Writings About Music

Familiar Flourish

Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar


Familiar in that I’ve experienced this sublime musical elevation before, and even though the last time was in 2001 in Los Angeles, I wasn’t surprised at all to find Zakir Hussain still existing in a state of nirvana where perfection is natural. The recent performance I’m referring to was held at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, October 15, 2016, presented by the India Center. It’s only now that things have settled enough to allow for me to write about that stellar night.

Zakir was joined this time by a brilliant sitarist, Niladri Kumar, whose technical and expressive charms were more than sufficient to lure Hussain into rarified improvisational journeys beyond the physical realm of what’s visible.

There was one musical episode whereupon Zakir, as if tossing a previously unimagined percussion surfboard onto the towering waves off Sunset Beach in Oahu, flowed more like a giant leviathan than a human form - he is Pisces after all - yielding music of such suppleness and power as to make original percussionists Ganesha and Shiva proud.

Adbhuta rasa took flight when Zakir unveiled a deeply sonorous percussion tone outside the traditional realm of tabla, ingeniously blended and molded like a musical clay boat into the Ganges River current of concluding Raga Bhairavi, giving rise to a compelling dance element both forbidding and joyous at once. Baffled as to how Zakir came up with this astounding timbre, I afterwards checked with his assistant, Ty Burhoe, who kindly explained how the potent sound emanated from a simple wood block fitted with a pickup device.

After the concert, Zakir held court for a private reception that included taking questions from attendees, whereupon his stunning intellectual depth was on display together with a remarkable ability to articulate into words abstract and complex musical subjects, not to mention a wonderfully playful sense of humor that had everyone roaring at opportune times.

Thank you, Zakir and Niladri, for showing us once again the finest that musicians and humans may aspire to.

- Michael Robinson, December 2016, Los Angeles


© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


The Instrument is Alive - Zakir Hussain interviewed by Michael Robinson

Zakir Hussain

Niladri Kumar

Allarakha Foundation

Ty Burhoe

Moment Records

the India Center


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).