Tabla master Zakir Hussain made his first cross-cultural appearance on an early-'70s George Harrison solo album. In the years since he's graced some of the finest East-meets-West projects with players such as Mickey Hart, John McLaughlin, Charles Lloyd and, last year at the Modlin Center, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer.
Hussein's instrument — two small drums, one wood, one metal, each with a circle of iron and gum in the middle of its stretched skin head, seem able to slip into any music, their melodic complexities of rhythm as soft as a tumbling stream and as sharp as a gunshot.
Hussein is a great collaborator, but of the roughly 120 performances he's involved in every year, more than half are pure, traditional Indian classical music. He returns to India every winter for 30 to 40 concerts. “That is where I draw my information and keep up my chops,” Hussain said last year in a telephone interview prior to his University of Richmond appearance. “It needs to be done to keep up my identity. It is improvised music, the more you do, the more you see.”
His single performance at the Folk Festival, on Friday night, will be a rare opportunity for audiences to see one of the world's great virtuosos, for West to meet East well more than halfway.