Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain will join renowned Indian playback singer Suresh Wadkar in a concert at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.
Hussain and Wadkar will blend their talents in “Sukoon,” a jugalbandi that celebrates their unique blend of their musical styles. “Music is global — it is actually beyond the boundaries of religion or nation,” says Hussain. “Harmony is within us. Only when we allow the outside world to disturb our inner peace, do we feel distanced from each other.”
The duo are quintessential Mumbai boys. One grew up poor; the other grew up wealthy. One is the son of laborers; the other is the son of a musical icon.
Hussain, who now lives in San Francisco, was born into a family of musicians in Mumbai. His father, tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha Khan Qureshi introduced Zakir to the world of rhythm and sound at an early age. He would wake the 8-year-old at 2 a.m. to learn the patterns (bols) that the tabla can produce and have Zakir sing them back to him. Father and son would discuss rhythms, old masters and great musicians, in nights that Hussain describes as magical.
Hussain found fame on the U.S. stage
At 19, Hussain was sent to perform with Ravi Shankar in New York as his father’s replacement. It marked the beginning of Hussain’s skyward trajectory as a percussionist.
In May of 1970, he performed with sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and sitar player Indranil Bhattacharya at the Family Dog on San Francisco’s Great Highway. NPR, which lists the performance in its Editor’s Picks, calls it riveting.
Grateful Dead sound engineer Owsley Stanley, who recorded the concert, included it in “Bear’s Sonic Journals,” his archive of live concert recordings from the 1960s to the 1980s.
“It really set the tone of how I would present myself to my fellow musicians — whoever I was accompanying — for the rest of my life,” Hussain told NPR.
Three years later, Hussain played on George Harrison’s 1973 album “Living in the Material World” and John Handy’s 1976 album “Hard Work.” He also performed on Van Morrison’s 1979 album “Into the Music” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1983 album “Powerlight.”
From mill worker’s son to Bollywood singer
Suresh Wadkar won his Padma Shri at 67.
He grew up in a traditional Marathi family in Mumbai’s Lower Parel, where his parents worked at a cloth mill. His father noticed Suresh’s gift of a melodious voice and enrolled the 8-year-old in a music school.
Wadkar’s guru, Jialal Vasant, encouraged him to participate in local music competitions. At Sur Singar, a contest judged by veteran musicians Ravindra Jain and Jaidev, Wadkar won top prize and a chance to sing his first Bollywood song, “Seene Mein Jalan.”
His voice caught the attention of singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, and he began singing for composers Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Ilaiyaraja. Wadkar began a flourishing career as a playback singer in Hindi, Marathi, Konkani and Bhojpuri films. He also recorded bhajans and albums in Odia.
His musical duets with Mangeshkar (“Chal Chameli Bagh Mein” from 1981’s “Krodhi” and “Megha Re Megha Re” from “Pyaasa Sawan”) became hits. Wadkar also sang the popular melodies “Meri Qismat Mein Tu Nahin Shayad” and “Main Hoon Prem Rogi.”
Raj Kapoor’s “Prem Rog” was the turning point of Wadkar’s career. He became the voice of Rishi Kapoor in movies like “Heena,” “Prem Granth,” “Bol Radha Bol,” “Vijay” and others.
Wadkar opened music schools in Mumbai and New Jersey, and today teaches music via his online Ajivasan Music Academy.
“Sukoon” with Zakir Hussain and Suresh Wadkar takes place 8 p.m. Friday at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets, $49-$250, are available at https://events.sulekha.com/.
This article originally appeared on India Currents on Sept. 3.