For nearly two hours Umbayee (P.A. Ibrahim) regaled a small audience at a hotel in Kochi. He sang his heart out. He moved to the lobby when he overheard the manager, who was not all that keen to have him on board, say, “He has a wonderful voice and sings well too. But he has the looks of a criminal.” Umbayee remembers saying to himself, “Sir, not just the looks, I’m a criminal.”
Life was a long struggle for Umbayee. A tough childhood, constant conflict with his father who did not approve of his interest in music, poverty – Umbayee was drawn into the vortex of crime. Smuggling watches, perfumes and such stuff in return for US dollars, drinking away his woes, he was being sucked into the slush though music was always there around him.
The story of Umbayee’s life is unravelled in all honesty in his biography titles Ragam Bhairavi, which will be released at a function to be held at the Kerala Fine Arts Hall on August 21 at 6 p.m.
“Sometime in 2005 my story squeezed into 42 pages appeared in a Malayalam magazine. Really I don’t think my story is worth telling anyone outside. But this happened. It was an interview that got a tremendous response. That’s when publishers came forward with the suggestion of turning my life’s experiences into a book,” says Umbayee.
It took nearly six years to complete. “This happened because of various reasons. This narration and writing down happened only when I was free. Then when the draft was ready I thought the language was not mine. My friend Hameed P.E. also felt the same. We decided to rewrite in a language that was truthful, intimate. Hameed assisted in the writing. That’s why it took all these years.”
The book records faithfully Umbayee’s life, from his childhood, playing the tabla, listening to music and playing for programmes on the sly to popularising Malayalam ghazals that has made him what he his today.
It was filmmaker John Abraham who first used the name Umbayee in the titles of his film Amma Ariyan, in which he acted and his voice was used. He composed one song, Urangaan urangaan nee…’ for the film Novel that is his brief tryst with films.
“When I read my story frankly I cried. God was so kind to me. People have been there in crucial phases of life helping forward, people whom I had not met before. I firmly believe that an artiste and art is for the society. Had it not been for the society I would not have survived.”
There are poignant moments in the book that Umbayee narrates with no filter. Like the one when his daughter spotted him as he walked past the Fatima Girls High School at Fort Kochi. “My eldest daughter Shailaja asked me the next day if I had walked past the school. I shook my head. She looked at sme straight in my face and said that her friends told her that he was drunk and swaying from side to side. That really hit me hard. I stopped drinking.”
Mattancherry, Umbayee’s hometown, was a huge influence on Umbayee. “There was music all around. You only had to find it. There were singers like Mehboob bhai (H. Mehboob), Dasettan (K.J. Yesudas) who were inspiration for a whole generation. My biggest blessing was being able to play the tabla for Mehboob bhai. I also got to listen to numerous legendary musicians. One performance that I can never forget is Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha ‘live.’ That’s when I realised to stop playing the tabla and there was so much to learn.”
Umbayee’s Bombay days after being packed off as a trainee electrician when he did not know the difference between ‘AC and DC’ forms a major chunk of the book. The city changed his life. “It was here that I met my guru, Ustad Mujawar Ali Khan. I don’t know what made him accept me as his disciple. My guru was a sort of wandering minstrel, here today gone to tomorrow to some dargah.”
For nearly seven interrupted years Umbayee studied music from Mujawar Ali Khan. “In between, I used to come home. Smuggling helped finance those trips. Then one day my guru left Bombay never to come back. I still don’t know what happened to him.”
Life in Kochi struggling to make ends meet was again a challenge. He sang in a hotel, worked as laundry manager and also kept singing. It was during this phase that he brought out his first album, Aadab that had nine of Hasrat Jaipuri’s Urdu ‘shers.’ He has since then released 19 more.
The idea of Malayalam ghazals was born after a successful programme in New Delhi. It was not easy as most of established poets were not willing to give their poems to an unknown singer. “That was when a waiter at the hotel where I worked told me about Venu V. Desom. We met and that was how my first Malayalam album, Pranamam came about.”
There was no looking back for Umbayee. Poets like ONV Kurup, Yusufali Kecheri, and Sachidanandan have lent their poems, his albums have hit the mark, and his mehfils are a huge draw everywhere.
