KAILUA-KONA — It’s not every day on the Big Island audiences get to experience the live music of someone deemed a national treasure in their homeland.
But that’s what will happen at 7 p.m. Friday when Zakir Hussain, a percussionist and Indian tabla master, will be performing on the stage of the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea, far from his native India and far from the many influential and famous musicians he has worked with in his career.
But Hawaii has a way of reminding Hussain of home.
“It’s one of the most beautiful spots on the Earth. My daughter got married on Maui, so it has a special spot in my heart,” Hussain said. “And it reminds me of my home in India, the tropical climate and the humidity, just like the city I grew up in. My city was right by the sea, and I swam in that ocean all the time, so Hawaii is similar.”
The percussionist previously toured the islands with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra to perform a triple concerto he wrote for the orchestra in 2009.
“The people are so laid back and tolerant of whatever it is that people bring to them on the island from the mainland,” Hussain said. “Their openness to be able to accept whatever you bring to the island is very encouraging and a source of confidence on stage.”
Joined by sitarist Niladri Kumar, Hussain doesn’t have a set list for his upcoming performance. Instead, audiences will see the two musicians play whatever comes to their minds as they create the music on stage.
“The thing about music that comes from India is that we learn improvising from a very young age when we are learning how to play our music,” Hussain said. “The major part of the music is based in improvising, and spontaneously creating on stage.”
Not that Hussain doesn’t have a long body of work to pull from.
As the son of a tabla master, Alla Rakha, Hussain was considered a child prodigy, becoming a professional percussionist in India by the time he was 12.
“When you are in a musician’s house in India, especially if you are the first son of the family, which I am, the main concern for the father was that the knowledge should be passed on to me, so my training started early,” Hussain said. “My mother told me that from the first day I was brought home from the hospital after being born, my father used to hold me in his arms and sing rhythms in my ear.
“By the time I was 7, I was already playing.”
Since then, Hussain has played tabla with musicians such as Van Morrison, George Harrison, and the Grateful Dead. He has also played on the soundtracks of famous films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now.”
When asked about his talent and career, however, Hussain remained humble and credits luck and circumstances.
“It’s just been an amazing career so far,” Hussain said. “Being in the right place and the right time comes to mind, because there were other percussionists around, too, I just happened to be in the right place when somebody thought of using an Indian percussionists. I feel very lucky, and the learning continues.”
Info: Tickets to Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar are $65/$45/$25 and can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org.