In the Name of the Father: Ustad Alla Rakha Memorial Concert 2002
(excerpts appear in Modern Drummer July 2002 edition)


With an invocation of rhythm, Zakir Hussain, Fazal and Taufiq Qureshi commemorated the memory of their father, the great Punjabi tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha, in a 16 hour concert in Bombay February 3rd, the aniversary of Alla Rakha's passing in 2000. 

Alla Rakha is credited with elevating the tabla to a solo art form from its traditional accompaniment role, as well as being a guru who reached across gharanas (stylistic schools) to unite artists and influence all who knew him.  He became known to the American audience during his performance with Ravi Shankar during the first Woodstock concert in 1969.

The concert commenced at 7am with the auditorium humming with a deep tanpura-like drone as a group of former disciples sang a composition of Alla Rakha through the traditional structure of exposition, theme and variation to climactic flourish.  Taiko soloist Leonard Eto enters creating a heart-gripping ceremonial aura.  Hariprasad Chaurasia and disciples sound an echoing morning raga like a chorus of doves while Bhavani Shankar stirs echoes in the auditorium on the pakhawaj, the predecessor of the tabla which was particularly influential in the definition of Punjab gharana to which Alla Rakha belonged.

Zakir Hussain and brother Fazal Qureshi take the stage and start trading off phrases of an exposition to a langorous whale-song sarangi accompaniment of Ustad Sultan Khan.  The brothers dialogue over variations of kayadas with sharp syncopated chati strikes.  The phrases seem to mull contemplatively on the prayer-like phrases of the sarangi.  The performance hearkens back to a similar performance on Alla Rakha's 75th birthday on January 15th, 1994 when the brothers performed together in similar fashion for their father.  After extensive tradeoff of kayadas the brothers mirror each other with racing bols to a fantastic conclusion.

Subsequently the guru's students and fellow masters take the stage to pay their tributes.  Suresh Talwalkar chooses sung raga for accompaniment for his tabla solo over the traditional harmonium and proceeds take the audience into unknown rhythmic territory.  He continually misses the sam beat deliberately, denying gratification like some sort of tantric ritual.  He toys with counterintuitive rhythms like concluding his cycles 7 beats after the sam in teental's 16 beat phrase, giving his cycles a lurching effect and keeping the audience on the edges of their seats. All the while, he grins devilishly at the audience and tosses his frazzled hair about like Dr. Jekyl in a frenzy.  

Gold bedecked tabla master Anindo Chatterjee takes the stage, guiding us on a tour of Alla Rakha kayadas.  At first he plays the pattern simply, then accenting certain parts as if each were a mantra which changed meanings as different words were whispered then shouted.  He doubles the speed, then quadruples it, smiling with debonair poker-face calm belying the complexity of his lightening-fast renditions.  We get vertigo by zooming in on different time scales of the same rhythm, seeing different layers of the same structure like magnifying parts of a fractal pattern.  With the round ricochet of a bayan strike, he ceases the flow and the audience bursts into perfectly synchronized beats of applause, having been hypnotized and entraned by his tal.


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