Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood
born 1916, died 1992

A Tribute to my Gurudev

by Betrabet Prabhakar Rao

Shaik Dawood Khan

Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan was born on the 16th of December 1916 in Sholapur.  His father Hashim Sahib was a draughtsman in the PWD (Public Works Dept.), Bijapur.

Right from the age of three years, he showed a keen interest towards music and rhythm.  The indulgent father purchased for his thee year old son a small pair of tabla and a tasha to play with.  His father took him to dramas regularly.  The dramas in those days were entirely musical and this had a profound influence on Dawood Sahib.  His grasping powers were such that he would be able to render the songs that he had heard the previous night.

At the age of eight years, Dawood Sahib was initiated into vocal music and the rudiments of tabla by Ameer Quawwal, a classical vocalist and traditional Natiya Quawwal of Sholapur.  Ustad Khasim Sahib, who was a Zamindar of Sholapur and Sufi by nature, used to organize spiritual discourses every thursday.  Ameer Quawwal used to sing quawalis and Dawood used to sing and play tabla.  It was at these meetings that Dawood Sahib used to come into contact with Ustad Khasim Sahib.  Those were the days when Ustad never took anyone as a disciple readily.  In spite of constant meetings for four years, Khasim Sahib did not accept him as a student, but instead suggested that Dawood should learn vocal music and if needed, he would recommend him to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.  Dawood persisted with the request to teach him tabla.  Then one day, when Dawood was 12 years old, Khasim Sahib said "Ok, I will teach you a Gat and if you play it well, I will take you as my disciple". The Gat was:

DhiNa GiDa NaGa DhiNa DhaGe TraKa TooNa KaTha
Ta-KiTa Ta KiTa DhaGe TraKa DhiNa GhiDa NaGa
GhiNa KaTa GheGhe NaGa DhiNa TooNa KiDa NaGa
TaKa DhiNa TaKa DhiNa DhaGe TraKa TooNa KaTha

Dawood Sahib sat the whole night and practiced it hard and rendered the Gat the next day to the fullest satisfaction of Ustad Khasim Sahib.  Thus at the age of 12, Dawood Sahib became his disciple.

Ustad Khasim Sahib always called himself as amateur musician who attained some fame in the region as a tabla accompanist with vocal music and sitar.  Many of the artists of yesteryears like Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Pandit Bhaskar Bua Bakhle, Ustad Shabbu Khan and Ustad Alla Dia Khan the Tabla Nawaz of Hyderabad were his very close friends.  Ustad Mohammed Khasim was a great patron and connoisseur of music, besides being very knowledgeable about tabla.  His gurus were Ustad Ali Dad Khan of Gaya and Ustad Tajammul Hussin of Benares.

One of the most important contributions of Mohammed Khasim is the technique of using the thumb to produce a soft "gamak" on the tabla.  This technique is better understood and appreciated by students of tabla.  This unique technique was further improved and perfected by Dawood Sahib.  The beauty of this technique unfolds while rendering the Peshkar, Laggis, Relas (particularly the ultas and sultas) and the Teental theka to resemble "a well oiled village oil mill".  This is how the eminent sitar maestro Ustad Imrat Hussain described the theka played by Ustad Shaik Dawood.

The art of unobtrusive accompaniment was ingrained into Dawood Sahib early on during the training and by the time he was 18 years he was giving accompaniment to very reputed musician friends of Khasim Sahib who used to frequent Sholapur.  Ustad Abdul Karim Khan took a special liking to Dawood Sahib's accompaniment.  In retrospect, accompaniment to vocal musicians in the early years of his career, perhaps gave Dawood Sahib immense control over the "Vilambit laya", however slow the theka is.

At the age of 20 years Dawood Sahib was invited to accompany some eminent artists by Mr. M. A. Raoof, Programme Executive of Hyderabad Radio Station, (Private Radio Station at the time).  Both Mr. Raoof and Mr. Roshan Ali Mooljee, Music Director at the Radio station were impressed by Dawood Sahib's accompaniment.  He used to make frequent trips to Hyderabad from Sholapur to provide tabla accompaniment to artists performing on Hyderabad Radio.  Such was the demand that Dawood Sahib was persuaded to shift to Hyderabad in 1937 and was offered a permanent job in Hyderabad Radio.

