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Exclusive Interview: Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain launches 30th Masters of Percussion Tour

“Every time I invite a new maestro percussionist, it's about what can I learn from that person and how I can grow," says the legendary musician.

The legendary tabla maestro Zakir Hussain. (YouTube photo)

Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain will launch the 30th year of his “Masters of Percussion” tour March 10, bringing together percussionists from throughout the world.

The tour is set for 13 venues across the U.S. and Canada, and concludes April 8 in Ontario. (see the schedule below)

“For me, there is still the thirst to learn,” Hussain told New India Abroad in an interview, shortly after returning back to his home in the San Francisco Bay Area from a musical tour in India, where he and his band Shakti performed in Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, and New Delhi. The band celebrated their 50th anniversary this year.

The famed musician also returns to Mumbai every year — where he was born and raised — to pay homage to his late father, tabla maestro Ustad Alla Rakha, who died in 2000.

“Every time I invite a new maestro percussionist, it's about what can I learn from that person and how I can grow as a percussionist. And also it keeps me fresh, keeps me up to date, keeps me valid. There's so much more to learn out there,” said the legendary musician. “And just because I've received the Grammys or the Kyoto Prize or the Padma Vibhushan or whatever, it doesn't mean that the learning stops. It must continue.”

Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, banjo player Bela Fleck, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Rakesh Chaurasia on bansuri delivered an encore at a 2019 SF Jazz performance. (video by Sunita Sohrabji)

“And the maestros who live in these countries — who do not get the chance to perform all over the world and perform for audiences who have not seen them before — get the kind of visibility and accolades that they deserve,” he said.

Hussain received the Padma Vibhushan in 2023 and the Padma Bhushan in 2002. He was a Kyoto Prize Laureate in 2022, Japan’s highest honor. In 2009, Hussain received a Grammy for his collaboration with the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.

The 2023 Masters of Percussion tour features Tupac Mantilla from Bogota, Colombia, who has worked with the famed jazz musicians Bobby McFerrin, Esperanza Spalding, Danilo Perez, and Julian Lage. Melissa Hie will play the Djembe, a West African drum. And on sarangi is Sabir Sultan Khan, the son of legendary sarangi player and vocalist Padma Bhushan Ustad Sultan Khan. He belongs to the Sikar gharana.

On dholak is Navin Sharma, who first started playing with his father Shri Shyam Rughuram Sharma, and then studied with Hussain’s father Ustad Alla Rakha.

“This is the first time that we are introducing a female percussionist artist in the Masters of Percussion,” Hussain told New India Abroad. “And I'm really stoked about it because Melissa is such a fabulous artist. And she will bring the African tradition to us, which is probably the oldest percussive tradition in the world.”

“Tupac is a shaman and has that spiritual layer of understanding inside of him. And he's so good with not just playing percussion drums, but also using his body as a rhythmic tool. How does that happen? He takes all these rhythmic ideas and tradition and then just kind of prints it onto his physical self and then brings that forth with just his body as a percussion instrument. It is uncanny. And I'm really looking forward to not only watching it up close, but also learning that process.”

Hussain said he was influenced by his father to start the Masters of Percussion tour.

Zakir Hussain performs with his father Ustad Allah Rakha. Hussain and his brothers are creating a digital archive of their father's music.

"There are so many great percussionists in India, in every nook and corner of various states in the east, the west, not south. Find them and showcase them for the audiences in the world.’ That was my father’s advice to me. So I decided to look for them."

“Whenever I went to play concerts in cities or in remote areas of India, I inquired if there were any percussionists there or any tradition existing. And I would find one or two or three of them, then I would invite them to Bombay, where I lived, Mumbai, and we would interact and just kind of hang out, just go out for lunches, dinners and talk and not necessarily play. That would come later. But first it was important to get to know each other as people,” said Hussain.

“But then I felt that I was not being fair to percussion traditions all over the world. Why not have Indian percussionists interact with percussionists from different parts of the world so the Indian percussionists can find out that there are other things happening? So now we are at a point where Tupac Mantilla from Brazil and Melissa Hei from Africa are joining us, and the circle expands."

"I can't wait to see who else is out there to learn from. We have miles to go before we sleep,” said the musician.


March 10 - Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, Tracy, CA.

March 11 - Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA

March 12 - Kuumbwa Jazz, Santa Cruz, CA

March 16 - Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, CA

March 18 - La Jolla Music Society, La Jolla, CA

March 19 - Orpheum, Vancouver, BC

March 21 - Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR

March 23 - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale, AZ

March 31 - Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts, Fairfield, IA

April 1 - Yardley Hall, Midwest Trust Center. Overland Park, KS

April 4 - Macky Auditorium, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO

April 7 - Symphony Center, Chicago, IL

April 8 - Massey Hall, Toronto, ON