Mysteries of the Muse

music-lead-1512-Zakir-HussainZakir Hussain digs into our collective music unconscious for ‘Pulse of the World: Celtic Connections’

By Jed Friedland

Music is one of the arts of the Muses. It is expressed as a universal language, articulable in a vast array of dialects, all instantly translated by the human ear regardless of shape, size or color. And the Muses are fickle. Like any language, music can run deep or hang in the shallows, from Beethoven to Milli Vanilli. Same language, different message.  

Imagine music so lucid that a single phrase instantaneously unlocks spectacular treasures at the core of universal human understanding, like a primordial skeleton key.

On March 31 at the Rio Theatre, Zakir Hussain’s Pulse of the World: Celtic Connections will deliver that experience. The common musical threads of India and the Celtic Nations are highlighted by an unlikely amalgam of modern masters of tabla, bamboo flute, flute, pipes, violin, fiddle, guitar and bodhran in a fusion of styles that is surprisingly organic and eerily familiar. The voices of these instruments are rooted in the folk history of their respective regions as transmitted by lineage down the generations.

Zakir Hussain is the son of Alla Rakha, lifelong tabla accompanist to the great Ravi Shankar. Unlike many children of musical superstars, Hussain has surpassed the achievements of his virtuoso father, leaping the gap with a fresh message while preserving the jewels of the dynasty.

This composer, producer and tabla player, perhaps best known as a founding member of the jazz super-group Shakti with John McLaughlin, has worked across genres with the Grateful Dead, George Harrison, Van Morrison, Ravi Shankar, Yo Yo Ma, Pat Martino, and just about every major Carnatic (classical) musician in India. He is the recipient of more than a dozen prestigious awards, including the United States’ National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from India’s National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, and multiple Grammys to name a few.

Melding musical styles of disparate cultures might seem random or contrived, but there is a commonality in tone, texture, timbre and theme that is ubiquitous in the folk music of every continent and epoch. Consider another corollary from the visual arts, where the ouroboros (serpent eating its own tail) appears in the cultural lexicon of every continent simultaneously. Is it simply the similarity of human behavior, experience and values that coincidentally resulted in parallel development of artistic expression across disconnected cultures? Or is there a deeper connection?  

Tracing cultural interconnectivity and the source of human creativity is a legitimate topic of inquiry that has set the ivory tower abuzz for centuries. Archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, geneticists, biologists, geologists, ecologists, mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers have all chimed in with published theories ranging from pragmatic and nongenetic views of sociocultural evolution and the implications of plate tectonics, to the more sacred perspectives of Earth Grid theory, Hartmann Net, Cury Lines, Gaia Hypothesis, Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics 2, and concepts of collective unconscious — to name a few. Old agers and new agers alike all seem to have something to say on the subject.

It is no coincidence that Hussain’s latest project “Pulse of the World” infers a living world. Earth Mother as a living planet is an essential concept in countless cultures. Even Western science has confirmed that planet Earth actually has a pulse, known as the Schumann Resonance which sounds at 7.8 hz. Why would this matter? The notion of “connections” (in this case Celtic) suggests more than just a coincidental congruence of artistic form and expression, rather a more significant association, something that can be traced back through the Earth to the Muse herself.

What or who exactly is this Muse? She is at the root of inspiration itself and, like us, equally of the Earth and the cosmos. The physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological impetus driving human creation, wherever it originates, is the very same Muse. She is hardwired through our humanity and the geometry and energetics of our planet and perhaps as much a part of our genetic make-up as our exposure to common external forces. Pulse of the World: Celtic Connections taps the primal pool where the Muse gives freely with a natural and timeless grace.  

Hussain’s band is the Rosetta Stone for decoding the mysteries of cross-cultural music magic, as past and future implode, dissolving the continuum into the present. Mathematically dense rhythmic structures float playful melodies that blossom like lotuses on a lazy river. Wipe away the amnesia, prepare to be uplifted, inspired and reminded of truths you have long forgotten.

Info: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 31, Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz; $35 ($50 gold circle).

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