Zakir Hussain with T. H. Vinayakram , Ganesh & Kumaresh , Vijay Chauhan , Taufiq Qureshi and Manipuri Jagoi Marup as part of the South Asian Music Festival at the Winter Garden Theatre, May 9. Tickets: $30-$60. Attendance: 900. Rating: NNNNN
With the lights down, the beat of a bass drum from offstage signalled the start of the show. Members of the Manipuri Jagoi Marup , one with his instrument strapped over his shoulders and two more carrying pungs, cylindrical drums similar to the dholak, bounded onto the Winter Garden stage and launched into the Pung Cholom, a folk dance from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. The piece showed off the drummers' amazing rhythmic precision and incredible athletic ability as they leaped through the air like acrobats while keeping a wicked beat. It was a jaw-dropping opening for a night of jaw-dropping performances.
As the Manipuri group wowed the packed theatre, the night's star, Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain , quietly took his place onstage along with ghatam player T. H. Vinayakram and violinist brothers Ganesh & Kumaresh .
The four accompanied the Manipuri group through the dramatic finale to their dance. Then Zakir and company took over, playing a series of mind-blowing south Indian ragams that highlighted Ganesh & Kumaresh's melodic mastery of their violins. Hussain's youngest brother, Taufiq Qureshi , came onstage for the last two pieces of the evening's first half to add the sound of his stand-up drum kit.
After the intermission, Hussain took to the stage by himself, first to explain that his other brother, Fazal Qureshi, was grounded in Chicago because of a thunderstorm, and then to launch into an awesome solo tabla performance that culminated in an astonishing recreation of the Windy City's inclement weather.
When Hussain's solo was done, the whole company returned for the remarkable closer, this time with four members of the Manipuri Jagoi Marup all carrying pungs and with Vijay Chauhan beating on the dholki.
Throughout the show, each performer attempted to top the others in friendly competition. Like duelling hiphop MCs, Hussain, Qureshi and Vinayakram engaged in a brilliant (and often hilarious) rapid-fire vocal mimicry of their instruments. For lack of a better word, it was a battle of the doom-tac-a-dooms.
The night was a seamless mix of sounds and rhythms from throughout India - north and south - and the world. It was a defiantly polycultural performance in the face of the increasing fetishization of all-things South Asian by North American consumer capitalism and the disturbing persistence of religious fascism in India, with its insistence on a Hindustani monoculture.
No to the BJP! Yes to Zakir!