Early Radio Broadcast
Shaik Dawood Khan in early radio broadast

Within months, Hyderabad Radio was taken over by the Nizam from private hands and it became a state institution under Nawab Ali Yavar Jung who was a great connoisseur of music.  Under his patronage and that of Nawab Zaheer Yar Jung Bahadur, minister in charge of religious and cultural affairs, all great musicians at the time were invited and Dawood Sahib provided tabla accompaniment to all these artists.  Such rich experience for a tabla artist of accompanying so many reputed musicians from all over the subcontinent perhaps remains unparalleled.  In fact Dawood Sahib has given tabla accompaniment to artists of three generations.

The musicians whom Dawood Sahib has accompanied during his glorious career spanning over 58 years include Aftab-e-Mausiki Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan (vocal), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Barakat Ali Khan, Roshanara Begum, Abdul Wahid Khan (Begum Akhtar's Guru), Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Sawai Gandharva, Pandit Basawaraj Raj Guru (18 years old at the time), Nazakat Salamat, Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Pandit D. V. Paluskar, Pandit Vinayak Rao Patwardhan, Ustad Allaudin Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan and so on.  The list is endless and includes all of the greatest luminaries of Hindustani music.

Dawood and Ravi Shankar
Shaik Dawood Khan and Ravi Shankar in early performance

Generally, it happens that once an artist reaches the concert stage, his inclination to pursue further learning diminishes, because playing for concerts every now and then drains considerable amount of energy and results in mental fatigue.  But, his thirst for knowledge was such that Dawood Sahib became the disciple of Ustad Alladia Khan, a Tabla Nawaz of seven generations.  Alladia Khan was a vast repository of tabla knowledge.  For 12 years Dawood Sahib assimilated a great amount of tabla knowledge from the maestro.

Dawood Sahib also became the disciple of Alladia Khan's gifted sons, Ustad Mohammed Khan and Ustad Chote Khan.  Ustad Mohammed Khan was a great scholar and taught Dawood Sahib many things, particularly pakhawaj, and compositions which originated from Pandit Naik Nana Panse (the pakhawaj maestro of yesteryears) Mohammed Khan also taught him vocal music, gazal and sitar.

Ustad Mehboob Khan Mairajkar of Pune (a disciple of Ustad Jahangir Khan of Indore) and Dawood Sahib were having a mutual understanding of exchanging knowledge of tabla.  It is on the wish and will of Jahangir Khan (Dawood Sahib's pursuit of knowledge was such that at the age of 45 years, when the whole world was at his feet, as the say) that Dawood Sahib became a disciple of Mahboob Khan.  Mehboob Khan was an erudite scholar and he taught him very rare Gats and other compositions of Punjab and Farukhabad.

Dawood Sahib had an amazing memory and mastery over the enumerable Gats, Mukhadas, chakradars.  Whether it was a five minute recording or one hour solo, the Kaidas, Mukhadas, Gats, Relas, Rangs, Chakradars were reeled off one after the other without a pause or hesitation, not only in Teental but in other tals like pancham savari, rupak, jhaptal, etc.  He has conducted 13 lecture cum demonstration sessions on All India Radio, Hyderabad, in 1954-55 to describe the bol, Shastriya Vistar, Kaidas, etc., from 7 matras to 21 matras.

On account of his versatility and pleasing disposition, he was the most sought after tabaliya both by the artists themselves and also by the organizers and fans alike in all the music conferences.  Whether the need was to play a slow "jhoomra" theka or a fast tempo laggi (for thumri / Dadra singer) or a one hour tabla solo, Dawood Sahib fulfilled the need completely to the satisfaction and delight of the main artists as well as his numerous fans.

