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An Evening With the “Masters of Percussion”

Musician Zakir Hussain performs at a “Masters of Percussion” program on April 1 in Overland Park, Kansas. 

The audience goes silent as the rapid beating of the drum resonates throughout the auditorium. The five percussionists from across the globe exchange glances. Each one takes a turn, playing their respective instruments in fast rounds. The crowd’s gaze quickly shifts from one musician to another, as if watching a tennis match. 

On April 1, “Masters of Percussion” performed at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. Performers Tupac Mantilla, a percussionist from Colombia, Sabir Khan. a sarangi player (string instrument) from India, Navin Sharma, a dholak player from India, Abbos Kosimov, a doyra player from Uzbekistan, and Zakir Hussain, a tabla maestro from India, came together to play a selection of Indian classical music. 

One of the night’s main attractions was special guest Zakir Hussain. The musician is renowned for his skills at the tabla, a pair of twin hand drums. He has won several awards, including a Grammy, and recently received the Padma Vibhushan Award, India’s second-highest civilian award. 


Varun talks with Hussain about his endless quest for perfection. 


During the group’s visit to Kansas, I was able to speak with Hussain. “A great thing about art is that there’s always something to do and no end to learning who you are,” he said. “Every day is a learning experience.”

To demonstrate what he meant, Hussain shared an anecdote. “Someone said to a great musician, ‘Maestro, you were perfect today.’ The maestro replied, ‘I haven’t played well enough to quit yet.’” 

Although Hussain has been recognized worldwide for his talents, he is still humble. He still recalls his father's advice. “My father always told me, ‘Don’t try to be a master. Try to be a good student, and you’ll get by just fine.’”

Hussain has followed that principle and encourages young musicians to do the same. He believes that if you think you’ve learned everything, you may as well just stop playing. He also said that he wished his parents had lived to see him receive the Padma Vibhushan Award. “The first thing that came to my mind was the thought of my father and mother,” he said. “They were so involved in my life, shaping how I turned out.”


Hussain, far right, recently performed with other masters of percussion in Kansas. 


Although Hussain specializes in Indian classical music, he has played and collaborated with percussionists and musicians around the world. He believes that the differences between Indian classical music with Western classical music are slight. 

“The core of music from any part of the world draws on the same root,” Hussain said. “Even though there are differences we believe to exist, there are similarities which we wondrously find.” 

The “Masters of Percussion” program showcased the unique abilities of each percussionist playing an instrument native to his country. The collective effort mesmerized the audience.  

When asked his advice for young musicians, Hussain said: “Don’t shy away from your roots and where you come from. That defines you. Most of us shy away from wearing that hat because we want to belong somewhere, and we want to fit in. But don’t forget that you’re adding to what’s out there. You should have confidence in your heart that what you have to offer has its roots in who you are.”



Photos courtesy of the author