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Ustad Zakir Hussain

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Ustad Zakir Hussain’s biography

Zakir Hussain is today appreciated both in the field of percussion and in the music world at large as an international phenomenon. A classical tabla virtuoso of the highest order, his consistently brilliant and exciting performances have not only established him as a national treasure in his own country, India, but gained him worldwide fame. His playing is marked by uncanny intuition and masterful improvisational dexterity, founded in formidable knowledge and study The favorite accompanist for many of India's greatest classical musicians and dancers, he has not let his genius rest there.

Widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement, Zakir's contribution to world music has been unique, with many historic collaborations, including Shakti, which he founded with John McLaughlin and L. Shankar, the Diga Rhythm Band, Making Music, Planet Drum with Mickey Hart, Tabla Beat Science, Sangam with Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland and recordings and performances with artists as diverse as George Harrison, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Airto Moreira, Giovanni Hidalgo, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Cobham, Rennie Harris, and the Kodo drummers.

A child prodigy, Zakir was touring by the age of twelve, the gifted son of his great father, tabla legend Ustad Alla Rakha. Zakir came to the United States in 1970, embarking on an international career which includes no fewer than 150 concert dates a year. He has composed and recorded many albums and soundtracks, and has received widespread recognition as a composer for his many ensembles and collaborations. He has composed soundtracks for the films In Custody, and The Mystic Masseur directed by Ismail Merchant, Bertolucci's Little Buddha, for which Zakir composed, performed and acted as Indian music advisor, Vanaprastham (The Last Dance), chosen to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 1999, Saaz, and Everybody Says I'm Fine.

Zakir received the distinct honor of co-composing the opening music for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, 1996. He was commissioned to compose music for Alonzo King's Lines, and to compose an original work for the San Francisco Jazz Festival, both in 1998. He has received numerous grants and awards, including participation in the Meet the Composer programs funded by the Pew Memorial Trust and an "Izzie" (Isadora Duncan Award) for his composition for Lines. In 2000, Zakir worked again with choreographer Alonzo King, this time composing music for The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 2002, his commissioned work for choreographer Mark Morris' "Kolam" premiered as part of YoYo Ma's "Silk Road Project" with YoYo Ma and Zakir performing together live for the performance. In September, 2006, Triple Concerto for Banjo, Bass and Tabla, a piece co-composed by Zakir, Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck, was performed by them with the Nashville Symphony at the gala opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall in Nashville. Zakir reunited with choreographer Alonzo King in 2007 for Lines Ballet's 25th anniversary celebration, creating acclaimed music for King's new work, Rasa. The government of India in 2007 chose Zakir to compose an anthem to celebrate India's 60th year of independence. The song, "Jai Hind", has been recorded by an array of India's finest classical vocalists and pop singers.

The recipient of countless honors, Zakir has received the titles of Padma Bhushan, in 2002, and Padma Shri, in 1988, becoming the youngest percussionist to be awarded these, given to civilians of merit, by the Indian government. In 1990, he was awarded the Indo-American Award in recognition for his outstanding cultural contribution to relations between the United States and India. In April, 1991, he was presented with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by the President of India, making him one of the youngest musicians to receive this recognition from India's governing cultural institute. In 2006, he was the recipient of the prestigious Kalidas Samman, an award for artists of exceptional achievement, from the government of Madhya Pradesh. In 2007, readers' polls from both Modern Drummer and Drum! magazines named him Best World Music and Best Worldbeat Drummer respectively.

In 1987, his first solo release, Making Music, was acclaimed as "one of the most inspired East-West fusion albums ever recorded." In 1992, Planet Drum, an album co-created and produced by Zakir and Mickey Hart, was awarded a Grammy for Best World Music Album, the Downbeat Critics' Poll for Best World Beat Album and the NARM Indie Best Seller Award for World Music Recording. Planet Drum, with Zakir as music director, toured nationally in 1996 and 1997. The band has re-emerged as Global Drum Project, touring widely in the '07 and '08 seasons.

Zakir is the recipient of the 1999 National Heritage Fellowship, the United States' most prestigious honor for a master in the traditional arts, presented by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United States Senate on September 28, 1999. In 2005, he was named an Old Dominion Fellow by the Humanities Council at Princeton University, where he resided for the 2005-2006 autumn semester as full professor in the music department, teaching a survey course in Indian classical music and dance. In the spring of 2007, this course was taught again by Zakir, this time at Stanford University.

In 1992, Zakir founded Moment! Records which features original collaborations in the field of contemporary world music, as well as live concert performances by great masters of the classical music of India. The label presents Zakir's own world percussion ensemble, The Rhythm Experience, both North and South Indian classical recordings, Best of Shakti and a Masters of Percussion series. Moment Records' 2006 release "Golden Strings of the Sarode" with Aashish Khan and Zakir Hussain was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music category for that year.

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Rendell Willson on Ustad Zakir Hussain:
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