“All that I’m doing now telling my audience something which greats like Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh did in Urdu and Hindi. I’m simply putting all that into Malayalam. If there is one message in my life it is how music or the arts can lift a person when he has plunged to the depths. There is so much life in our music that needs to be explored. And if there is one dream it is to set up an institution for Hindustani music,” says Umbayee.
source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Features> Metroplus / by K. Pradeep / Kochi – August 19th, 2016
Zakir Hussain’s annual tribute to his abbaji on the day he passed away (February 3), is a day-long a musical marathon. The event is known to bring together musicians of eclectic styles each year. Last year, the Grammy-nominated banjo player Bela Fleck and jazz/bluegrass double bass player Edgar Myer had come down. This year, Khol drummers from Kolkata, the Panchratna Sanai Tafa Mandal from Nagar and gospel percussionist Lil John Roberts from the US will feature in this cultural happening.
For Zakir though, the event transcends the memory of his father. “It’s not then about my father. This is about a celebration of the art that he represented and he loved and the passion that he had for his culture. So, it’s nice to celebrate that culture and the effect that music had on our lives.”
While a show of this length can be exhausting, he is quite clear that performing is his lifeblood. “I actually feel elated when I play. I’ve arrived on stage tired and left the stage replenished. Playing music is the easiest thing. It’s not the hardest thing. That’s because we love doing it. It’s all the other paraphernalia that tires you out. Packing bags, arriving at the airport, going through security, fighting about excess baggage… All that stuff. The travel part of the touring is tiring. The performance is really the most fun part of the whole day. It inspires us to be able to deal with all the other stuff that goes on,” he says, continuing, “Music is really having a great renaissance time in india. Lots of young musicians are finally being noticed and focussed upon.”
He also elaborates on what playing solo and with a group of musicians means to him. “Playing the tabla solo, I am sharing with people centuries of this particular tradition, ragas, that I have learned and grown up with. Whenever I play a solo gig, I draw on memories of great maestros of the past. In my mind, I go, ‘okay, this is from this past maestro, this from that maestro’ and I bring that same piece of music that existed ages ago, into the present moment. Playing solo is fun but when I play live in a group, I enjoy the challenge of bouncing ideas off other musicians. Playing live is also different when you play with a singer or play only instrumentals in a group. When I play with a singer I need a particular pitch, it’s got to be in a particular way so as not to overpower the vocals. You won’t play the same as with a ghazal player than how you’d play with a sitar player. ”
While jamming and improvisations might be what fuels him, he also feels that live shows are a form of theatre. “Some of the performances at the Grammys this year were like theatre productions. That whole thing emerged since Michael Jackson’s Thriller. To me, he really pioneered that art… It requires much more production than say, a camera close up of Keith Urban playing the guitar compared to a Madonna doing Like a Virgin. You’ve got to get in your costume, you’ve got to be in the right place on the stage at the right time when the spot comes on ‘x’ area of the stage and then perform without a hint of self-consciousness,” he concludes.
source: http://www.articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> Music> Zakir Hussain / by Reagan Gavin Rasquinha, TNN / February 01st, 2014
The jam-packed audience in the Nada Mantapa at Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Ashram last evening were in a different world while the ensemble of the violin duo of Ganesh and Kumaresh, tabla virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain and the mridanga artiste Trichy Harikumar took them on a journey of mesmerising, transcending and a rapturous trance.
Ustad Zakir Hussain, who like his illustrious father Ustad Allah Rakha, has successfully brought tabla on to the centrestage globally, in a brief tete-a-tete with Star of Mysore Correspondent Nandini Srinivasan shares his views on the evolution of music — why he is not the only ‘good’ tabla player and how fabulous the young musicians are… Like a review in The New York Times aptly said… the blur of his fingers rivals the beat of a Hummingbird’s wings.
SOM: Whistles for a classical concert? How do you justify that?
Kumaresh: Why not?
SOM: That is what I am trying to ask…. how do you artistes manage that?
Zakir Hussain: I think it is a refreshing expression of joy and happiness and release of incredible moment of passionate energy. They have to scream and they have to shout as they are in such ecstasy. That’s what it is..Ecstasy…not whistle-tacy!
SOM: From tabla being just an accompaniment to bringing it to centrestage… How much effort has that taken from your illustrious father and you?
Zakir Hussain: It’s not an effort by me, it’s an effort from the audience. I am doing exactly what I used to do before. Tabla is still an accompanying instrument. I accompanied them (Ganesh and Kumaresh) today. It’s just the love of the audience that brings that much attention focus and blessing to the instrument. I just do what I’m taught to do and it’s pretty much just that.
SOM: Solo tabla has a huge audience, so does it become difficult to accompany?
