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Take Five with Enayet Hossain


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Meet Enayet Hossain

Enayet Hossain is an accomplished tabla player from a renowned Indian musical family whose careers span three generations. Born in Bangladesh to an Indian father and Bangladeshi mother, he moved to the U.S. as a child. He received musical training from his father, Hamid Hossain, an esteemed Indian musician renowned for teaching and mentoring students of tabla, sitar and Indian classical vocal music.

Enayet Hossain performs in diverse styles including North Indian classical and semi-classical pieces. At 17, he began collaborating with top Indian musicians such as Aftab-E-Sitar Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, and Pandit Jasraj. He earned an international reputation as an Indian classical musician before entering the realm of fusion. Current concerts and tours embrace both genres. He is featured on over 50 albums of Indian classical and fusion music. As vice-president of the Aimrec recording label, he shares the music of fabled international artists with listeners worldwide.

In 2013, he established the Indian-Jazz fusion group Melodic Intersect. The group has performed at Lincoln Center and other major venues in U.S. cities. Its albums have been nominated for numerous awards and place high on CMJ, Roots and NACC world music and Latin radio charts.

Hossain holds a BA in computer science from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His passion for music and technology led him to create the groundbreaking Sangeetpedia. An encyclopedia of North Indian classical music, the resource includes videos, audio files, pictures and vocabulary meant to enrich understanding and appreciation for this genre. The resource is currently being updated in response to new technological advances.



Teachers and/or influences?

My musical journey began under the tutelage of my father, Ustad Hamid Hossain—a highly esteemed teacher of tabla, sitar, and North Indian vocal music, based in the U.S. I drew inspiration from the legendary Zakir Hussain, widely recognized as the world's leading tabla player. I was also influenced by John McLaughlin and his group Shakti, as well as the renowned drummer Buddy Rich. These diverse influences enriched my tabla playing and helped me develop a unique style that reflects my admiration for both traditional and contemporary music.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I was constantly surrounded by music as I grew up, thanks to my father. At the age of six, I began my training, but it was my mother who truly drove me to practice. Initially, I didn't have much interest in music, but my mother's persistence paid off, as she wouldn't allow me to watch cartoons until I finished my practice. As the years went by, I found myself enjoying music more and more, thanks to the support of my parents and other students, who were also learning. While I never saw myself becoming a musician, I found myself accompanying various top Indian musicians on their tours throughout the U.S. My father had connections with the likes of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, and others. As I completed my degree in computer science, I found myself touring the world with these musicians, which ultimately led me down the path of music as a profession. Although my father supported my decision, he was quick to warn me of the hardships that come with a musician's life.

Your sound and approach to music.

When it comes to my approach to musical performances, I always prioritize the particular mood and feeling of the moment. In Indian classical music, performances usually involve two to three musicians at most, which allows for plenty of opportunities to showcase individual virtuosity through solo performances. However, it wasn't until I founded the Indian-Jazz fusion group, Melodic Intersect, that I truly learned to play as a team member. I strongly believe that the most important part of any musical performance should revolve around the ensemble as a whole, with every member being given the chance to shine and display their individual skills. In Melodic Intersect, we often had five to seven members performing together, and I had to put a great deal of thought into learning how to play as a team member.

Your teaching approach

Teaching students has been a fulfilling challenge for me, but it came naturally due to my upbringing. Growing up, I watched my father, Hamid Hossain, who has taught countless students over his 45-year career. As a teacher, I strive to guide my students and show them a path to follow. However, I am particular about not wanting them to merely copy me. Instead, I aim to be an influence, allowing them to carve out their unique and distinct paths. This is a challenge because Indian classical music relies heavily on improvisation, with only 10% of it being memorized. Hence, my approach is to not only impart musical skills but also the philosophy and essence of our music. I believe it is important for my students to understand that a successful musical performance requires one to put their heart into it. While technique is important, emotions and expressions are what truly make a performance memorable.

