Ustad Alla Rakha, the most important tabla drummer of his
generation, died Thursday at his home in Bombay. He was 80.
He had a heart attack when he learned of the death of his daughter Razia
during cataract surgery, said a spokesman for Moment Records and
Zakir Hussain Management, which releases albums by Mr. Rakha and
his son Zakir Hussain, who also plays the tabla.
Alla Rakha, who was given the honorific Ustad as a master musician and
teacher, was a virtuoso of the complex system of talas, rhythmic cycles
that are central to Hindustani classical music, and he used his skill to
invigorate every musician who shared the stage with him.
"All life is rhythm," he once said in an interview. Sitting calmly, with
hands a blur of speed above his drums, he traded smiles and dazzling,
incendiary improvisations with leading figures in Indian music, among
them the sitar players Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Ali Akbar Khan.
He was also the first tabla player to give solo concerts.
"The country has lost an accomplished maestro whose mastery over the
tabla created waves all over the world," the prime minister of India, Atal
Bihari Vajpayee, said in a statement. "He strode like a colossus on the
scene of Indian classical music."
Alla Rakha Qureshi was a farmer's son who grew up in a small village in
the Jammu region of Punjab. He was drawn to music and theater as a
child, and began studying music against his parents' wishes.
His first tabla teacher, Lal Mohamed, was a disciple of Mian Qader
Bakshi, a leading musician in the Punjab gharana, or school, of classical
music. When he was 12 he ran away from home to study with Mr.
Bakshi in Lahore, in what is now Pakistan.
He began performing on Lahore Radio, and in 1936 he moved to Delhi
to work for All India Radio, and then to Bombay. During the 1930's he
studied raga singing with Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana.
He also married a cousin, Bavi Begum.
In 1943 he began working in the Bombay film industry as a music
director for Rangmahal Studios, and he provided music for two dozen
films in Hindi and Punjabi.
He performed with Mr. Shankar, who also worked for All India Radio,
in the 1940's, and their partnership carried Hindustani classical music
beyond India's borders.
He made a percussion album with the jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and he
performed with Mr. Shankar at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and
at the first Woodstock festival in 1969.
Although he occasionally collaborated with Western musicians, he was
revered for his classical performances.
In recent years he had devoted much of his time to teaching. His three
sons -- Mr. Hussain, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi -- are all tabla
players, and he ran a music school, the Alla Rakha Institute of Music,
Bombay. He estimated that he had hundreds of students.
In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by another daughter,
Kurshid Aulia of London, and nine grandchildren.