Zakir Hussain: Playing accompaniment is more challenging than playing solo, as you are trying to gauge the mood of the people you are playing with and try to offer them the kind of support that they want or is necessary. With these guys (points to the violinist brothers) I take much more liberty and they offer me support ! So that’s the challenge…In solo you are in control and you do what you want to do.
SOM: You play with instrumentalists and vocalists… which is more difficult?
Zakir Hussain: Both are…Like I said, accompaniment is itself challenging because when you are on the stage you are not only playing the tabla, but also judging the mood of the audience, the mood of the composition being played, the expression that it is supposed to be put out. This is not just for tabla. It is for any accompaniment. We have to provide them with the kind of support they need.
Half the time the drummer doesn’t even know what is going to happen. In that sense it’s even more challenging and difficult because the instrumentalist may think of something to do and then the rhythm player has to immediately rise and provide the carpet… the kind of rhythmic carpet that is needed. And it has to be like a smooth highway on which the instrumentalist can drive. If it’s bumpy then it’s going to be a problem. So yes it is a difficult challenge.
SOM: At one point in your career you had said that you would retire from music as you were unhappy with the commercialisation of music?
Zakir Hussain: I did ?? I would never say that because commercialisation helps me (smiles). It allows me to live better, buy a bigger car, buy a nice bath gel to shower with. It’s not a question of what you would call commercialisation. I don’t think the musicians of today have ever complained about music becoming so acceptable to the masses. It’s specially joyful for us to watch so many people listen to music. And so many people listen to all kinds of music. They listen to classical, jazz, rock, pop anything…
What’s interesting in India is that the same people who listen to jazz will listen to classical music, they listen to ghazals, they go to a theatre… the same people… they have such varied interests. Such a vast panorama that they understand and enjoy and choose. For us it’s such a great thing that music has become so available and accessible, which is helping the music to survive, music to prosper and nurture. So no issues about commercialisation there you see !
SOM: I did read your statement somewhere…
Zakir Hussain: Maybe I was misquoted. It happens… somebody asks me a question like commercialisation of music is not a good thing and I’m answering the question and it gets turned around to say how I’m explaining why it’s such an unhealthy thing ! It’s not. It’s very healthy!
SOM: You are the poster boy of Indian classical music…
Zakir Hussain: It’s a curse that I have to live with until someone else becomes the poster boy! It’s like this you know.. .I have to tell you… I play tabla and I’m a pretty good tabla player. But there are just as good tabla players around in India, at least 20-25 of them. They are just as good, if not better tabla players than I am. It’s just that people resonate with me at the moment, people respond to what I do. I am not doing anything different than 20 other tabla players and I am not even doing it better than 20 other tabla players. It’s just that I have found a wavelength that the audience and I have latched on to and are connected. That’s all it is. And you must know and you must please realise that just like there are 5 great sitar players who are playing all good, 10 great Saarangi players, 20 vocalists who are performing… , they are all as good as each other. It’s just that somebody becomes a marquee name and a poster boy and the media starts to believe and project, mistakenly that he is the best. His concerts are always listed in the papers, people are coming in thousands to listen to him, so he must be the best! That is not the criterion, ok…
Yes it’s a fact that I am supposedly the poster boy in classical rhythmic tradition but certainly I am not the only one.
SOM:Indian percussion has had an impact on other kinds of music…
Zakir Hussain: I think it goes both ways. I have to admit that my tabla is a concoction of North Indian classical music, South Indian classical music, Indian folk music, Indian spiritual music and rock, pop, jazz, latin, soul….you name all these music… my tabla actually is a concoction of all that. It represents where I started, where I have been, where I am now and hopefully where I am going to go. So all those inspirations are projected in my tabla playing. So I have to say that yes I am inspired and influenced by so many other elements of rhythmic music in the world. Similarly every other drummer, tabla player, percussionist will tell you the same thing I told. Ask Shivamani sitting here. He will say he’s inspired by 500 other drummers from all over the world not just India. Ganeshji and Kumareshji will tell you the same thing. You will hear harmony and counter point. You will hear cannon, you will hear western classical music in their Indian classical music. So all these inspirations have come forth and that somehow becomes who you are. You could be dressed in jeans and a sweater, but you are an Indian. You are influenced by Western design. But it’s now a part of you and so you express yourself by being this complete person that has not only absorbed all that has to be absorbed from out there, but has now become a mirror of all that exists out there.