Your dream band

I am grateful to say that my dream band, Melodic Intersect, already exists! Working with my friends is crucial to me, as chemistry between musicians is essential and always shines through in a performance. While it would be amazing to work with legendary musicians, I believe that a personal touch is important when creating music. Fortunately, I am surrounded by talented and passionate musicians who are my friends. One such friend is Greg Hatza, whom I consider one of the best piano/keyboardists in the world. Greg studied Indian classical music, particularly tabla and sitar, with my father for over 20 years. He is an integral part of Melodic Intersect. During the pandemic, we recorded albums as a duo, which were seamless and successful. It is vital for band members to check their egos and be open to ideas and musical directions. Hidayat Khan, son of legendary sitarist Vilayat Khan, is also a band mate. I have known him since I was 17, and we give concerts in both North Indian classical music and our fusion band. All of the musicians in my band share a similar mindset, and we respect each other's ideas. As a result, our music has developed a loyal following and resonates with our audience. At every concert, audience members remark on our fantastic chemistry, and it's clear that we have fun on stage when we perform.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

I've had countless good experiences and very few bad ones throughout my career. One of the best experiences was when my band, Melodic Intersect, played a sold-out show at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2017. Our music is not mainstream, so we were pleasantly surprised by the turnout. This was our first live venue performance as a band, and it was a huge success.

Another memorable experience was when I was getting my computer science degree and touring with Shujaat Khan, who is now recognized as one of the top three sitarists in the world and a Grammy nominee. We did 25 concerts in a month and a half, which happened to be around the time of my final exams. I would attend class through the week and then hop on a plane on Thursdays to perform, returning Monday for classes. While it was an amazing experience playing so many shows, it took a toll, and I felt like I was playing music mechanically. As an artist, I need time to learn, think, and contemplate my music. Having shows so frequently can be counterproductive. Although I have done many such tours, I tend to shy away from long tours now, preferring a balance between performance and creative time.

Favorite venue

One of my most memorable performances was with my band Melodic Intersect at the Appel Room at Lincoln Center. The venue itself is one of the best I've seen with a giant glass wall behind the musicians that offers an incredible view of the New York City skyline. As we played towards the audience, they could see both us and the breathtaking scenery behind us. The sound quality was incredible and the engineers were on top of their game, requiring no input from us on how we wanted our sound. Another venue that I love is the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. due to the grandeur of the hall and the exceptional sound engineers.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I've recorded more than 50 albums since I was 17, and each one is significant to me because they reflect my abilities and growth at different times. Nonetheless, my first recording, Excellence on the Sitar, holds a special place in my heart. It's a North Indian classical album that I co-created with Shujaat Khan. We recorded it in 1992 at a professional studio in Baltimore. I was nervous, but I also thrilled when we nailed the whole thing in one take. Even thirty years later, the album still gets listens, and I still come across people who are discovering it for the first time. I'm extremely proud of it. The second album that I'm particularly fond of is Eastern Visions, which I made with pianist Greg Hatza and sitarist Anjan Chattopadhyay. It was my initial attempt at fusion, and I had the idea of bringing everyone together. Listening to it today brings back memories of that time, and I can appreciate how much I've grown as a fusion artist since then.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Answering this question is a challenge, as I am just one of many musicians in the world, and it is difficult to pinpoint what I contribute uniquely. However, I aspire to be remembered for my pioneering approach to Indian-jazz fusion. Unlike many fusion bands, my music emphasizes simplicity and relatable direction, rather than virtuosic soloing or highly composed segments. As a minimalist, I believe that over-practicing or over-composing, and the use of click tracks or tracking detracts from the essence of music. I acknowledge that imperfections are inherent in individuals and should be embraced to a certain extent in music.

I do not utilize my music to make political statements and do not criticize musicians who choose to use their platform to convey a message, but my goal is to transport my audience to a place of pure joy and escape from the harsh realities of the world during my performances.

Did you know...

I possess strong programming skills and am proficient in developing websites. I am also experienced in sound engineering and editing. That background allows me to edit my own music if required. I keep myself up-to-date with the latest technological advancements and can construct my own computers and develop music applications.

These skills enable me to release Sangeetpedia as a DVD-ROM in 2010. The project, revolutionized the way people could explore and learn about Indian classical music which has a 2000-year history. With advancements in technology and evolving user preferences, the DVD-ROM format has phased out, so we plan to reintroduce Sangeetpedia to the world in the form of a website. This new incarnation will embody the spirit of Wikipedia, offering a user-friendly interface that encourages collaboration and allows for the continual expansion of knowledge in the realm of Indian classical music. We hope this new version of Sangeetpedia will serve as an invaluable digital platform, servings both enthusiasts and scholars and facilitating a deeper understanding of the vast repertoire of Indian classical music, ensuring its preservation and propagation in the modern era.

