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Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar are making Indian music for everyone

I’ll admit that when I first heard that Zakir Hussain was coming back to C-U on November 16th, I was not familiar with his music. Classical Indian music was something I had never really explored — not because I didn’t want to, but more so because there is already such a wide array of Western music to explore, and the thought of diving into a whole new region’s music was daunting. I just didn’t know where to start. That’s not to say I haven’t heard classical Indian music, but I just hadn’t explored it further.

There are loads of videos out there of Zakir Hussain performing. He’s been in the game since he was twelve. He was a child prodigy on the tabla, quickly gaining acclaim and performing internationally alongside the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar and other renowned Indian artists. He has also performed on numerous studio albums from the likes of George Harrison, Van Morrison, Earth Wind and Fire, and many more. He has won two Grammy awards, and co-composed the opening music for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. He has so many accolades and accomplishments that if I were to list them out it would take up the majority of this article. 

Photo from Zakir Hussain’s Twitter.

During my Youtube search of Hussain’s performances, I came across this video of Hussain performing an improvisational tabla piece, and it all clicked for me. What “it” was, I’m not quite sure, but I was absolutely mesmerized and blown away by his ability to express so much from one instrument. There were quite a few emotions that went through me as I was watching and listening, and bear with me, as this might sound a little corny. I felt grounded, deeply connected with the Earth, and people all around the world. Perhaps that was also due to reading the comments on the video and hearing how much Hussain’s playing has touched them all. It was a nice moment of hope, to hear how everyone was “coming together” to appreciate this piece of music. It was a nice reminder of the power of music and its ability to heal. I felt at peace watching and listening to Hussain perform. 

Photo from NPR’s website.

I also felt silly for not exploring Indian music sooner, but better late than never, and I think Hussain would agree. I’m thinking of Indian music (and world music in general) as less of a daunting leap into new territory, and more so as an exciting adventure where new emotions and new worlds await. That’s one of Hussain’s goals with his music, to help bring the beauty of Indian music to the rest of the world. In 1990, he was awarded the Indo-American Award in recognition of his cultural contribution to USA-India relations, and in 2019, became a Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellow, a rare lifetime distinction afforded to only 7 artists at a time. He is truly a virtuoso on his instrument, and I quickly went down a rabbit hole of his music, watching any live performances I could, and following him on Spotify. 

Photo from Niladri Kumar’s website. 

He will be returning to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on November 16th (he previously performed back in 2018). Joining him this time is the world-renowned Niladri Kumar on sitar. He comes from a long line of sitar players. He began learning sitar at the age of four, and at six years old he gave his first public performance. Known for his expressive style of sitar playing, he is also the inventor of the zitar, a striking, bright red electric sitar which reduced the sitar from twenty strings down to five.

His new invention and style of playing helped to bring the sitar, and in turn Indian music, to a wider audience. He manages to stick to his roots of classical Indian, while also merging contemporary music and captivating global audiences. 

Together, Hussain and Kumar are helping to bring Indian music to the forefront of popular music, and this concert should be incredibly exciting. With a twenty year age difference between the two musicians, it may also be interesting to see how their styles of playing and musical ideas and experiences translate into a collaboration. 

This will be a truly unique and exciting concert and I highly recommend you attend. It will be a concert full of love, excitement, playfulness, humor, and ultimately a taste of the beauty of India. They will be performing on November 16th, and 7:30 p.m. in the Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center.

Currently, the show is sold out, however there is a waiting list here, which I’d recommend getting on. 

Top photo from Krannert Center’s website.

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