Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain: Mapping The Groove Of The Future
That’s when Hussain joins us.
“I mean Zakir’s a classical player,” Hart says, “and he brings a lot of that …”
“Are you trying to insult me?” Hussain chuckles.
Hussain is soft-spoken, his presence light. Hart studied under Hussain’s father, Alla Rakha, tabla accompanist to the famed sitar master Ravi Shankar. In 1970, Hussain came to the States to teach tabla at the Ali Akbar Khan school. And the school’s percussion orchestra – with Hart – became the Diga Rhythm Band. They are fellow disciples, brothers, and teacher and pupil.
“I’ve always maintained that if I had not arrived here in this part of the world, I would not have known, I would not have learned, and I would not have been the drummer I am,” Hussain says. “My father taught me everything I knew about my tabla playing, but how to take it forward on this journey, so that it looks at everything, recognizes everything, and adapts to everything, has been a major learning experience, and one of the teachers for me has been Mickey.”
Therein lies the other key to Planet Drum—improvisation and experimentation. Hart has not only introduced the pantheon of percussionists like Hidalgo, Adepoju, Airto Moreira and the late Babatunde Olatunji and Hamza El Din to American audiences. He has also introduced American-style exploratory improvisation to these classical players.
Now the two riff off each other even as they discuss rhythm. You can tell it’s just how they interact musically—Hart compares westerners listening to rock or jazz drum solos to soloists playing traditional percussion abroad.
Hart: It’s tuned percussion, it’s played by skilled players – as opposed to drum solos … Remember, if you were in India, you could sit there, people could sit and listen to solos all night, because they’re used to it, it’s culturally specific. That’s not the way it is here.
Hussain: Yeah, a regular tabla solo concert in India could be a 90-minute solo or a two-hour solo by one person playing. And there’s a thousand people sitting there listening, and doing the proper oohs and ahhs at the proper time and nodding their heads …
Hart: ... because they know the rhythmic canon … in a muscular tradition like India’s tradition, you recognize these hooks or tihais or signature rhythms that are loved and that are part of the culture.
Hussain: You recognize styles, you recognize sonic experience. Because drummers are known for their sound, as are guitarists or you know, the sound is his or hers, and that’s it. And similarly in tabla or in any of the percussion instruments, like Giovanni has his own sound, and Giovanni hits those congas, you know it’s Giovanni.
Hart: Oh, you can pick him out of a thousand!
Hussain: ... and you can pick him out right there – oh, that’s Giovanni playing …
Hart: Same thing with Zakir …
Hussain: ... so when we are playing, we’re just basically, we are the extension of what has gone hoping to connect it to what is coming, or what is out there, for the future. And so all we are doing is remembering and telling the story as it has been, and moving forward with it to see if everyone else relates to it and adds to it.
They are clearly thinking in terms of mapping the future of rhythm – how do ancient rhythmic traditions translate through improvisation into an electronic tomorrow? They want to know if traditional drums, processed electronically, become something new, translate into a new type of music, a new language. They think so. They see themselves as being on a journey to figure it out.
“You have a marriage here, or a dance between the archaic world of membranes and drums, percussion,” Hart says, “and another foot firmly placed and planted in the digital domain … We’ll process the shit out of it if we want, we’ll make it sound like an elephant if we want. But it has the integrity of something that’s acoustic. Because that’s where we come from—we’re acoustic musicians who have been introduced into the digital domain.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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