Pathbreaking Percussionist and Pioneer of the Djembe in India
Ustad Taufiq Qureshi is a man of myriad talent – he is an Indian classical musician, a percussionist, a composer, and the ‘Father of the Djembe’ in India, not without good reason! At the beginning of the millennium when the Djembe was unheard of in the country, Taufiq introduced it in the Indian music scene. Thanks to his conviction, it not only found popular acceptance but also appreciation from the stalwarts of classical music.
Today, Taufiq is globally recognised for his pioneering efforts of bringing the Indian Rhythms onto the African Djembe. Yet, his journey was one fraught with risk and flak.
Born in Mumbai to legendary tabla player Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi
and younger brother to tabla exponent Ustad Zakir Hussain, Taufiq
received his taalim in tabla from his father. Taufiq Qureshi was already performing tabla and the likes of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra and Ustad Sultan Khan. Yet, the vast world of
percussion always beckoned him. Giving in to his heart’s calling, he
decided to explore various international percussion instruments. Later in life, he was fortunate to get the guidance of Vidhwaan Vikku Vinayakramji, for south indian retham.
“For me, the A to Z of tabla was Abbaji to Zakir bhai, and so I wanted to explore a different language. In my mind, tabla has the highest reverence and esteem. It would have been unfair to play anything side-by-side with it. And thus, I kept the tabla aside with honesty and conviction to pursue my love of percussion. I then began my journey with Abbaji’s knowledge, for his teachings were my only capital,” says Taufiq.
The tabla is an extremely versatile instrument. Within the early days of exploring instruments like the Bongo, Duff, and Batajon, Taufiq realised that he needed an instrument which was his own; on which he could define the frequencies of tabla. It was during this period that Zakir bhai, aware of Taufiq’s love for percussion, brought back a Djembe from one of his international trips. Once Taufiq discovered that the Djembe had 3 frequencies – high, mid and lows, he started exploring it with single minded devotion.
This is how Taufiq became the first artiste to incorporate the rhythm of the table on the Djembe. His phenomenal skill has gone a long way in the Djembe’s recognition on the music and concert scene in India, and is inspiring a new generation of percussionists across the country. Taufiq himself has been teaching the Djembe for more than 22 years as he feels, “it is the duty of a musician to pass on the legacy”.
According to his wife Geetika Varde Qureshi, herself an accomplished Indian classical vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, what really makes Taufiq one of the greatest percussionists in the country, is his ability to extract the best possible sound from any surface. “If you give him a brass pot for instance, he will know exactly where to hit and which finger to use to get the best sound, and that makes him a master of his skill,” she shares proudly.
Taufiq’s sense of tone and command over a wide variety of percussion instruments is truly exceptional. This quality has also made him an award-winning rhythm-programmer, arranger-composer and percussionist in the world of studio recordings (film background scores, TV serials, ad-jingles and albums).
In 2000, he released his milestone album ‘Rhydhun’, which was the first-of-its-kind in India to bring World Music on an album with no particular theme or songs. It ran into multiple platinum sales and international releases, and is highly heard even today. In 2009, he was featured as a performing artiste on the Grammy Award-winning album – Global Drum Project.
He continues to collaborate with various classical and international artists for fusion concerts all over the globe. He has conceived the most unique band ever seen in India: Mumbai Stamp, which comprises 5-6 drummers who play on all sorts of waste materials like bins, cans, tin boxes, buckets, etc. In addition, he conceived: Surya, a collaborative fusion band, where the music is mainly improvised and spontaneous, in keeping true to the ethos of Indian music.
With pathbreaking talent such as his, Taufiq has been globally honoured at the biggest music stages. He won a Gold at the Cannes Film Festival (2010–11) for Best Music for the Indian Railways Jingle; and a Gold at the London International Awards – LasVegas (2013) for Original Music for the Nike Jingle – Parallel Journey.
Ustad Taufiq Qureshi has been frequently referred to as a game-changer and King of Percussions, but he personally believes that the journey of learning goes on… he strives to evolve in the ever inspiring world of rhythm and melody.