Path-breaking, trend-setter in the arena of world music, ace percussionist, composer and music educator UstadTaufiqQureshi in a heart to heart conversation with Shamali Gupta talks about what his heart beats for: Rhythm
The hand matters… then the surface beneath can pave way to rhythm… will you please explain this opening line on your website, Taufiqbhai?
Basically it is your hand, when given any given surface that has the ability to create rhythm through it. So, what you really need to figure out is the tonal quality in a few seconds. A good percussionist needs to have the knack of picking up anysurface, be it the table, the djembe, the tabla, or one’s own body, one and creating rhythmic patterns on it. The hand is what matters when one create
- Is rhythm hereditary or can rhythm be taught?
Rhythm exists inherently within us: we are born with a fantastic sense of rhythm… there is rhythm in our breathing, in our gait, rhythm in our heartbeat; in the way we talk… we are born with a sense of rhythm. Therefore rhythm is more inherent in us than melody and we do comprehend and appreciate rhythm faster. Yet I also do believe that Rhythm can definitely be taught. I very strongly feel that the first thing that we as human beings understand and connect to, because it is much more intimate and easy to capture and grasp, and therefore easy to teach.
I can give several examples of tribal rhythmic cycles which may seem strange to the uninitiated and yet a proper study helps us to understand the deep patterns of rhythm that flow though and enrich cultures.
What has the journey from traditional Indian Tabla to contemporary world percussions been like?
The knowledge which I received from my Abbaji is all pervasive and most important and has stood by me at all times. Born in a family steeped in Indian Classical music, the normal and the usual did not attract me as much as the unusual. As a child, all surfaces, including the ‘daldakadabba’, inspired me to work out rhythmic patterns on them. I found rhythm in almost everything, pots, pans, dabbas, buckets and broom sticks. Whatever I learnt from Abbaji, I implemented on all surfaces to create sounds. ‘Other rhythms’ fascinated me. In childhood R D Burman’s music enthralled me. I had a baby bongo and I would play on it imagining I was part of his orchestra, with PanchamDa’s songs playing full blast!
In school and especially in college, I would even drum on the benches…as a result very frequently I was thrown out. As an ‘outstanding student’, the canteen of my St. Xavier’s College became the alternate abode for developing distinctive techniques and honing my skills in percussion.
This was also the time when I accompanied several stalwarts of Indian Classical music (Pt. HariprasadChaurasia, Sultan Khan Sahab, Pt. BrijBhushanKabra and many others) from whom I learnt a great deal. My grounding in Indian classical percussion became stronger and I became restless to explore and challenge my Indian grounding.When I told my Abbaji that I was looking at exploring, composing, my father was very encouraging and his only condition was that I play good music that reflects my upbringing and tradition.
I started looking for that one instrument on which I could bestow all the knowledge of Tabla that I had imbibed from my Abbaji. My experimentations brought me in close connection with several percussion instruments: the rustic Dumroo and Duff to the contemporary Batagon (Cuban) Bongo (Latin American) Madaltarang, cymbals, Timbale, clay drums, Dumbak, midi drums and many more. It was only when Zakirbhai gifted me a djembe in the late 90s, that I realized ‘this is the ONE’.Itgave me the opportunity to design a new rhythmic language as a bridge to rearrange the traditional Tabla repertoire onto this African percussion instrument djembe. I wanted to incorporate the tukda, rela, kayda…into the instrument. And that happened finally. The journey has been amazing and has given me a very unique recognition the world over.
- You and improvisation are synonymous. From composing off-beat tracks for films to composing for 60 second ad-films, you’ve been there and done that. Tell us something about how you encapsulated several years of sadhana and expertise into innumerable 60-second ad films.What motivated you to do these rhythmic experiments?