It’s a great thing and that’s what music is. Look at Shivamani. That’s why he can be in LA yesterday and in Mysore today. And these guys (Ganesh and Kumaresh) play all over India and the western world and open up schools in Portland and Seattle…
[To be continued]
Part 2 :
Tabla Wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain Speaks About His Kind of Music …
“I was watching my father playing when he was 70-73 years old. He would get on to the stage and he looked his age. As soon as he started playing, he looked 20 years younger. The smile on his face would be a mile long… and he would look like he was on the best ride ever… he was in the greatest play pen that he could ever be in,” says tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain about his illustrious father late Ustad Allah Rakha in a brief tete-a-tete with Star of Mysore Correspondent Nandini Srinivasan during his visit to city on Jan. 30 to perform at Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Ashram along with violinists Ganesh-Kumaresh and mridangist Trichy Harikumar.
[The first part of the exclusive interview was published in SOM yesterday. Today we publish the second and concluding part.] — Ed.
SOM: There is a sect of puritans who feel fusion music is killing the very essence of pure classical music?
Ganesh: Yeah…fundamentalism in anything is good.
Zakir Hussain: Yeah I would agree with them. You need those puritans to maintain the core of the music as it was conceived. But in defence of music progressing and evolving into something that is today you have to realise that we have no clue how music was 300 years ago. We hear stories… I’m sitting here and saying Saint Thyagaraja composed different kritis and hundreds of compositions. But we don’t know exactly how he composed it… I am sorry Sir! I have to say that it’s been handed down and interpreted by so many different musicians who were around him. They kind of heard it, pieced it together because he was in his trance and he was putting the music out. And everyone around him were taking bits and pieces, comparing notes and coming up with compositions. We have no clue what happened 150 years ago… who played what and how… we don’t know… we just have stories, belief and faith that this is how the music was.
So when you have these puritans that’s what they have. They have this very strong belief and faith that music was like this in those days. And thank God for that because without them we would have no identity. They create this beautiful frame from which young musicians emerge and we plug into that. We now have an identity and we can go out and conquer the world because we know who we are. We are not lost. Shivamani you travel around the world and create music that is so unique…you should say something about that.
Shivamani: Whether Carnatic or Western, wherever you go, music never dies, it’s always alive.
SOM: You have been a great inspiration to the younger generation…
Zakir Hussain: Don’t blame me, it’s not my fault ! Did you see…when Shivamani walked into the hall what incredible happiness and joy was in that applause and welcoming of him. It’s all of us… but I have to say one thing to the young people…if they are looking for an inspiration…if they are looking for a role model and if it’s not their parents then there is something wrong. It has to be them…we can be guides… we can be the suggestion judges, we can offer a way, we can offer help and that’s what we should be doing. The young people should look inside themselves and inside their cocoons for inspiration and role models.
SOM: You are the one carrying forward the legacy of your illustrious father. How heavy is this onus on you?
Zakir Hussain: My father carried the tradition of his guru and his guru carried the tradition of their gurus. It’s not something or unusual or unique…this has been going on for thousands of years in the world. The son of a cook has been a cook and the son of a musician has been a musician and that’s happened over centuries. It is not too much of a weight to carry; it is an honour… it’s joy and it’s with pleasure that I sit out there because I know what I have or what I have seen or what I have heard and I have experienced with my instrument is a wondrous world. It’s a world that is so beautiful, so stupendously fabulous… that I have no problem saying to you or the audience…”Look what I’ve got… It’s something special. It’s the greatest toy in the world, it’s the most fabulous Lego anywhere!”
It’s incredible because I was watching my father playing when he was 70-73 years old. He would get on to the stage and he looked his age. As soon as he started playing, he looked 20 years younger. The smile on his face would be a mile long… and he would look like he was on the best ride ever… he was in the greatest play pen that he could ever be in. And I always used to say to myself ‘God! I hope I feel that way when I play’. That I could have that kind of joy and happiness with my connection to the spirit of the tabla when I am 70. It would be such a fabulous thing. So it’s not a weight or a burden, it’s with joy and happiness and willingness that I share with people what my father shared with people and what his guru shared too. Everybody does that. Shivamani’s is a unique case here. What he has assembled together has never been done before; so his energy and his creative world…that burden or weight, whatever you call it, will have to be carried by someone else that he will designate and another legacy will begin. And I’m sure that whoever he designates it to, will with pleasure go out. When a General points to a soldier and gives him the flag and a sword and asks him to lead, that soldier with pleasure goes into battle to die.
SOM: Who is your soldier?
