The tabla sounds that filled the air at the residence of Ustad Allah Rakha would be suddenly interrupted by the latest R D Burman songs blaring loudly on the radio. His youngest son, Taufiq Qureshi, would be trying to imitate the breathing rhythms that the legendary music composer had used in the songs. Taufiq, now an eminent multi percussionist, was attracted to RD’s sounds and idea of using multi rhythm patterns which when put together would sound as one. He would be listening to the songs to figure out the rhythm pattern of a particular instrument. After hearing the songs, Taufiq was keen to develop the use of breath as a percussion instrument.
“My bathroom is my favourite place to practice because of the natural reverb. While practicing I realised I could modulate my breathing to create rhythmic parts. At first I would feel giddy as I was interfering with my regular breathing. Then through regular practice it just became a part of me,” recalled Taufiq.
Being Ustadji’s son did not dither Taufiq from venturing out, musically. His father remains his guru and a constant source of inspiration. It was his father that encouraged him to incorporate music from different gharanas as long as he was able to do justice. But Taufiq’s aspirations went beyond those realms. He did not want to limit his musical sojourn to the tabla. He did perform alongside his father and the other greats of Indian classical music but the calling for rhythms was too strong to ignore.
“What I realised was that the A – Z of tabla was finished for me. For me the A-Z of tabla is, A for Allah Rakha and Z for Zakir Hussain. I needed another language in order to bring out my music which is of course my father’s music. I wanted to develop something new. That’s when I started exploring my father’s rhythms on other percussion instruments,” said Taufiq.
Incorporating tabla sounds with djembe
Playing the tabla sounds through other instruments became a quest. The djembe came across as the perfect instrument for him to explore his father’s knowledge of tabla. Taufiq put in hours of practice to merge the two instruments which were alien to each other. He developed a sound that was similar to the tabla. But this sound did not have a language, a requisite for learning Indian classical music. The multi percussionist went a step further and developed a language on the djembe which is very near to the sound of tabla. This process is still on.
But what would be the great Allah Rakha’s reaction to this?
“He was ok with me playing any other instrument than the tabla as long as it was music because he knew I cannot do anything else. He heard me at one of my concerts and realised it was his music that I am playing but with a different instrument. I am carrying his lineage through a different medium,” quipped Taufiq.
Encompassing multiple genres
The thirst for knowledge took the multi percussionist to the Ghatam maestro Pandit Vikku Vinayakram. It was under his tutelage that Taufiq learnt the nuances of Carnatic rhythms. He realised that in order to cross over to the other side he need to understand their rhythms more. Traditionally, Carnatic music is 70-75% pre-set while the rest is improvised. It is the opposite in case of Hindustani music.
The multi percussionist also has a rainbow of genres in his repertoire. African, Latin, Indian classical, voice and breathing percussion, jingles, film music et al. When performing as a solo artist, Taufiq incorporates a lot of Carnatic in to Hindustani and vice versa.
“Fusion means to melt and to blend. You have to melt and only then it can blend. That is what you do with your personality. You melt everything inside you till the only remaining thing is music and that music has no definitions and boundaries of genres. It becomes one entity,” said Taufiq.
The master percussionist does not only use multiple instruments while composing. He is always on the hunt for a new sound that can be developed or produced through the strangest things available. This inquisitiveness has won him laurels across the music composing spectrums. For the jingle on an electrical product, he used only switches to create rhythms. His jingle for Indian railways was composed by using only voice and body percussion. For the song ‘Havan Karenge’ from the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ he used voice percussion to give it a bhangra feel.
No to technology during live performances
The multi percussionist believes making music has become much easier but it has its negative side too. Technology has helped in making the composing process faster but has also put a lot of live musicians out of work. He believes the current trends have made it difficult to differentiate between the singers and composers which has led to music losing its soul.
“Keeping in-tune with technology, composers should try and bring the live music recording back. This will help bring the soul back in music. During my live shows I do not use technology. My drum kit is also small as I believe in making it big out of small. I do not need filters for my voice, I can do that myself. I just want good sound at my shows,” asserted Taufiq.
“My message for budding percussionists is, whatever you play, do it honestly. Practice with commitment, focus on clarity, speed will follow. Riyaaz is the most important thing.”
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