Tabla is a pair of small percussion instrument that has become a must in any Indian musical or dance performance. Yet amongst other musical instruments it is not held in high esteem. This general impression of people was changed and the status of Tabla was uplifted by this maestro who performed all over the world!
Allarakha Qureshi, popularly known as Ustad Allah Rakha, was an Indian Tabla Maestro. He was a Hindustani Classical musician and often gave accompaniment to Sitar Maestro Ravi Shankar. He was awarded one of the highest civilian honor, the Padma Shri in 1977, by the Government of India.
Childhood and Early Life
Allah Rakha was born on 29 April 1919, in Ghagwal, Jammu and Kashmir, British India. His family spoke Dogri. His father Hashim Ali was a retired army man and worked as a farmer. Allah Rakha was the eldest of the seven siblings and his father did not want him to pursue music as a career. One of his brother, Sabir Rakha, was also a Tabla player.
When he was 12 year old, he visited his uncles at Gurdaspur. There he became fascinated with the Tabla and its sound and rhythm. He ran away from home to Lahore and became a disciple of Mian Kader Baksh Pakhwji of the Punjab gharana, an eminent Tabla Master. Later, in 1938, he also learnt Vocal Music and Raag Vidya from Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana. He practiced for hours with full dedication.
The Melodious Journey of His Musical Career
- Allah Rakha began his career in 1930 as a Tabla Player with All India Radio at Lahore.
- In 1936, he joined All India Radio in Delhi and in 1940 moved to Bombay as AIR staffer.
- He was AIR’s first artist to play solo the Tabla, and gave the instrument an elevated position among other musical instruments.
- From 1943 to 1948, he composed music for films. He was the music director for Rangmahal Studios, and provided music for two dozen films in Hindi and Punjabi.
- He continued to play accompaniments for maestros like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Allauddin Khan, Vilayat Khan, Vasant Rai, Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and many more. He has also worked with renowned Kathak dancers like Sitara Devi and Birju Maharaj.
Global Influence as a Tabla Player
In the 1960’s, during Ravi Shankar’s world tours, he was the chief accompanist who delighted audiences with his wizardry and magical flourish on the instrument.
At the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969, his partnership with the sitar maestro left the audience spellbound and helped introduce Indian classical music to the audience in the West.
While at home in India, Alla Rakha brought closer Carnatic and Hindustani music by playing with stalwarts from both genres; he popularized the art of Tabla across the globe.
Alla Rakha collaborated with many American rock and roll artists of the 1960s and the 1970s.
In 1967 at the Monterey International Pop Festival Hell’s Angels member Terry The Tramp performed together.
In 1968, Rakha collaborated with jazz drummer Buddy Rich and came out with an album Rich à la Rakha.
In 1972, leading American rock n’ roll percussionists like the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart also collaborated with him for Rolling Thunder.
During the August 1971 in New York city during the Beatles’ George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh shows, Rakha was part of the ensemble accompanying Ravi Shankar. Live albums and the concert films of these maestros playing together, made the large gatherings appreciate Indian classical music.
Spreading His Musical Legacy
In 1986, the Ustad established the Allarakha Institute of Music in Bombay. Allarakha was affectionately called “Abbaji” by his disciples. He taught music to Shankha Chatterjee, Yogesh Samsi, Prafulla Athalye, Aditya Kalyanpur, Anuradha Pal, Nishikant Barodekar, Uday Ramdas, Shyam Kane, and to his sons Taufiq Qureshi and Fazal Qureshi. His eldest son, Zakir Hussain has already become a Tabla virtuoso.
Awards and Achievements
He has been a recipient of many awards in India and abroad; including the Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar. In 1977, Allarakha was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India. In 1982, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.
Personal Life and Sad Demise
Allarakha was married to Bavi Begum and the couple were blessed with three sons, Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi; and two daughters, Khurshid and Razia. He later married a Pakistani lady and had a daughter Roohi Bano and son Sabir.
On 3 February 2000, Allah Rakha suffered a heart attack on learning the sad news of the death of his daughter Razia the previous day. He died at his Simla House residence on Nepean Sea Road, Mumbai. The Indian music world was stunned to hear the shocking news and people lined up to pay their last homage.
He continued to perform till his last days. His dazzlingly awe-inspiring performances made the Tabla a familiar and recognizable percussion instrument around the world. Ustad Allarakha was an incredible maestro who brought his musical instrument a stature and respect it never before enjoyed.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah