Q. How did your musical journey begin? At what age did you start your formal training and under whom?
A. My musical journey began before I was born. I think the Almighty had predestined that an artiste would be born. The moment I took birth, my father, Ustad Rashid Mustafa Thirakwa, completed the ritual and recited azaan in my ears and after that he took my hand and made me touch the amazing world of rhythm that is the tabla. That is when he became my guru and I soon realised that I would be carrying forward the thirakwa legacy. That was my first lesson. But as I was growing up, my father used to be very busy and hardly stayed at home. Then my mother Bably Mustafa became my guru and supported me when I needed it the most. I give her a lot of credit for making me what I am today. Soon after my birth, my maternal grandfather Ustad Sabri Khan Sahib (sarangi legend and Padmabhushan Awardee) told my father that I would be a singer as well. My father did not realise it then but the prophecy came true and I am pursuing singing too. So my training started when I was four or five years old, under the guidance of my guru, my father Ustad Rashid Mustafa Thirakwa.
Q. These days the younger generations seem to be more inclined towards Western forms of music and instruments. What is the future of the tabla in such turbulent times?
A. I think the tabla has a very bright future as it is being used in every kind of music all around the world. I agree that the young generation is steering more towards Western music. I personally feel that every instrument is equally difficult to play and I love and respect each of them, but the kind of hardwork the tabla demands is way too much as it needs many years of practice and a lot of patience and unwavering dedication towards your guru and your instrument. But at the same time, I am happy to say that I see many youngsters taking up this instrument very seriously and are ready to pursue this professionally.
Q. You have performed in numerous concerts with your father Ustad Rashid Mustafa Thirakwa? What have you learnt from him?
A. It’s been a long time since I have been performing with my father and wherever we have performed,people have showered immense love and appreciation. Throughout this journey, I have learnt a lot of things from him. I always treat myself as his student rather than his son especially on stage and in our music room and whenever we talk about music. He always tells me about my legendary grandfather — some people call him ‘‘the God of tabla’’ — Ustad Ahmadjan Thirakwa sahab. I get to listen to his stories from my father and those inspire me a lot and help me realise the huge responsibility that I am carrying on my shoulders.
Q. What steps could be taken to get more children interesting in learning the tabla?
A. I think kids should be given the freedom to choose their fields of interest, just as I was left free to decide for myself and my family never pressurised me for anything. They did not burden me. However, we can try to develop their interest by making them listen to an instrument or by teaching them how to play it during their formative years because that is the time when the kid sees everything and realises what is good and bad for him or her. Parents can do their bit by supporting their child’s decision.
“I personally feel that every instrument is equally difficult to play and I love and respect each of them, but the kind of hardwork the tabla demands is way too much as it needs many years of practice and a lot of patience and unwavering dedication towards your guru and your instrument. But at the same time, I am happy to say that I see many youngsters taking up this instrument very seriously and are ready to pursue this professionally.”
Q. The tabla is today an important instrument in fusion music? What is your take on this?
A. I totally agree that the tabla is an essential part of fusion music nowadays. Apart from Indian classical forms, the tabla has become a very important and essential part of world music. Fortunately, it has been many years since I have been playing with jazz and blues musicians. I travel to different cities and countries with different musicians from all around the world.
I feel the point in all this is not merely about exchanging our music or thoughts, it is about knowing more about each other’s culture. The whole thing is challenging yet very interesting because every time I play with some other musician from any other part of the world, I grow more and more myself, musically.
Q. Can you enlist the qualities a good table player should have?
A. Every artiste and not only a tabla player should understand the instrument he or she plays, they should be able to feel the instrument. My father and mother made sure that I become a good human being above everything. They always said that anyone can be a good tabla player or a good artiste but not everyone can be a good human being. They taught me that if someone said that I am a good tabla player or a great artiste, I should not get carried away or feel that I have achieved a lot. But when I am able to help somebody — even if not in a big way but just enough to bring a smile on someone’s face — that would be my true achievement. This has helped me in becoming a better human being. Also, a tabla player needs to gauge the audience’s mood and when accompanying another artiste, he or she should be able to feel the mood of that artiste.
Q. You have received various scholarships from the government of India. Do you think the state has a responsibility to support and promote its artists? Is the government doing enough? If not, what more needs to be done?
A. I have received prestigious scholarships from the Sahitya Kala Parishad which is at the state level, and from Ministry of Culture at the national level. Out of many tabla players from all over the country, I was the only one who received the Ministry of Culture scholarship. Scholarships like these play an important role in boosting the confidence and of course getting recognition to many young artistes. However, the Government should make more efforts to support young artistes and give them opportunities to perform at various music festivals conducted by the Delhi government or other state governments. Also, the government should provide aid to young music or dance students who cannot afford to a good music or dance institute. I think that would be a great initiative to help develop everyone’s interest in art.
Q. You belong to the fifth generation of the Farrukhabad gharana. How do you plan to take this legacy forward?
A. Being the fifth generation of my family, carrying the legacy forward is way too hard to think about and it is a huge responsibility. As of now, I am not planning anything for the future. I am leaving everything on God or destiny, but whatever I do in the field of the tabla and in singing, I hope I will be able to keep up my family’s name. I would always like to make my family proud.
Q. Bollywood is a big platform for musicians. Do you think that the film industry is making enough use of Indian classical music? Are you doing any work with Bollywood?
A. Bollywood is a big music industry and is creating amazing music too. As of now, I have not planned anything about going into Bollywood because my main focus is somewhere else. I am leaving everything on destiny and will just go with the flow. I wanted to go for acting and I actually had received an offer from a Tamil movie some two years ago, but I refused because it needed a lot of time and then I felt it was not the right time. Let me see what destiny has decided for me.
Q. Are you planning some future concerts or musical collaborations?
A. Yes, for sure. I love collaborating with new artistes as it gets me out of my comfort zone and makes me try something new and different. There is a lot of inter-cultural exchange that takes place. India is a country with a vast and diverse culture and it is always ready to accommodate others. People from other countries, too, love to be a part of India. In the coming days, I will be collaborating with a French guitarist and various other musicians and dancers from other parts of the world.