Interviews

My musical journey taught me about life: Ustad Fazal Qureshi

My musical journey taught me about life: Ustad Fazal Qureshi

As a blue-blooded member of the Indian music fraternity, Ustad Fazal Qureshi is a maverick who stayed true to his craft while forging his own path. Born to the Tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha, under the guidance of his father and guru and with inspiration drawn from his brother, Ustad Zakir Hussain, he also become a Tabla player. He expanded his horizons by incorporating other styles of global music in his practice, especially Jazz and Western classical music and has performed with many well-known Jazz musicians. For over 30 years, he has been associated with Mynta, his world music band based in Sweden. They have performed all over the world and released six albums. Mynta is an Indo-Swedish fusion jazz band which uses Indian vocals, African and Latin-American rhythms, Arabic sounds, Swedish Folk music and Cuban violin with Indian traditional instruments like Tabla, Kanjira, Ghatam and Tampura. Ustad Qureshi also teaches Tabla to students in the Ustad Alla Rakha Institute of Music. In this freewheeling chat with Loudest, he talks about the many hats he dons. Excerpts from an edited interview:

Q1. You have been associated with classical music for decades. Please tell us about your journey so far.

A. I have been in the field for 42 years. It’s been a long time and my experience has been interesting. Everyone has to go through struggles. Even if there are big names in the family, it doesn’t always mean that you will have it easy. Since my father and brother also play the Tabla, it has been a struggle for me to not be compared to them, and to make a name for myself. It’s an uphill task, but once I reached a certain stage and people began to recognise my playing and realised that I have a different point of view, then it was easier for me to perform in this field. But it has been an amazing experience because it taught me about life. When I accompanied masters like Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, or Brij Bhushan Kabra ji, they took me by the hand and taught me the art of being on stage with big artists. I would say, in my journey, there have been ups and downs, but it has also been a very fulfilling experience.

Q2.Has it been difficult for you to forge a path for the Tabla in today’s day and age?

A. Yes, of course it has been tough with legendary names like Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain associated with me! I would tell announcers not to say their names, because then the expectations of the audience would be too high. When the audience didn’t have this preconceived idea about me, they were delighted and sometimes would even make the connection themselves and would come and ask me about it later. I remember this one incident, when I was performing with Shiv ji, and the announcers forgot to announce my name. Even Shiv ji didn’t say anything. When we finished the first raag, he picked up the mic and said that I did not tell you about my accompanying artist, because first I wanted you to hear how well he plays. I used to play a lot with Zakir Bhai and my father too, and even the three of us have played together – all this helped me learn a lot.

Q3.Please tell us about your experiments with fusion music with your international
band.

A. My first tryst with fusion goes back to my college days in St. Xavier’s. I had come to Delhi to represent our college, and we were staying at the St. Stephens’ hostel. I was practicing my Tabla and a guitar player was singing some songs by The Beatles and Billy Joel – I started playing in rhythm with him. Believe it or not, within half an hour a lot of people had gathered to listen to us. It turned out to be a great experience. It became like a nice little impromptu performance for the audience. Then I was part of these few bands which focussed on fusion music – I was part of the team that created ‘Pretty Child’ with Indus Creed, and we won the MTV Asian Award. That got me established as a fusion artist in the early 90s. The roots of Mynta, my fusion band in Sweden were laid in 1987-88. We were together for 30 years and performed at various jazz festivals all over the place. I brought them to India too. It’s been a very fulfilling experience. I believe that when you have a strong foundation in classical music, you can play anything. That has really helped me establish myself and venture into other styles of music. I’ve experimented with all kinds of genres, even jingles!

Q4.Q. How was your experience of working on the song Synthesis – The Indian Muse?

A. It was amazing. Nanni Singh is an old friend of mine, and she always gets me involved with her projects. I readily accept because she is an amazing person doing good work. ‘Synthesis - The Indian Muse’ was a fantastic project that I was proud to be associated with. Its composer Ravi Iyer is another good friend of mine, which was an added bonus. The song was so well composed and well-orchestrated by Ravi. I was also very happy to play with all the musicians who participated in it. It was just like hanging out with friends! And I’m really happy that it won an award!

Q5.Q. What advice do you have for people entering this field now?

A. Music is something that everyone enjoys, but if anyone wants to take it up as a profession, they need to be serious about it. It requires a lot of hard work, practice, and sincerity. My father would say, “Be honest to your Tabla”, and that is the advice I would give to everyone. It is important to remember that hard work pays dividends in the future.

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