Zakir Hussain
Background information
Birth nameZakir Hussain
Born (1951-03-09) 9 March 1951 (age 70)
Bombay, Maharashtra, India
GenresHindustani classical music, jazz fusion, world music
Years active1963–present
Associated actsRemember Shakti

Ustad Zakir Hussain (born 9 March 1951) is an Indian tabla virtuoso, composer, percussionist, music producer and film actor. He is the eldest son of tabla player Ustad Allah Rakha.[1]

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002, by the Government of India presented by President Abdul Kalam.[2][1] He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990, given by the Sangeet Natak Academy, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama. In 1999, he was awarded the United States National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given to traditional artists and musicians.

Early life and education

Zakir Hussain was born on 9 March 1951 in Mahim (a suburb of Mumbai) in a Punjabi Dogra family. Hussain was born to tabla maestro Ustad Alla Rakha. His mother's name was Bavi Begum. Although their family name is Qureshi, Zakir was given the surname Hussain. He attended St. Michael's High School in Mahim, and briefly attended St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. Hussain was a child prodigy. His father taught him Pakhawaj from the age of 3 years. His father would wake him up at 3 a.m. and would teach him vocally by reciting different rhythms till 6 a.m. Zakir's father Alla Rakha belonged to the Punjab gharana tradition of tabla-playing.

He gave his first concert at the age of seven. He was touring by the age of eleven. He went to the United States in 1970 to accompany sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. After the tour was complete, he planned to study for a Ph.D. but instead he moved to the Bay Area to accompany Ali Akbar Khan, who was in need of a tabla player. After that he began his international career, including more than 150 concert dates a year.


Ustad Zakir Hussain performing at Konark, Odisha
Ustad Zakir Hussain performing at Konark, Odisha

From a young age, Zakir has been accompanying all the leading lights of Hindustani classical music, both vocal and instrumental - from Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit VG Jog, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj and many more.

Both Zakir and his father Alla Rakha were responsible for popularizing the art of tabla playing at international venues. Their performances raised the visibility of tabla players who previously did not receive as much notoriety. Zakir brought great attention to and raised the profile of tabla players through his solo acts along with his excursions as an accompanist. One of the unique contributions of Zakir is his use of the "bayan" to create melody. He uses this throughout his playing but especially so during the "sawaal-jawaab" section of a recital, where the instrumentalist playing the sitar, sarod, santoor, etc. and the tabla player typically have a "question-answer" back and forth. This would typically involve a set of notes played together, which the tabla player reproduces. Zakir's popularity was responsible for bringing audiences to a Hindustani music concert which came not just to listen to the main melody artist but to the supporting tabla artist. Zakir inspired a whole generation of young tabla players who grew up imitating his head gestures and even his hair style while performing.

Zakir's fame spread internationally following many tour performances in the US and Europe. He also collaborated with many musicians from all over India and the world. He collaborated with violinist L. Shankar, guitarist John McLaughlin, mridangam player Ramnad Raghavan, and legendary ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram in forming the fusion group Shakti, which performed worldwide to great acclaim. Twenty years later, a second version of the Shakti group, called Remember Shakti, was created featuring U. Srinivas, Zakir Hussain, TV Selvaganesh, and Shankar Mahadevan.

Hussain played on George Harrison's 1973 album Living in the Material World and John Handy's 1973 album Hard Work. He also performed on Van Morrison's 1979 album Into the Music and Earth, Wind & Fire's 1983 album Powerlight.[3]

Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, who had known Zakir since the 1960s,[4] invited him to create the special album Planet Drum, featuring legendary drummers from different parts of the world. Featured along with Zakir, from India, was Vikku Vinayakram, with whom Zakir had collaborated in Shakti. The first Planet Drum album, released in 1991 on the Rykodisc label, went on to earn the 1992 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album, the first Grammy ever awarded in this category.[5][6] The Global Drum Project album and tour brought Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju, and Giovanni Hidalgo together again in a reunion sparked by the 15th anniversary of the ground-breaking album Planet Drum. The album Global Drum Project won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 51st Grammy Awards Ceremony held on 8 February 2009.)[7]

