Hailing from the ‘first family’ of tabla is quite the accolade in itself. A lineage that features names like Ustad Allah Rakha, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Taufiq Qureshi. Another name from this great stable of musicians is Fazal Qureshi.
Fazal bhai, as he is fondly called, took up playing the tabla knowing that he would draw comparisons between himself and his father and elder sibling. As one would expect, the atmosphere in his household was filled with the beats of the tabla. His father’s disciples would be practicing on the instruments almost throughout the day. Students from overseas would be residing in the house and Fazal bhai would watch them practice daily.
“My father had a very liberal attitude, he never forced any of us to play tabla. Sometimes I would just sit with my father’s disciples and just play with them. Seeing my interest, my father started teaching me,”
recalled Fazal bhai.
Abbaji (Ustad Allah Rakha) is known to a purist when it comes to teaching. He would expect a certain amount of sincerity and hard work. He expected his students to be responsible and respectful to the instrument. A quality which he appreciated in Fazal bhai. But for him, it was more than just learning the instrument from his father.
“For me learning tabla from him was a challenge, since he expected me to pick up everything he was teaching, quickly. His way of playing tabla was complicated, it was more difficult to learn from him. But, he was a patient teacher,”
said Fazal bhai.
By the time Fazal bhai had not even turned a professional musician, his elder brother was already an established tabla player. An age gap of 10 years ensured that Zakir bhai had started learning the art way before him. Zakir bhai was already performing alongside their father and other musicians when Fazal bhai was still learning.
“I take Zakir bhai as a guru, even though I never got to learn from him. But, playing with him is like learning from him,”
said Fazal bhai.
32 year journey with Mynta
The exchange of thoughts and music with artists from across the globe helped Fazal bhai broaden his musical horizon. He picked up nuances of varied musical instrument and genres. This explains his love for the piano and the sarangi. One facet of his musical journey, so far, has been his band ‘Mynta’. Mynta is an Indo-Swedish fusion jazz band which uses Indian vocal, African and Latin-American rhythms, Arabic sounds, Swedish Folkmusic and Cuban violin, together with Indian traditional instruments as tabla, kanjira, ghatam and tempura.
“Christian Paulin, the founder and Bass Player, of Mynta, and I met way back in 1987. Since then we have played all over the world, and brought out more than 10 Albums. I call it, Love at first sight. We are still in touch, even though we are not playing, but, hope to do so soon,”
said Fazal bhai.
Taking the tabla legacy forward
Tabla, is the most popular Indian Percussion instrument, among Western musicians. It’s melodic quality, and ability to adapt itself to various styles of music helps it to fit very easily in Pop, Rock, Jazz or even Spanish music. This is a prime reason that the instrument invokes a lot of interest from the upcoming generation. The instrument seems to be heading towards a bright future.
“I am teaching at our institution, and I see, 5 – 6 years old children, coming with their parents to learn. And some of them come from very far off places like, Kalyan and Thane to Mumbai. This makes me feel that the future is very bright,”
quipped Fazal bhai.
Through his institute, Fazal bhai is nurturing young talent to take the stage in the near future. His drive is to keep the Indian classical music in good health and ensure the art is not lost. Along with teaching the basics of the instrument, Fazal bhai also grooms his disciples to be a complete musician. But this is not what he wants to be remembered for.
“I always had this thought in my mind, that when I am on that stage performing, I should play well enough to not spoil my father’s name. Surely I may not be able to add to his name, but, I at least should not spoil it. I should be remembered for that,”
smiled Fazal bhai.
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