A Reveiw: Zakir Hussain (Cornell)

Above Photo By Susana Millman

I don't usually talk about the logistics behind what I do. However, I feel due to the nature of those involved; the story should be told. The sun was shining on a beautiful Upstate, New York afternoon. As I worked on the site I received a phone call. "Justin, this is Dennis McNally" said the voice on the line. He was calling to inform me that he was making the guestlist/credential arrangements for Zakir Hussain at Cornell. The Dennis McNally. The author of my favorite book "A Long Strange Trip", a book that chronicles the history of the Grateful Dead. His book had a huge impact on my life. It took all I had to contain my excitement. I thanked him and made arrangements for the show. As I inspected my calendar I noticed that the Zakir show was on the same day as Soulive. Zakir Hussain was playing in Ithaca and Soulive in Syracuse...

After spending some time walking around Ithaca, I headed over to the column-laden Bailey Hall. I sat on the front steps and began writing. As I did, two gentleman walked up sporting the latest in tour apparel; holy tye-dyes. One of the "gentleman" had brought a hand drum with him and was talking about how he once saw Mickey Hart on earth day in central park. He then stopped and asked absolutely no one, where Zakir was. He then declared that all he wanted was for Zakir to touch his drum so he could spread the love to all of the children of the world. It was obvious to me that this man was on a heavy dose of LSD.

The man then walked off to beat on his drum and spread the "love". Just then two professor types came walking down the steps of Bailey, discussing Richie Havens. Just as I was about to join into the conversation; the tripping hand drummer caught my attention yet again. He was talking to a squirl. "Oh maaan! You can climb a wall?" he exclaimed, then lowering himself to the ground and imitating a squirrel. This nonsensical act was followed by him conversing with people in the square out front of the hall. I overheard him talking about electric kool-aid to someone who obviously had not clue what he was talking about.

I knew the situation would get interesting when a bunch of older Indian folks began to show up dressed in their beautiful traditional attire. The spaceferry then began rambling to any and everyone about needing a miracle; a concept that was lost on this crowd. I contemplated the option of miracling him into the show for the shear entertainment of seeing his reaction and to mix it up a little bit inside of the venue.

As the crowd out front grew larger and larger, people took to sitting on the front steps, soaking up the beautiful spring evening. As the doors opened up and people started filing into the venue, I heard the distant cries of a man searching for a miracle. Just as I was about to enter the venue, I glanced once more over my should to witness an older Indian gentleman grant the man with his miracle. Glorious.

*Zakir Hussain @ Bailey Hall Cornell*


The inside of Bailey Hall was beautiful, with reciprocating columns and beautiful lighting. I couldn't help but notice the amazingly diverse crowd that this event had drawn; truly something special. As the show began Taufiq Qureshi displayed some really impressive and percussive vocal techniques. He was then followed up by the introduction Of Zakir Hussain who was joind by Sabir Khan the son of the great Ustad Sultan Kahn on the sarangi. The instrumentation was beyond impressive. It left me feeling extremely emotional and heavily moved. Zakir is unlike any percussionist I have ever seen. His speed, accuracy, and tone reflect the work of a genius.

As Sabir played, Zakir talked about the language of tabla. He made the analogy of the spoken language being compared to the traffic of India. He spoke of the large vehicles on the road, such as trucks and buses; then sounding out the phrase of the language that represented such vehicles. Next he spoke of the smaller vehicles, scooters, all the way to pedestrians and animals; providing phrasing for each. He often added humorous contributions causing the crowd to laugh.

Next Taufiq Qureshi played a solo arrangement on the djembe and other various percussion. His playing was extremely tight and impressive. He had a really entertaining section where he was basically beatboxing and then imitating the sounds of a husband and wife arguing. He ended with what was meant to be the wife yelling and a "Get out!" causing the crowd to laugh once again. After some time and some entertaining as well as humorous moments he was joined by Zakir. They traded parts and mocked one and other's playing. They then went into a section mimicking the stomping sounds of a horse. following this they went into a crescendo and ended the arrangement. Zakir then informed the crowd that they would be taking a short break and that there were some amazing musicians to come...

... At this point I had to make one of the hardest musical decisions I have ever made. I chose to leave and head for Syracuse to catch Soulive at The Westcott. Regret set in immediately but I felt that it would be best to cover as much as possible. Even as I write this review have regrets about missing Zakir's second set. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences I have ever witnessed.

-J-man

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