "Zakir and His Friends",[14] and the documentary "The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum" (2003 Sumantra Ghosal).[15] Hussain co-starred as Inder Lal in the Merchant Ivory Film Heat and Dust in 1983, for which he was an associate music director.)[16]

Hussain is a founding member of Bill Laswell's 'World Music Supergroup' Tabla Beat Science.[17]

In 2016, Zakir Hussain was amongst many musicians invited by President Obama to the International Jazz Day 2016 All-Star Global Concert at the White House.[18]

Haridas Vhatkar has been making Zakir's tabla's for the past 18+ years.[1] Haridas said he learned how to make tabla so he could specially make them for Zakir.[1]

Zakir has stated that he doesn't play at private gatherings, corporate events, or weddings; he believes music should not be heard at events where folks come to socialize, drink or enjoy a meal (music should be the sole purpose of the event).[1]


Nasreen Munni Kabir compiled 15 interview sessions (each lasting about 2 hours) from 2016-2017 into the book Zakir Hussain: A Life in Music, which was published in 2018.[1] This book takes the reader through Zakir's life from his childhood, his years of intense training, and growth to fame as a renowned musician.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Zakir Hussain married Antonia Minnecola, a Kathak dancer and teacher, who is also his manager.[19] They have two daughters, Anisa Qureshi and Isabella Qureshi. Anisa graduated from UCLA and is trying her hand in video production and film making. Isabella is studying dance in Manhattan.[20]

Zakir Hussain has two brothers: Ustad Taufiq Qureshi, a percussionist and Ustad Fazal Qureshi, also a tabla player. Their brother Munawar died at a young age when he was attacked by a rabid dog.[1] His eldest sister Bilquis died before Zakir was born. His sister Razia died due to complications during a cataract surgery.[1] He has another sister Khurshid.[1]

He was named an Old Dominion Fellow by the Humanities Council at Princeton University, where he resided for the 2005–2006 semester as full professor in the music department.[21] He was also a visiting professor at Stanford University.[22] He now resides in San Francisco.



  • Soundtracks[edit]

    Awards and accolades[edit]

    • Awarded the titles of Padma Shri in 1988, and Padma Bhushan in 2002,[23][24] becoming the youngest percussionist to be awarded these titles, given to civilians of merit by the Indian government.
    • Awarded the Indo-American Award in 1990 in recognition for his outstanding cultural contribution to relations between the United States and India.
    • Presented with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990 by the President of India, making him one of the youngest musicians to receive this recognition given by the Sangeet Natak Academy, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama.[25]
    • In 1992 Planet Drum, an album co-created and produced by Hussain and Mickey Hart, was awarded the first-ever Grammy for Best World Music Album, the Downbeat Critics’ Poll for Best World Beat Album and the NARM Indie Best Seller Award for a World Music Recording.
    • Recipient of the 1999 National Heritage Fellowship of National Endowment for the Arts, the United States’ most prestigious honour for a master in the traditional arts, presented by First Lady Hillary Clinton at the United States Senate on 28 September 1999.[26]
    • In 2005, he was named an Old Dominion Fellow by the Humanities Council at Princeton University, where he resided for the 2005–2006 semester as full professor in the music department, teaching a survey course in Indian classical music and dance.
    • Recipient of the prestigious Kalidas Samman in 2006, an award for artists of exceptional achievement, from the government of Madhya Pradesh.
    • Golden Strings of the Sarode (Moment! Records 2006) with Aashish Khan and Zakir Hussain was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music Album category in 2006.
    • In 2007, readers’ polls from both Modern Drummer and Drum! magazines named Zakir Hussain Best World Music and Best World Beat Drummer respectively.
    • On 8 February 2009 for 51st Grammy Awards, Zakir Hussain won the Grammy in the Contemporary World Music Album category for his collaborative album "Global Drum Project" along with Mickey Hart, Sikiru Adepoju & Giovanni Hidalgo.[27]
    • On 23 February 2012 for Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Lifetime Achievement Award at Konark Dance & Music Festival, Organised by Konark Natya Mandap
    • Summer of 2016, he was nominated for President's Medal of the Arts, however, new rule stated non-Americans could not receive the medal.[1]
    • On 18 January 2017, San Francisco Jazz Center gave Hussain a Lifetime Achievement Award[1]
    • In 2019, Sangeet Natak Academy, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama, honored Ustad Zakir Hussain with the Akademi Fellow award, also known as the Akademi Ratna, for the year 2018.[1]



    1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Kabir, Nasreen (2018). Zakir Hussain: A Life in Music. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India: HarperCollins Publisher India. ISBN 978-93-5277-049-6.
    2. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
    3. ^ Johnson, Lawrence A. (6 May 2009). "Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain says he never stops learning". The Star. Malaysia. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008.
    4. ^ a b Dhanyasree .M. "Zakir Hussain: The World Beats To His Rhythm". One India. Archived from the original on 17 December 2008.
    5. ^ "Zakir Hussain". Mondomix. 21 February 2003. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
    6. ^
    7. ^ a b "A legend is born". Retrieved 26 January 2020.
    8. ^ "Zakir Hussain — Moment! Records". Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
    9. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Zakir Hussain". Allmusic.
    10. ^ "The Tabla Master Who Jammed With The Grateful Dead".
    11. ^ "The Global Drum Project". Planet Drum. Archived from the original on 25 February 2010.
    12. ^ "Deconstructing 'world music' at the Grammys". Afrobeat Radio. 15 February 2010. Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
    13. ^ "'Global Drum Project' featuring Zakir Hussain wins Grammy". Express India. 9 February 2009.
    14. ^ Gates, Anita. "Zakir and His Friends". The New York Times.
    15. ^ "The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum". The New York Times.
    16. ^ "Heat and Dust". Merchant Ivory Productions.
    17. ^ "Tabla Beat Science". National Geographic Music. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009.
    18. ^ "International Jazz Day". International Jazz Day. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
    19. ^ "Bharatnatyam in Jeans". Little India. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
    20. ^ "Ustad Zakir Hussain". Cultural India. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
    21. ^ "Best Of Zakir Hussain – Tabla Samrat". Calcutta Music Blog. Archived from the original on 9 August 2011.
    22. ^ "Zakir Hussain Shivkumar Sharma". Carnegie Hall. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008.
    23. ^ "Year wise list of recipients 1954-2014" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs (India). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
    24. ^ "Padma Vibhushan for Rangarajan, Soli Sorabjee". The Hindu. 26 January 2002. Retrieved 26 January 2002.
    25. ^ "SNA: Awardees List". Sangeet Natak Academy. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015.
    26. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships: Zakir Hussain". National Endowment for the Arts.
    27. ^ "Past Winners Search".

    External links[edit]