About his versatility and repertoire there are any number of examples.  One such is his accompaniment to the Daggar Brothers.  In the 1960's the Daggar Brothers had come on a private visit to Hyderabad.  An AIR (All India Radio) recording was arranged at a very short notice.  A small invited audience was present in the studio (this system was prevalent in those days.  I was one of the attendees).  Dawood Sahib sat with the tabla and we wondered whether the Daggar Brothers would sing Khayal for a change since there was no pakhawaj player on hand.  But no!  They rendered Dhrupad / Dhamar and Dawood Sahib played like a pakhawaj with open hands.  The programme was such a thumping success that after the programme the senior Daggar brother embraced Dawood Sahib and showered his appreciation for his excellent knowledge of pakhawaj.  I wish such recordings were preserved in the archives for the benefit of future generations.

Despite his extremely hectic schedule, Dawood Sahib found time to teach students.  His classes were always on a one-to-one basis to give full individual attention to each student and he never believed in teaching a group of students all at the same time.  He expected only a one time payment of Guru Dakshana during the "Ganda Bandhan" function which was only a modest Rs.251 - (a figure which he refused to increase even in the 1980's) and he never demanded monthly fees.  His students were not only from the length and breadth of the country (India) but also from abroad.  He produced over 150 disciples including Nawab Zaheer Yar Jung Bahadur who was his first disciple.  About 15 of his students have themselves become teachers of tabla in music colleges.  Four of his students are teaching tabla in the USA and one in France.

He was always keen to ensure that his students (who took tabla as a profession) were able to sustain themselves.  He was always eager to give references of his contacts whenever his students went to new towns and cities.

Despite his name and fame, Dawood Sahib always remembered with gratitude all those who were supportive during his formative years.  Whenever such people invited him for providing tabla accompaniment he never demanded any money, even at the pinnacle of his career.  In the 1960's he was called to accompany Pandit Gajanan Rao Joshi's violin at Gulbarga.  The resources of this music circle was limited.  After the programme, Dr. Patki, President of the Music circle (who was a senior medical practitioner and amateur vocal musician gave the "packet" to Dawood Sahib.  Feeling apologetic that the fee was minuscule and not befitting Dawood Sahib's calibre, to which Dawood Sahib was quick to respond saying "Dr. Patki Sahib, you have done so much for me, even if you do not give any remuneration, I would still feel obliged to you forever".  I was a witness to this touching scene.

On tabla accompaniment, Dawood Sahib was a humble servant to the main artist.  Whether it was a highly reputed musician or a 14 year old up-and-coming sitarist, his approach was the same.  He strongly felt that whatever the tabla accompanist renders should be relevant to the context an under no circumstances should disturb the main artist.  Tabla accompaniment should be "supportive" and certainly should not distract the main artist.

The vast knowledge of tabla of Ustad Shaik Dawood was acknowledged by no less a person than his guru Ustad Mehboob Khan Mirajkar.  He said "All the knowledge of tabla in India is with Shaik Dawood". Apart from the vast storehouse of tabla knowledge which he got from his five ustads, Dawood Sahib himself has composed beautiful Gats, Relas, Chakradar, etc which have their own distinct identity and beauty.

In recognition of his lifelong services to the field of music he was awarded Hindu-Muslim Unity Front Award in 1975.

Shaik Dawood Khan

Dawood Sahib's contribution to music for well over 50 years was at last noticed and in February 1992 the most coveted Sangeet Natak Academy Award was presented to him by the Government of India.  But alas!  Dawood Sahib was not able to attend the function because of failing health.  His son, Ustad Shabbir Nisar received it on his behalf.  It would have been so much better if this realization by the academy had come earlier when his physical and mental faculties enabled him to receive it personally.

Hardly a month after getting the most coveted award, Ustad Shaik Dawood reached the heavenly abode on the 21st March 1992, leaving behind a vast legacy of composition in tabla which is inherited by his son Ustad Shabbir Nisar along with other disciples.

The passing away of Ustad Shaik Dawood has created a void which is very difficult to fill.

It is indeed a very gratifying and comforting thought that Ustad Shabbir Nisar has imbibed a great amount of the style and rendition of the Ustad and is surely following his father's footsteps.  He has embarked on a herculean task by establishing an academy in the memory of his father viz. "The Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood Academy of Music" at Hyderabad.  It is indeed an ambitious project devoted to the research, preservation and promotion of the rich tradition that it has inherited.  Such a project can thrive only with the wholehearted moral and financial support of rasikas, patrons and connoisseurs.



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