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Zakir Hussain's Masters of Percussion


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Zakir Hussain's Masters of Percussion

Ty Burhoe

Welcome back my friends,

The tour with my Guruji Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion this year was a blast. Of course it was also a tremendous amount of work as usual, but much of the tour was on the tour bus which means more time to hang out, work on rhythms and eat food together. This year, practically all the halls we played were quite beautiful and top shelf as large concerts halls go across the US and Canada. Places like Chicago Symphony, Madison Square Garden, Zellerbach, Schnitzer, Massey Hall and many more. Also, the audiences were quite impressive and most of these events were sold out. So not only did our wild and groovy bunch of guys have a good time, I think many happy audience members also had a blast. The music was amazing!

Masters of Percussion at Chicago Symphony Orchestra Hall

Short MOP film by Selva Ganesh
Zakir Hussain with some of the gang at Atlanta International Airport
check out Zakir's shoes,,, feet of the Guru type stuff,,, 

The schedule was often a bit on the nutty side and a number of times we ended up doing a concert, packing the bus and then driving through the night to the next State where we would arrive just in time to set up for that evening's concert - and then do that again and again. So it ends up like camping out in the woods, except we are on a nice tour bus with big screen TVs and lots of wild & wonderful Indian musicians. 

Another short MOP film by Selva Ganesh

Late at night in an airport shuttle bus

Zakir was totally amazing on this tour (of course), in my book he just keeps getting deeper and clearer in his music. Even just being around him during a casual sound checks is like getting a lesson in creativity, power and musical grace. I am consistently in awe of his musical spirit and abundant awareness which shows up in pretty much all things surround his life. He is indeed a living example of what is possible when someone is tapped into more brain cells than the rest of us. 

Zakir Hussain finishing up sound check in Lancaster PA

The featured new member of the Masters of Percussion was drum set legend, Steve Smith (from the band Journey). He actually was the first westerner ever to join the group and added such a cool element, both musically and inter-personally. Steve had played with Zakir back in the early 2000s and through Zakir met the great ghatam (clay pot) maestro Vikku Vinayakram. With Vikku, Steve learned the South Indian rhythmic system known as konokol and began applying it to his drum set playing and has since developed an entirely new jazz/rock/indo style that is amazing. Check out his band "Vital Information" where he is starting to release albums featuring this style. 

Steve Smith during sound check at Boston Symphony Hall

Most shows, my jobs are many. Basically, I arrive midday with Mujeeb (our front of house engineer) and we set the risers, carpets, mics, line checks, lighting design, arrange dressing rooms, make sure catering is set and all systems are on line for a show of this size. We also need to set up all the instruments and tune them to make sure they are sounding correctly, which usually means pulling or loosening the straps of the multiple tabla drums and cleaning them up in various ways. However, on this tour Steve really needed an assistant to help set up his large drum kit which all by itself on a good day takes at least 30 to 40 minutes. So at some locations we had helpers, and some locations we did not. So I learned the process and helped out as much as I could given the incredible multi-tasking I had to do. I was very impressed at how much work and care it takes to get the kit to each venue and get it set up "properly" so it is the very custom setup which Steve has developed over the years. If you saw any of the shows, you would know what I mean when I say, it is worth it to make sure he has what he needs, because it is amazing to watch him soar into rhythm heaven. 

Ty & Steve after setting up at Boston

Mark Burhoe helping Steve set up the drum kit in Chicago

Sound check in Boston Symphony - Ty finally has a moment to play some music!!!

Zakir, Steve & Ty on the tour bus

During our visit to Seattle, Steve took me and Mujeeb to Jazz Alley which is a great jazz club in downtown Seattle. We saw Hiromi (jazz virtuoso from Japan) and drum legend Simon Phillips and bass player Anthony Jackson. They were fantastic and I was inspired by their performance. It was very fun to hang out with them back stage after the show for a while. I even got to practice a little of my Japanese with Hiromi-san... Check out her live show if you ever get the chance, she is quite the genius. 

Anthony Jackson, Simon Phillips, Hiromi, Ty & Steve at Jazz Alley in Seattle

The Masters of Percussion hoodlums on the tour bus somewhere in the US

One of my favorite points in the tour was in Chicago where I got to hang out with my brother Mark and also got some good hang time with Zakir in my old stomping grounds (I grew up in Chicago). The morning of the Chicago Symphony concert Zakir and I went to the Chicago Art Institute where a photographer had some beautiful black & white photos on display featuring many famous actors and musicians from India and Zakir appeared in many of those photos (below). Then, as a further treat, the Curator of the museum, David Thurm, gave us a private tour of the new Picasso gallery which will be open to the public this coming summer. Wow, that is a stunning collection of some well known and some less well known paintings by Picasso. Both Zakir and I felt it was truly a blessing to have the privilege of some private time with these paintings. It is worth the trip to go see it if you can, there is actually an entirely new wing of the museum opening up hosting this and a number of other displays. 

Zakir Hussain with a photo display featuring him and many of India's great
artists at the Chicago Art Institute

Zakir is one person who is always creative and never very predictable. Even when it comes to where
he is at any given time. He can suddenly show up unexpectedly in the same way he can appear
musically... right there with you almost magically. Below is Zakir appearing outside our
hotel rooms one fine morning while I thought I was texting with him at his home... 
He does that to me all the time!

Zakir tuning his tabla backstage before the gig at Madison Square Garden

Setting up at Madison Square Garden

Along the tour, we had some wonderful dinners. Generally Zakir and I are soup and salad kind of guys and the rest of the boys are Indian food nuts. But this year we had a pretty flexible crew when it came to food. So we ate at Brazilian, Mexican, Spanish, Indo-Fusion, Japanese etc... places all around the country. Of course there was also Indian, but that goes without saying. 

