On Friday, March 9th, three distinguished artists came to perform at the Slosberg Music Center. MusicUnitesUs invited the celebrated Afghan rubab player Homayun Sakhi, the internationally acclaimed sarod artist Ken Zuckerman and the highly popular tabla player Salar Nader in an effort to bring together Afghan and North Indian raga. The concert was an experiment to see how two solo instruments ( the rubab and the sarod) could collaborate as a duo and successfully cross cultural and generational boundaries. Usually, only one melodic solo instrument is featured in traditional classical ragas, however in this concert the audience had the unusual and exquisite treat to hear the play between two masterfully played leading instruments. It was a new experience for lay listeners and scholars of the field alike.
I grew up with Ken Zuckerman’s CDs on repeat, playing and going to school with his children and spending many Sundays at their home to attend his house concerts. While I am by no means an expert of classical Indian music, I have been exposed to Zuckerman’s playing for over twenty years. In these years I have never heard him play in this way – I witnessed true musical genius by all three artists. As I am a trained professional musician myself, I am generally rather sensitive to musical detail. This allowed me to take note of a number of intricacies during this concert: Not only was Zuckerman’s style changed by the musical encounter with the fellow master musicians, but culturally influenced stylistic differences, rhythmic play, unusual melodic details and perhaps generational style differences came to light. At times, these differences posed challenges for the players, nonetheless they eventually did settle into their improvisation and found a way to have their instruments communicate beautifully and seemingly effortlessly. The music I got to enjoy was unbelievably dynamic, driven by the young, fast-paced tabla player (Nader) and the contemporary and highly stylized playing of Sakhi. As Zuckerman put it over coffee the day before, his more “romantic and melodic” style provided a strong line to help fuse the various styles. I felt, he provided a much needed and breath-taking simplicity to the improvisations. In my opinion, he also helped to keep the younger musicians from over-playing and the over usage of musical tricks, which is common in contemporary music around the globe. At the same time, he never appear overly simplistic himself and remained true to his own style. The three men found a way to strike a balance between simplicity and elaborate technique and musical trickery. By the end of the night, the three musicians achieved to blend styles in an incredibly fun and uplifting way, leaving the audience invigorated and on their feet for two standing ovations.