Ustad Zakir Hussain

The Tabla Virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain was born on March 9, 1951 in a nursing home in Mahim (a suburb of Mumbai) at about 11:00 a.m Hussain was born to tabla maestro Alla Rakha. His mother’s name was Bavi Begum. It was said that Hussain was an ‘unlucky’ child since his father was extremely ill around the time of his birth. 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. Others gharanas being Delhi, Benares, Ajrara, Farrukhabad, and Lucknow.

He got married to Antonia Minnecola and has two daughters – Anisa Qureshi and Isabella Qureshi.


He gave his first concert at the age of seven and was deemed a child prodigy. 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, Ravi Shankar advised Zakir to stay in America and take a teaching job at the University of Washington in the Department of Ethnomusicology. He planned to study for a PhD but midway 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.

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 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 they also have an album together along with Shankar Mahadevan named ‘’Is That So”

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. With increasing digitization, musical sound is fast losing its originality, which is why we need to support makers of handcrafted instruments. The arts form the very fabric of our society and hence it is our responsibility to do our bit for such a cause. The audience not only enjoyed some stupendous performances but were also inspired to do their bit for the cause.

As a Music Composer

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.

The USA’s National Heritage Fellowship and Officer 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. In 2019, Zakir was named a Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellow and received two honorary doctorates, one from Berklee College of Music and the other from Indira Kala Sangit University in Khairagarh, India.

Top Tracks by Zakir Hussain

Punjabi Dhamar


Teen Taal

Jai Taal

Island Falling


Hussain played on George Harrison’s 1973 album ‘’living in the Material World ‘’

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.

Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, who had known Zakir since the 1960s,[10] 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. 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)

Zakir composed, performed and acted as Indian music advisor for the Malayalam film Vanaprastham

It was a 1999 Cannes Film Festival entry which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival 1999.


As an educator, he conducts many workshops and lectures each year, has been in residence at Princeton University and Stanford University, and, in 2015, He was appointed Regents Lecturer at UC Berkeley. His yearly workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area, conducted for the past 30 years, has become a widely anticipated event for performers and serious students of tabla. 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”.

Zakir Hussain has composed music for many movies like ‘In Custody’, ‘The Mystic Masseur’, ‘Heat and Dust’ etc.  Some of the other films, for which he has worked on the musical score include, ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Little Buddha’, ‘Saaz’, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’ and ‘One Dollar Curry’. Zakir has also acted in many movies, mostly showcasing his musical performances. His portrayal of the character ‘Inder Lal’ in the film ‘Heat and Dust’ is unforgettable.

He also starred in a couple of brilliant documentaries like

‘The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain

and the Art of the Indian Drum’ and ‘Zakir and His Friends’. While ‘Zakir and His Friends’ released in the year 1998, ‘The Speaking Hand’ was released in 2003.

The Way of Beauty (2006 – DVD) – Remember Shakti

Awards and Recognitions

Padma Shree by the Government of India – 1988 The youngest percussionist ever to receive this award.

Padma Bhushan – 2002 Zakir Hussain once again became the youngest percussionist to be honored with India’s third highest civilian award.

Indo-American Award – 1990 for his cultural contribution.

National Heritage Fellowship – 1999 – America’s most prestigious honor in the field of traditional arts.

Sangeet Natak Akademi Award – President of India in the year 1991 again one of the youngest musicians to have ever received this award.

Grammy – He was also awarded the Grammy for the album ‘Planet Drum’ which was produced and created by Zakir Hussain and Mickey Hart. This was his first ever Grammy. He won his second Grammy during the 51st Grammy Awards for his album ‘Global Drum Project’ under the category, Contemporary World Music Album. For this project, he had collaborated with Mickey Hart, Giovanni Hidalgo and Sikiru Adepoju.

Kalidas Samman –2006 the government of Madhya Pradesh honored him with this prestigious award.

Lifetime Achievement Award – In 2012 at Konark Dance & Music Festival, he was honoured with the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan (lifetime achievement) award.

9 March 2021
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