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When musicians of two proudly distinct though overlapping traditions encounter each other as two contemplative artists and thinking people of music, the conversation is no less than a refreshing jugalbandi of the highest order.
In this episode of BIC Talks, Ustad Zakir Hussain and TM Krishna meet and converse for the first time. In a freewheeling tête-à-tête leaving their performative selves aside and talk about their respective experiences that have shaped them as artists, their craft, artistry, the importance of listening and engagement with the world around them.
This conversation is adapted from a BIC Streams session presented by JSW, in collaboration with Literature Live.
The pre-eminent classical tabla virtuoso of our time, Zakir Hussain is appreciated both in the field of percussion and in the music world at large as an international phenomenon and one of the world’s most esteemed and influential musicians. The foremost disciple of his father, the legendary Ustad Allarakha, Zakir was a child prodigy who began his professional career at the age of twelve, accompanying India’s greatest classical musicians and dancers and touring internationally with great success by the age of eighteen. His brilliant accompaniment, solo performance and genre-defying collaborations, including his pioneering work to develop a dialogue between North and South Indian musicians, have elevated the status of his instrument both in India and globally, bringing the tabla into a new dimension of renown and appreciation.
Widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement, Zakir’s contribution has been unique, with many historic and groundbreaking collaborations, including Shakti, Remember Shakti, Masters of Percussion, Planet Drumand Global Drum Project with Mickey Hart, Tabla BeatScience, Sangam with Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland, CrossCurrents with Dave Holland and Chris Potter, in trio with Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer, and, most recently, with Herbie Hancock.
As a composer, he has scored music for numerous feature films, major events and productions. He has composed three concertos, and his third, the first-ever concerto for tabla and orchestra, was premiered in India in September, 2015, by the Symphony Orchestra of India, premiered in Europe and the UK in 2016, and in the USA in April, 2017, by the National Symphony Orchestra at Kennedy Center. A Grammy award winner, he is the recipient of countless awards and honors, including Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Kalidas Samman, P.L Deshpande Award, the USA’s National Heritage Fellowship and Officier in France’s Order of Arts and Letters. Voted “Best Percussionist” by both the Downbeat Critics’ Poll and Modern Drummer’s Reader’s Poll over several years, Zakir was honored in 2018 by the Montreal Jazz Festival with their Antonio Carlos Jobim Award.
As an educator, he conducts many workshops and lectures each year, has been in residence at Princeton University and Stanford University, and, in 2015, was appointed Regents Lecturer at UCBerkeley. He is the founder and president of Moment Records, an independent record label presenting rare live concert recordings of Indian classical music and world music. Zakir was resident artistic director at SFJazz from 2013 until 2016, and was honored with SF Jazz’s Lifetime Achievement Award on January 18, 2017, in recognition of his “unparalleled contribution to the world of music”.
As a vocalist in the Karnatik tradition, T.M. Krishna’s musicality eludes standard analyses. Uncommon in his rendition of music and original in his interpretation of it, Krishna is at once strong and subtle, manifestly traditional and stunningly innovative.
As a public intellectual, Krishna speaks and writes about issues affecting the human condition and about matters cultural. Krishna has started and is involved in many organizations whose work is spread across the whole spectrum of music and culture. He has co-authored Voices Within: Carnatic Music – Passing on an Inheritance, a book dedicated to the greats of Karnatik music. His path-breaking book A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story, published by Harper Collins in 2013 was a first-of-its-kind philosophical, aesthetic and socio-political exploration of Karnatik Music. For this he was awarded the 2014 Tata Literature Award for Best First Book in the non-fiction category. His long-form essay MS Understood, for The Caravan was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.” It has been translated into Tamil and published as a book ‘Katrinile Karainda Tuyar’ by Kalachuvadu Publications. His book ‘Reshaping Art’ published by Aleph Book Company in 2018, asks important questions about how art is made, performed and disseminated and addresses crucial issues of caste, class and gender within society while exploring the contours of democracy, culture and learning. His latest book Sebastian and Sons published by Context traces the history of the mridangam-maker and the mridangam over the past century.
He has been part of inspiring collaborations, such as the Chennai Poromboke Paadal with environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman, performances with the Jogappas (transgender musicians) and co-conceptualising and performing Karnatik Kattaikuttu, an unusual aesthetic conversation between art forms and communities that belong to two ends of the social spectrum. His musico-poetic partnership with India’s leading contemporary Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, is unprecedented. Rarely has a poet and a musician who are contemporaries collaborated to bring out works of art on the ‘classical’ stage. He has also been a pioneer in bringing the poetry of the social reformer and philosopher Narayana Guru into the karnatik fold. He is the driving force behind the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha (formerly Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha) and the Svanubhava initiative.
In collaboration with the Ashoka University, T.M. Krishna is now involved in The Edict Project, an attempt to reimagine Ashoka’s edicts in musical form. The project aims at creating vibrant aesthetic, socio-political and academic conversations around the edicts.
In 2016, Krishna received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in recognition of ‘his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions’. In 2017 he received the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration Award for his services in promoting and preserving national integration in the country. In 2017, he has also received the Professor V Aravindakshan Memorial Award for connecting Carnatic music with the common man.