Zakir composed, performed and acted as Indian music advisor for the Malayalam film Vanaprastham, a 1999 Cannes Film Festival entry which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI Fest) in 1999, and won awards at 2000 Istanbul International Film Festival (Turkey), 2000 Mumbai International Film Festival (India), and 2000 National Film Awards (India). He has composed soundtracks for several movies, most notably In Custody and The Mystic Masseur by Ismail Merchant, and has played tabla on the soundtracks of Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha, and other films. He starred in several films specifically showcasing his musical performance both solo and with different bands, including the 1998 documentary "Zakir and His Friends",[8] and the documentary "The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum" (2003 Sumantra Ghosal).[9] Hussain co-starred as Inder Lal in the Merchant Ivory Film Heat and Dust in 1983, for which he was an associate music director.[10]

Hussain is a founding member of Bill Laswell's 'World Music Supergroup' Tabla Beat Science.[11]

In 2016, Zakir Hussain was amongst many musicians invited by President Obama to the International Jazz Day 2016 All-Star Global Concert at the White House.[12]

Haridas Vhatkar has been making Zakir's tabla's for the past 18+ years.[1] Haridas said he learned how to make tabla so he could specially make them for Zakir.[1]

Zakir has stated that he doesn't play at private gatherings, corporate events, or weddings; he believes music should not be heard at events where folks come to socialize, drink or enjoy a meal (music should be the sole purpose of the event).[1]


Nasreen Munni Kabir compiled 15 interview sessions (each lasting about 2 hours) from 2016-2017 into the book Zakir Hussain: A Life in Music, which was published in 2018.[1] This book takes the reader through Zakir's life from his youth, his years of intense training, and growth to fame as a renowned musician.[1]

Personal life

Zakir Hussain married Antonia Minnecola, a Kathak dancer and teacher, who is also his manager.[13] They have two daughters, Anisa Qureshi and Isabella Qureshi. Anisa graduated from UCLA and is trying her hand in video production and film making. Isabella is studying dance in Manhattan.[14]

Zakir Hussain has two brothers: Ustad Taufiq Qureshi, a percussionist and Ustad Fazal Qureshi, also a tabla player. Their brother Munawar died at a young age when he was attacked by a rabid dog.[1] His eldest sister Bilquis died before Zakir was born. Another sister, Razia, died due to complications during a cataract surgery, just a few hours before their father's death in 2000.[1] He has another sister named Khurshid.[1]

He was named an Old Dominion Fellow by the Humanities Council at Princeton University, where he resided for the 2005–2006 semester as full professor in the music department.[15] He was also a visiting professor at Stanford University.[16] He now resides in San Francisco.



  • Soundtracks

    Awards and accolades


    The line "Zakir Hussain Tabela Ivaltana" in the Tamil song "Telephone Manipol" in Indian (1996) film directed by S.Shankar is a tribute to him. This song was written by poet Vairamuthu.

    See also


    1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kabir, Nasreen (2018). Zakir Hussain: A Life in Music. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India: HarperCollins Publisher India. ISBN 978-93-5277-049-6.
    2. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
    3. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Zakir Hussain". Allmusic.
    4. ^ "The Tabla Master Who Jammed With The Grateful Dead".
    5. ^ "The Global Drum Project". Planet Drum. Archived from the original on 25 February 2010.
    6. ^ "Deconstructing 'world music' at the Grammys". Afrobeat Radio. 15 February 2010. Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
    7. ^ "'Global Drum Project' featuring Zakir Hussain wins Grammy". Express India. 9 February 2009.
    8. ^ Gates, Anita (2008). "Zakir and His Friends". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 7 July 2008.
    9. ^ "The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2008. Archived from the original on 15 September 2008.
    10. ^ "Heat and Dust". Merchant Ivory Productions.
    11. ^ "Tabla Beat Science". National Geographic Music. Archived from the original on 6 February 2009.
    12. ^ "International Jazz Day". International Jazz Day. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
    13. ^ "Bharatnatyam in Jeans". Little India. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
    14. ^ "Ustad Zakir Hussain". Cultural India. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
    15. ^ "Best Of Zakir Hussain – Tabla Samrat". Calcutta Music Blog. Archived from the original on 9 August 2011.
    16. ^ "Zakir Hussain Shivkumar Sharma". Carnegie Hall. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008.
    17. ^ "Year wise list of recipients 1954-2014" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs (India). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
    18. ^ "Padma Vibhushan for Rangarajan, Soli Sorabjee". The Hindu. 26 January 2002. Archived from the original on 19 July 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2002.
    19. ^ "SNA: Awardees List". Sangeet Natak Academy. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015.
    20. ^ "Zakir Hussain: North Indian Master Tabla Drummer". National Endowment for the Arts. n.d. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
    21. ^ "Past Winners Search".