How do you think of rhythms?

I visualize them.  It's a riot for me.  It's like sitting on a rollercoaster and going through the dips and climbs and curves and drops.  For me it's a playland.  Like time to be in an area where you're going to drop from 30,000 feet and parachute down to Earth.  Or bungie jump.  And those are ranges of improvising in rhythm cycles.  You see a pattern emerging, and it's going by like a shinkansen, and you want to grab onto it and hold on and be part of that experience of that pattern and that speed and that tempo.  Or sometimes a pattern is like an anaconda.  But the fun part is to be able to sit on its head and ride it or catch it as it goes along and put a knife in its neck.  It's visually like that for us.  You see drummers when they're playing, they look up, mouth open or eyes wide, or eyes shut in concentration.  It's because it's a vision, not abstract or invisible.  It's all there, and they're going to ride it.  It's like they're hang-gliding and they can see the air pockets.  This is why a drummer can be thinking rhythms.  When I'm singing rhythms, I am not playing it but my mind is projecting a visual image.  So I am able to see the rise and fall and measure in that sense.  It's like using Mac ProTools to mix recordings.  You can take a beat that's as small as a dot and then you magnify it until it's a mile long.  That's what a drummer is doing when he's improvising.  He takes this beat and he's able to go right into it until it becomes the Earth itself, a whole world where he can enter and experience the contours.  And this process is so visual because the drummer can measure those lengths.  He can see that the beat is starting here and going there.  It's just one beat, but he has enough time to do this, this and this to it.

Did you find that you worked more in traditional eight beat with Kodo or did you experiment with Indian rhythm phrases and sam beat?

We do find ourselves merging on sam beat.  And speaking of eight beats, we are doing a piece in seven.  So somebody left a beat behind.  And they are so comfortable with it.  I think the Kodo drummers have really grown and not just limited themselves to the traditional rhythms.  They have gone on to be new and fresh and inspired.  It's so incredible.  You look at those drums and you say: dakadaka da kon ka dakadaka da don.  OK, yes, now what.  For a regular drummer it's like, "What more is there?  I can hear these eight beats and various attacks at various off-points, in abstract.  What more is there?"  And they have answered that question.  They have moved on and said that there is more.  They've run around the world and found traditions that they could relate to and told them that this could work with their instruments.  After the intermission we do a piece that incorporates dance.  The drummers are dancing and it looks like Brazilian style, like they are dancing the Samba.  It's there.  The question is did they always have it or did it emerge from Korea and Brazil?  Or did they collide at one time?  And Kodo says, "Yeah!  This works!"  And to be able to utilize it.  It's amazing to us a limited drum set and to be able to create a whole concert.  I can do it when I am alone because I am improvising.  But when you have twelve people or more playing you have to choreograph and synchronize like a caravan.  That's different from having your singular ride all by yourself.  Twelve different rides would be just confusion.

What do you see as the fundamental differences or similarities between taiko and tabla?

Focus, meditation, that discipline.  Look at the training regime that they have, running 10 kilometers every morrning, doing meditation.  It brings you so close to your abilities as a human.  It allows you to be able to take that ability and let it grow 100 fold because your inner strength that you've developed doing this meditation and physical training.  Similarly in India music is considered the highest form of yoga.  And when you play music or practice you are communing with God.  The common factor is this discipline or yoga that we have because of the discipline that we apply to our music.  You know we go through this 40-day chilla which is like a training that one has to do 3 times.  It's a growing process, your ability to prove that you're man enough to play the music.  So that's a process that we go through where for 20 hours a day we are in our music.  We are meditating.  We are eating diet food.  We are alone in a forest and living off the land and doing the music.  You go through visions, it's almost like being on acid.  There are a lot of musicians who have not been able to finish their 40-day chilla because they had such horrific experiences that they had to stop.  So keeping in mind that there is such a strict and demanding process that you have to go through to be an Indian drummer.  And this is a similar process to being a taiko drummer.  They are in some ways tied.  In core they are so close together in the training regime.  Of course we don't do that kind of physical training regime.  Our training regime is the inner light, the mind, focusing on spiritual strength as opposed to physical strength.  What the taiko does is takes their spiritual strength and also they work on their physical strength because of the demands of the drums they have to play.  But for us, it's all right here, in the mind.  So even though we have to work to be able to sit and play for seven hours and have the strength in our fingers and arms to be able to do it, we don't have to physically train ourselves.  We have to train our mind and spirit to be able to handle that kind of treatment.  But at the core it is that, a training of the mind, the heart, the spirit.  And these days with the advent of the microphone, we, the training-of-the-mind people, can sound big and strong and play fast and everything.  But essentially it is like a complement of the mind and the body.  Sometimes you see those old Star Treks where there are races which can communicate telekinetically and they haven't lifted a finger to do work.  It's like the sahdus who go off to the mountains and live for 20 years with their eyes closed and made their minds so strong.  It's a similar sense here.  And that's where we come together.  Apart from that old saying that rhythm is universal.  To clap your hands, you cannot give a country to it.  It isn't Japanese or Indian.  It's everywhere.

Are there other folk traditions that you think tabla would work well with?

I've worked with Senegalese Doudou N'diaye Rose and that worked very well.  And Doudou with taiko is so amazing.  They have similar traditions.  But how they work together is another question.  What the Senegalese drummers have is a drum chart that is not written, it is their leader, Doudou Rose.  And he, with his actions, will have them do all the different things.  And taiko is more planned out.  I have also worked with Korean Samulnori, that's good.  The other folk tradition that I enjoy is the Indonesian gamelan.  The gamelan is really good for Indian drumming because they have this kind of composition idea where the drummer is the leader.  He sits in the middle of the gamelan and while the gamelan is playing, he's improvising.  But he's improvising based on the composition that the gamelan is playing.  And what's exciting is the long patterns he plays because the composition is very long.  And it revolves around and comes back and it's almost like one revolution is two or three minutes long.  And in that the guy improvises and he has to have an idea of when it's going to culminate and complete his improvising idea to finish just with those guys.  And it's so Indian.  So gamelan definitely works.  And Middle-Eastern drumming traditions because we are connected through the gypsy tradition.  And flamenco.  These days tabla has crossed all boundaries.  You hear it in movies, TV, techno, raves, jungle, rock, jazz.  This is the one instrument that you see everywhere.  Bill Laswell and I have worked on a CD called Tabla Beat Science where we have used techno and all these other traditions like rave and jungle with tabla as the principle instrument.  So even that is possible. Tabla has grown to fit into any category.  I came here a few years ago to play with jazz artist Kazumi Watanabe and Asuka Kaneko.  But I also played with a pop singer known as Tokiko Kato singing "Waltzing Matilda."  Tabla just fits into everything.  It's an instrument of the world now.  It's a little more technically difficult to play than the conga or the bongo which have also been instruments of the world.  Tabla is now the one that is being played everywhere.  I am very happy that people like us get to travel and work with taiko.  I went to Kodo Village and I just wanted to live there for the next ten years!

Are you planning to have your own commune for drums?

I do already.  Every year I do a festival in India where I have drummers come to perform from around the world.  That's February 3rd in Bombay.  We webcast it so you can see it from anywhere in the world.

Thank you
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Interview: Zakir Hussain