I have always been adventurous whether it was creating the energetic entry title track for HritikRoshan in Dhoom 2 with trash materials or creating the jingle track for Indian Railways which won the Gold award at Cannes. The track was inspired by Ashok Kumar’s iconic track “rail gaadi…beech wale station bole…” Even within that parameter, I wanted to innovate and do something interesting and unusual. And I suddenly had this idea that I would compose a whole new track using voice rhythm, stamping and body percussions. The movement of the train, the rattling sound, speed, the wheels on the metallic bridge…all of it was recreated entirely through voice and body percussion. In fact, I even experimented with stamping on metallic sheets to produce the sound of rail on metallic bridge… The film of course was beautifully made, and the jingle also stood out and captured the attention of the jury and a fabulous response from the listeners!
Another jingle which is very close to my heart is for the Nike (parallel journeys) ad, which won the bronze at the Cannes, in which I experimented with voice rhythms. The Finolex ad which I did last year was interesting because I made melodic rhythms using Finolex switches and it turned out to be extremely challenging and beyond the ordinary. It is always stimulating to create sounds and rhythmic patterns which are exceptional. I love doing these things. Very often,mujheaisalagtahai, kimain sounds kesathkuchaisakaroonjopehlekisi ne nakiyaho… and it is this quest for discovering new sounds through new surfaces with my hands that egg me on constantly.
- Have you also composed music for Stage and theatre?
Oh yes! I’ve composed music for a lot of Gujarati plays. I also did the music for Feroz Khan’s Salgirah, The Royal Hunt of the Sun AlyquePadamsee Begum Sumroo, andRahul D’cunha. The challenge in composing for theatre is that you have to sit and watch the rehearsals, the movement, the mood, the space, the characters and the timings before composing the music. It is live action on stage; therefore the composer has to totally understand the nuances of stage performance.
- Your views about present-day music, musicians and composers
Earlier it was easier to identify the singers, musicians and composers. Today, the lifespan has become shorter and when I hear a singer, I can’t identify. There is too much of cloning. It’s very important for musicians and singers to have their own identity and individuality if newbies have to survive and carve their own niche in this highly competitive industry. Undoubtedly the melodic structure is picking up, but being old-school, I feel there is unfortunately no lasting impression that is created. So that needs to change.
- Rhydhun, Surya, Mumbai Stamp… What’s coming up next?
Well, I am planning a single track for Mumbai Stamp. This band has become very popular, so a single track for our admirers and audiences…I also want to do a proper solo track on djembe for my listeners. I am also composing a few things which are still under wraps… so I’ll spring some surprises soon.
- In the midst of your busy schedule criss-crossing the globe as a performer, composer,how much time do you give to TaufiqQureshi the husband and TaufiqQureshi the father?
A considerable amount of time I am able to give to my son ShikharNaad when he is doing his riyaz. He accompanies me for recordings, concerts so we bond a lot. My son and I also share a passion for movies. So if there is any spare time, we just go to a movie theatre and catch up on a movie. I haven’t really given that much time to Geetika, my wife. But when I am in town, we make it a point to have our meals together and also go for a vacation either up North in India (the vision of the Himalayas is awe inspiring) or England which is one ofour favourite holiday destination. Of course it is music which binds us together.
Between 11.30 at night to 3 am I would ideally dedicate to my riyaz, my composing, I’d like to think and feel music, so that’s my ME time with my music.
- A lesson which you have learnt from Abbaji and your elder brother ZakirBhai…
Abbaji’s guru mantra to me has always been “Always remain a Shagird (Learner). Then the urge to learn more and bring perfection to your Art will be there. The day you feel you know it all, this life as an artist ends.” Zakirbhai has taught me lessons in humility; he always respects every one, old and young. His love for life, people and music is all-pervasive.
GhatamVidhwanVikkuVinayakramji the ace South Indian percussionist has also been an inspiration, always giving: whether it is his music, or his philosophy of life or his simplicity…he loves to give.
As we near the end of the tete-a- tete, Taufiq bhai draws his djembe back to himself and his fingers weave the magic of rhythmic patterns at incredibly phenomenal speed and precision, his eyes shut as if in meditation and his lips say the silent bols as if in prayer…