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Zakir Hussain & The Masters of Percussion

Date 5 May 2006 Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan

A full house greeted Zakir Hussain when he came on stage at the Chan. Widely considered the greatest living tabla player in the world Hussain brought a beautiful, enlightening and entertaining show to Vancouver. If overly long at nearly three and half hours, the show included many highlights and memorable moments.

The first of the evening came early with the performance by an ensemble featuring sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, Fazal Qureshi and Zakir Hussain playing on the tabla. The three explored the textures, motifs, and sounds, creating tangible and almost lyrical textures and feel.

The process involved the two percussionists taking a raga (melodic theme) and playing with it using an array of rhythmic devices that would transform the original theme into a multifaceted gem. It was in a sense like watching a master diamond cutter at his craft. In the course of the performance Hussain showcased a full range of his virtuosity on his instrument. Shifting rhythms and tone of the piece, playing with tone and technique he made the instrument sing. Fazal Qureshi played with equal eloquence matching Hussain's intensity where needed, expressed most beautifully in the call and response the two played over Ustad Sultan Khan's sarangi textures.

In one of the most theatrical and surreal transitions, there emerged three dancers on stage, playing the dolh and moving in celebration. Part ritual dance steps, part acrobatics, part street musician Manipuri Jagoi Marup dancers took over the audience. Methodically moving they oozed charisma and stage presence. After the concentrated energy of the stage up to this part of the evening the Manipur Dancers shattered expectations.

The kinetic frantic energy they brought to the evenings festivities was completely liberating. This is in no way to suggest that the movements were free form. In fact , of all the performances of the nigh these were probably the most orchestrated, as they required the concerted movements of three bodies in formation and did not have the the improvisational space available to other percussionist throughout the evening. Yet to watch them move, to give visual and concrete form to the music and its interaction with a greater human spirit was exhilarating to say the very least.

After the intermission was a great performance by the trio of Hussain, Taufiq Qureshi (percussion), and Niladri Kumar on sitar. This was by all means a stellar performance. Kumar played admirably, creating melodies that interacted with Hussain and Qureshi to create some of the most ethereal and complete pieces of the night. The percussive instruments supported and enhanced Kumar's sitar. More importantly perhaps they played within an almost discernible melodic structure. Together the instrumentalists created some of the most approachable and enjoyable moments of the the evening and leaving the audience hungering for more.

The trio was followed by a highly entertaining (if somewhat long) solo performance by Quereshi, where he employed his body as a rhythmic instrument. Quereshi held the audience enthralled by modulating his voice to create original rhythmic sounds. Throwing in bits of narrative, he reflected back the rhythms of daily life. It was a novel approach to connect the stage to the world outside.

The evening ended with a packed stage. Rhythmic games, music, and the pure joy of musicianship were all in play. The finale came when the Manipuri dancers came back and immersed themselves in the chaos. Inducing gasps of wonder and awe, the audience roared its approval as the (symbolic) curtains fell.

© 2006 Kulpreet Sasan