Zakir Hussain: Oh! I’m very happy to say that I have a whole battalion out there. And they are not my students, they are my guru brothers… I don’t have students. Whoever I teach, I teach in my father’s name. When you talk about Yogesh, Satyajit Talwarkar, Vijay Ghate, Anindho, Shubhankar…we are in the category of sharing…of sitting on a big dining table called the tabla.
SOM: You have a lot of female fan following. Do you know that?
Zakir Hussain: Actually you know what, it’s not that I have a lot of female fans; it’s just that we are at a point in our world and it’s a happy point, where the women are not hesitant to express themselves. I mean 30 years ago they were just as ecstatic about watching Palghat Raghuji, Palghat Mani Iyer, Ustad Allah Rakha or Pandit Kishen Maharaj. It’s just that they couldn’t express themselves… they just couldn’t scream and shout and say ‘Wah Wah’ ‘Shabaaz’. Now they do that and they will do that for me and I’m very jealous to say to Shivamani and many other people. In general there is a great equalising support now within young people male and female. So it just appears that there are more female fans. They’ve always been there for everybody. It’s just that they didn’t put up their hands. I’m thankful to society for letting that happen and I’m thankful to the ladies for getting out there and grabbing that opportunity.
SOM: There is a lineage of course, but you have created your own space?
Zakir Hussain: My space? I wouldn’t want to create something that is my space. What I have is for everyone. I can’t just keep it to myself. It’s just so great and so good that the whole excitement of wanting to share will kill me if I keep it inside of me. It has to be heard…It’s not my space and I haven’t tried to create my space. I’ve tried to create an environment in which everyone for a second can be most ecstatically happy that they can ever be. We have very few happy moments in this world now…in this day and age… so when we come here and sit in a concert and they enjoy and they are happy… for those few moments the worries of the world are forgotten… they are just outside this concert hall.
SOM: There is an allegation that the media does not give enough space for the performing arts…
Zakir Hussain: Like I pointed out to you the media knows that I am the best, but it’s wrong. The media is not bothered to find out who are the other 20 who are good. Because when I said there are 20 others who are just as good, you didn’t even ask me who they were… you didn’t want to know… you were not concerned… It’s just that I’ve got this guy, he’s the beat and I’ll write about him… It’s like you walk into a restaurant and ask to bring me your BEST chicken dish… we just want the best and we forget that Best is a 4-letter word. It’s not really where it is at…We need to move at. The media needs to themselves go and adopt young musicians and put their names forward so that the audience can know about them…they are all very good, they are young, they are handsome…the girls will shriek for them too ! They are fabulous.
Media should nurture our arts and culture. An artiste is just a representative of the art…
SOM: Any favourite raaga?
Zakir Hussain: No…it depends on the day and the moment. You can arrive at a concert because some great musician is known for playing this raaga very beautifully and you want to hear it and you are excited about it… but it doesn’t work that evening…you can never say that… but then another raaga he plays is so incredible that that becomes your favourite raaga for that evening…
SOM: Any concert that you think is unforgettable?
Zakir Hussain: No…I hope not… if I do then I’ll be considering that concert as the best that I’ve ever been and if that’s the case then I should retire. There’s no thing like the best… you got to keep getting best.
SOM: How have you managed to stay the same ever since the ‘Wah Taj days…’
Zakir Hussain: Do you know how many hours it takes me to remain the same! No it’s not me, it’s the music, it’s the energy that we are around that energises us and rejuvenates us. I could be dead tired but I get on to the stage but halfway through the concert I actually feel more energy, more excitement, more pulse inside me. So it has to be music…
Part 2 of Interview : source: http://www.starofmysore.com / Star of Mysore / Home> Feature Articles / February 01st, 2014
Part 1 of Interview : source: http://www.starofmysore.com / Star of Mysore / Home> Feature Articles / January 31st, 2014
The audience at Nada Mantapa at the premises of Ganapathi Sachchidananda Ashram on Ooty Road here were mesmerised by the Tabla recital of Ustad Zakir Hussain last evening.
The Tabla maestro was accompanied by Ganesh and Kumaresh on Violin and Trichty Harikumar on Mridanga. The synchronisation of the awesome quartet was so perfect and rhythmic, the music lovers remained spellbound throughout the programme which featured both Hindustani and Karnatak classical music.
Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji graced the occasion. City Police Commissioner Dr. M.A. Saleem and others were present on the occasion.
source: http://www.starofmysore.com / Star of Mysore / Home> General News /January 31st, 2014