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Imagine, for a moment, that there are whole worlds of music about which you know nothing. Stars rise and fall in these other spheres, completely uninfluenced by the mechanisms of popular Western music. From time to time, one artist will galvanize an entire nation; one song will become an intrinsic part of cultural identity. While they may speak another language, both literally and figuratively, the artists who create these works draw their inspiration from the same human concerns as do the more familiar voices of our Western musical heritage. This deep affinity provides a much surer translation than any travel dictionary or phrase book.
Classical tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain stands as a testament to the power of musical expression to make the foreign familiar, like a cultural ambassadorship through sound and rhythm. He blends a rigorous study of classical forms with a willingness to experiment with new sounds and moods. In other words, Hussain's music is at once a vital part of Indian cultural identity as well as a vibrant form of outreach. This was recently evidenced by his commission from the Indian government to compose a song commemorating the nation's 60 years of independence, and earlier, by his role as co-composer of the opening music for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. If only all diplomacy sounded this good.