The first dinner of the tour in Charleston SC

A wonderful dinner at Brazazz Brazilian Restaurant in Chicago

Another group dinner w/ Zakir before a movie in Easton PA

A nice Spanish Restaurant in Lewisburg PA

Last night on the tour, Zakir & his wife Antonia took us out for an
amazing dinner at Rasika Restaurant in Washinton DC

The beautiful Antonia Minnecola - Kathak Dance

During this tour we were blessed to have Zakir's wife, Antonia Minnecola joining us for 5 of the concerts including the Madison Square Garden event. It was such a treat to have her as a part of the show since we were able to showcase her as a master drummer who uses her feet and entire body to paint out the beautiful subtleties within the Universe of rhythm. She is an amazing woman and artist who is loved by so many of us, it was a pleasure to have her on the tour with us. 

This tour we also had our old friend Vijay Chavan who is one of the finest Dholki players in India and a dear friend from several tours in years past. His folk groove is so deep that the audiences always roar with joy at his solo. And the other new member on this tour was Deepak Bhatt who played the amazing festival grooves of the Dhol. Deepak actually has been studying with Zakir's younger brother Taufiq-bhai who has been on this tour many time in years past, so Deepak-ji is learning many compositions from the classical tabla world as well. He is young, talented and audiences loved his solos where he walked through the hall and played acoustically, very exciting! 

Hand of Vijay Chavan

We also had Niladri Kumar who is such a great musician and was so very fun to tour with. He and I really got to spend some fun time together and finally got to know each others sense of humor and personality on a deeper level. We ended up laughing most of the time we were around each other, but I was also lucky enough to do a number of sound checks with him and do some playing. He has continued to deepen and develop his music over the years and is now playing at such a refined level... I love his rhythmic refinement and his subtle ornaments... as does the audiences, they really respond to his musicianship. 

Sound check w/ Ty & Niladri Kumar

A small group of the MOP hoodlums (including Kalyan Patak) in Chicago

One of my dearest old friends Selva Ganesh came on this tour after a number of years. He had come with his father Vikku Vinayakram, and Alla Rakha (Zakir's father) back in 1996 when I produced some of the first Masters of Percussion shows in Boulder. He came on a number of tours with us before he started touring with Zakir's band 'Remember Shakti'. Anyway, for those of you who don't know, he plays a small handheld drum called kanjira, and is actually played with just one hand. Although you would never know it by simply listening since it sounds like several drummers keeping a groove while the mountains themselves dance. So we had a great reunion and spent lots of time together. 

Selva Ganesh & Ty in some truck stop in God knows where...

And come to find out, Selva is also quite the tech-head when it comes to camera, phones and movie making. He made the movie at the top of this blog and the ones below in just a few hours... there are other funny ones too, but I'll leave those for you to find on YouTube... 

More short MOP films by Selva Ganesh
Outside the tour bus in Lewisburg PA

Dilshad Khan, Vijay Chavan & Ty back stage

Another treat for me was to spend time with Dilshad Khan (nephew to our beloved Ustad Sultan Khan). As some of you know, I spent some years learning sarangi with Sultan Khan and had a very deep and special relationship with him. So my connection is naturally bridged to Dilshad-bhai who I believe carries much of the spirit of Sultan Khan's music and personality. His playing is truly beyond belief. 

One evening, we were hanging out in my room before dinner and I had my tabla set out in the corner just on the off chance that I might had a moment to play a little. And Dilshad-bhai sits down and starts ripping it up on the tabla. My jaw dropped down as he played various compositions since I had no idea he also studied tabla. As it turns out, when he was growing up, Sultan Khan trained Dilshad to accompany him on tabla and he seriously studied to the point where he could accompany Sultan Khan on stage. And all of a sudden it made sense why Dilshad's time was so solid when accompanying Zakir's tabla solo (not an easy job). It was because he actually knew the tabla language and tradition. So we spent some wonderful time together on both the sarangi and tabla topics. His accompaniment and solos during the tour were indeed a highlight for me. 

Zakir Hussain & Dilshad Khan

So we ended up covering 18 cities with over 25 events in about 30 days with an average of 2000 adoring fans per night. That is a lot of hearts all beating to the same groove. It was an honor to be a part of making it happen. A key person who, like me is behind the scenes, is our FOH (front of House) sound engineer Mujeeb Dadarkar who has been with Zakir since the 1990s. He and I are the front line of the MOP team that shows up some hours ahead of the musicians to arrange and set up all facets of the event so that it goes as smoothly as possible for the musicians. Each and every event requires all our attention and effort since there are inevitably challenges to overcome. Most of those challenges can be solved in an hour or two and the musicians never know about them, but when there is an issue that can't be solved, then I figure out a solution with Zakir and the MOP team is always flexible and graceful in working with the realities at hand. Mujeeb and I have become close friends over these years and after our many long hours of non-stop work each night, we usually sneak off and pop a beer together. A worthy and much needed ceremony. 

Zakir, Ty & Mujeeb (the team that makes the wheels turn) at the airport
after all musicians had gone and the tour was at an end ~ 

So another glorious adventure comes to a close and as is the case with many artists, it is right on to the next tour. I know that Guruji Zakir is off to India, Europe, Canada and probably a concert on Mars and the rest of the Universe... He is indeed a force of nature! I will do some recordings for some musician friends and later meet up with Steve Gorn in Japan for several concerts. Should be a good time once again. 

Please take good care and don't let the stress of our modern life get you down, check out this Ted talk which is very interesting on a different take on stress - I think Zakir learned this long ago...

Cheers and much love to you and yours,