Ustad Alla Rakha Khan was a legend, an undisputed monarch and an icon of the Hindustani classical music. Affectionately called as 'Abbaji', Alla Rakha, was instrumental in introducing the Hindustani classical music to the audience of the West. Alla Rakha was the father of the legendary Tabla player Ustad Zakir Hussain.
Ustad Alla Rakha Khan popularized the art of Tabla, introduced it to the world by playing it across the globe and winning hearts of millions with his magical fingers. The Ustad is remembered for his performances and accomplishments with legendary Sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar. Their 'jugalbandi' during the 60s delighted the audience worldwide.
Alla Rakha was born on 29 April 1919 in Ghagwal, Jammu and Kashmir. From a tender age of 12, Alla Rakha was fascinated with the sound and rhythm of Tabla. His interest and dedication towards Tabla led him to become a disciple of Mian Kader Baksh of the Punjab Gharana. Alla Rakha studied voice and Raag Vidya under the tutelage of Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana.
Alla Rakha was married to Bavi Begum and the couple was blessed with three sons, Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi, Taufiq Qureshi and two daughters, Khurshid Aulia née Qureshi and Razia. After the death of his daughter Razia, Alla Rakha was deeply shattered. From a relationship with a woman in Pakistan Alla Rakha fathered a daughter, Roohi Bano, who was a popular TV actress.
Alla Rakha began his Tabla career in Lahore as an accompanist. In 1940, he joined the All India Radio, Bombay, as a staffer. He played All India Radio's first ever Tabla solo. From 1943–48 he composed music for a couple of Hindi films. Alla Rakha played as an accompanist for soloists like Ravi Shankar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan, Allauddin Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and Vasant Rai.
Alla Rakha's most notable achievement was his accompaniment with Sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar. The 'jugalbandi' of the two masters of music created a craze among the audiences in the West during the 1960s. Alla Rakha also received huge fame as a soloist where he was a master. Alla Rakha and Ravi Shankar’s spellbinding performances at the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and the Woodstock Festival (1969) facilitated to introduce classical Indian music to general Western audiences, who were thrilled to the core after attending the shows. The duo was also a part of the George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, held in 1971 in New York. Once in an interview Alla Rakha said when he played outside India, it was his aim to showcase the beauty of the Indian classical music over the western world. For his profound love for Tabla he said, "This is the language I know." Alla Rakha also gave immortal 'jugalbandi' performances with with Pandit Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi and Ustad Bismillah Khan.
Alla Rakha bridged the gap between Hindustani music and Carnatic music by playing with both the Gharanas. Alla Rakha also collaborated with jazz drummer Buddy Rich on the album Rich à la Rakha in 1968. In praise of Rakha, Hart, a published authority on percussion in world music, said, "Alla Rakha is the Einstein, the Picasso; he is the highest form of rhythmic development on this planet."
'Abbaji', as he was affectionately called by his disciples, was also a selfless 'guru'. He was Guru to Zakir Hussain, Sankha Chatterjee, Prafulla Athalye, Aditya Kalyanpur, Yogesh Samsi, Nishikant Barodekar, Anuradha Pal, Uday Ramdas, Taufiq Qureshi and Fazal Qureshi. American percussionists in rock n' roll, the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, used to admire him and even learned the master's technique from personal meetings.
Ill Health and Death:
Alla Rakha died on 3 February 2000. He suffered from a severe heart attack when he learned about the death of his daughter, Razia. Unable to bear the shock of the sudden death of his daughter, Ustad parted ways from the world. The Tabla maestro was buried at the Mahim Kabrastan.
Words and Wishes:
On the death of Ustad Alla Rakha several people paid their tribute to the departed soul. Some of the famous tributes were:
Atal Bihari Vajpayee: "The country has lost an accomplished maestro whose mastery over the Tabla created waves all over the world."
K R Narayanan: With Khan's demise "an uncommon pulsation has been stilled. His wrists, palms and fingers produced from the Tabla a percussion of magical quality which maintained the tenor and tempo of India's uniquely assimilative musical culture."
S. M. Krishna: ''In his death the Nation has lost a great artiste of tall order.''
Awards and Recognition:
In recognition for his contribution to Indian Classical Music the Government of India honored Ustad Alla Rakha with Padma Shri in 1977. Alla Rakha received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1982. He was also conferred with the T. Chowdaiah Award, instituted by the Karnataka Government.
Sons: Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi
Daughter: Khurshida Qureshi
Daughter in Laws:
Antonia Minnecola, Geetika Varde
Anisa Qureshi, Isabella Qureshi, Shikhar Naad
(FAN OF Ustad QURESHI ALLA RAKHA KHAN)
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