From the village Ghagwal, near the town of Samba, about 40 km from Jammu, Allarakha Qureshi got his hands on Tabla as a child musical prodigy.
Born on April 29, 1919, in this small border village on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, Alla Rakha, as he is popularly known, became a world-renowned tabla player. During his concert performances in India and abroad, he was a frequent accompanist of sitar maestro Ravi Shanker.
Alla Rakha’s mother tongue was Dogri, as he belonged to the Muslim Dogra community of the Jammu region.
He started playing Tabla at a very early stage of his childhood. But his father disapproved of his interest. Finding some hard times to indulge in his passion, Alla Rakha ran away from his home to stay with his uncle in Gurdaspur, Punjab, when he was only 12. He did not get much encouragement to seek shelter with tabla maestros in Patiala. His regimen of practice and dedication was legendary: hours upon hours of hard, disciplined training that later paid off.
The young Alla Rakha began his musical career as an accompanist in Lahore and then as a staffer with All India Radio in 1936. Later he moved to Bombay in 1940, playing the station’s first-ever tabla solo and elevating the instrument’s position.
As a vocalist in classical Indian music, he started composing music for films under A. R. Qureshi. He composed the music for 23 films between 1943 and 1964.
However, his main interest stayed with Tabla. Besides Ravi Shanker, he played with such musical stalwarts as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Vilayat Khan.
As a soloist tabla player, Alla Rakha was a master in the art of percussion.
A leading American percussionist, Mickey Hart, who keenly studied his technique, said, “Allah Rakha is the Einstein, the Picasso; he is the highest form of rhythmic development on this planet.”
The New York Times called him “the most important tabla drummer of his generation in his obituary.”
His followers and students gave him the title of Ustad, or master musician teacher in the art of tabla playing.
Alla Rakha was married to his cousin Bavi Begum. One of his three sons, Zakir Hussain, is a world-renowned tabla player.
Ustad Alla Rakha died on February 3, 2000, in Bombay.
Growing up as a farm boy from Samba, Alla Rakha is a legend in the world of tabla percussion music.
by Promod Puri