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A Uniquely Indian Evening


It was billed as "Maestros in Concert" and the Zakir Hussain and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma concert at the Pabst Theater on Friday, March 20th did not disappoint.  

I was familiar with Zakir Hussain from my parents music collection and his collaboration with Mikey Hart on the Planet Drum and Global Drum Project, the former of which won a Grammy February 2009 for Best Contemporary World Music. I had not heard of Shiv Kumar Sharma or his instrument the santoor before. It turns out the santoor is a lesser known Kashmiri folk instrument that Sharma's skill and celebrity is helping popularize. Sharma has stated that the decision to learn the santoor was his father's decision, and his son Rahul is now carrying on the tradition.

The first thing that struck me about the evening was the unique Indian-ness of everything. First, the queues. Indians love to queue up and this was no exception. Immediately upon getting to the theater we had to get into a long line for our tickets. This was somewhat concerning because we were running late, the show started at eight and we had less than five minutes to go before show time. My sister commented that we shouldn't worry because the show was probably running on IST, or Indian Standard Time. This is an inside joke for people traveling to India. Invariably everything is delayed.  If you have any traveling arrangements, they are going to be late, if you have a meeting it will start late and end late. People have the best of intentions and learn to live with this, if someone tells you to give them thirty rupees and they will return in five minutes with a pot of tea, you can trust them to return, but it will take a half hour. Everything eventually works out, it is just delayed. My sister's intuition was correct and we made it with enough time to get refreshments and meet and greet a number of local Indian business owners and professionals, including Dinesh Sanghavi, owner of Indian Groceries and Spices and Laxman Rao, local restaurateur.  After the show started we were treated to an introduction by an Indian Music Society Rep and the head of the Indian Consulate in Chicago, who reminded us all that he is there to facilitate any of our needs. And then the magic began.

After a short tuning session which Hussain stated was uncharacteristically long, Sharma began with a long introduction unaccompanied by Hussain. The santoor had a beautiful sound, like a melancholy harp with a definite Indian edge.  There was an amazing range of sound that came from this delicate stringed instrument, and Sharma had a look of a very serious and somewhat aloof artist who was concentrating intently to make his perfect sound. After ten plus minutes of this meandering mesmerizing song Hussain burst in with a perfectly punctuating blast of tabla. The evening went on with the perfect interplay of two master artists, two instruments keeping a full house of people transfixed. The evening flew by quickly, building into a crescendo with Sharmas measured, balanced, mature sound of the santoor accompanied by Hussain's frenzied, powerful, and genius tabla playing.

The evening was beautiful, it was a true "Maestros in Concert."  Ravi Shankar played a small show in Milwaukee a few years ago, and the skill and the acclaim of these artists is no less. We are lucky to have such greats play here in Milwaukee, and I hope this tradition of world class Indian music in Milwaukee continues.

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