The first jazz album I bought was:

I was introduced to jazz by Greg Hatza, a prominent jazz pianist in the Baltimore area for many decades. I have a personal relationship with because he is a long-time family friend. I never bought any jazz albums myself because I was pretty young when I met him in the 80s, but I attended many of his concerts. It was during one of these performances that I first heard music from one of his very popular bands of the time, Moon August. Their music served as my gateway into the world of jazz.

Music you are listening to now:

Vilayat Khan: Raga Yaman (EMI)
Ali Akbar Khan: The 80 Minute Raga (Connoisseur Society)
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Columbia Records)
London Symphony Orchestra: Beethoven: The Complete Symphony Collection
Frank Sinatra: My Way (Reprise)

Desert Island picks:

John McLaughlin; Shakti (Columbia)
Mickey Hart: Planet Drum (Rykodisc)
Vilayat Khan: The Great Heritage (His Master's Voice)
Vilayat Khan: A Night at The Taj (His Master's Voice)
Ravi Shankar: The Sounds of India (Columbia)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Despite not being strictly a jazz artist, I see many similarities between jazz and my own main genre, Indian classical music. Both genres have their own audiences, and the challenge lies in effectively connecting with both. While there are only a few jazz stations in each city, I am uncertain about the true prominence of jazz today. I attend jazz concerts and have many friends who are purely jazz musicians, and they often share their struggles with me.

As an Indian classical musician, I am paid well, but I empathize with my jazz friends who sometimes face financial difficulties. Nevertheless, there are many talented jazz musicians out there. As a voting member of the Grammys, I vote in the jazz category and have listened to many gifted, up-and-coming jazz artists. I believe that jazz, like Indian classical music, will endure for over a thousand years. There may be periods of immense popularity, followed by times where the interest dwindles, but ultimately, the genre will persevere.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

In my view, it is crucial to foster the development of talented future artists. One way to achieve this is by introducing jazz into school curricula in every state. While some states have implemented this, it is not yet widespread enough. Moreover, states should provide endowments for this genre and offer support to the musicians who are keeping it alive. Radio stations should also prioritize playing jazz more frequently. Currently, most stations only play pop or other "mainstream" genres. Additionally, there is a need for more jazz concerts, with a focus on moving the genre out of clubs and into concert halls.

What is in the near future?

We are hoping to release two new albums in the near future, as early as in 2023. The first one being a duo album of Greg Hatza and myself, thematically on the same lines of Hand-Talk (Aimrec, 2021).

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

I don't experience fear, and this is due to the advice given to me early in my career by a fellow artist. At the age of 16, I was performing alongside the renowned sitarist, Ustad Vilayat Khan, and I was extremely nervous. He was already a legend who had played in front of 10,000 to 20,000 people in the top halls. He sensed my apprehension and advised me to always be confident in myself and feel that I am an equal to any musician I play with, regardless of their status. He emphasized that I should think this way when onstage, but never let it get to my head when off stage. To this day, I remember his advice and try to exude confidence onstage. However, I still aspire to do justice to the music and provide a fulfilling experience for audience members who have paid their hard-earned money to listen to me.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Amazing Grace"!

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I am a huge fan of Bollywood music, particularly of R.D. Burman, and I enjoy singing his hit song "Neele Neele Ambar." I also have a fondness for classic boy bands, such as The Backstreet Boys, and I particularly love their song "You Are My Fire" and also Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."

By Day:

My day job is also the same as my night job, which is music!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

I would definitely be a programmer because I love all things tech! I am an avid gamer and play PC games whenever I have time. My favorite games are the Civilization series, the Far Cry series and No Man's Sky.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Mozart would be an interesting person to have dinner with because of his reputation as not only a brilliant composer but a child prodigy. I would imagine the pressure he had to deal with and his compositions represent a wide blend of emotions. I would love to know about Don Giovani because I absolutely adore this opera. His instrumentation and storytelling in this opera is astounding. I cannot imagine putting together such a soundscape simply on paper through his mind and imagination.

Most amazing musical performance.

I played a concert in the middle of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India at midnight with thousands of people seated on the banks of the river. The weather was beautiful and there were no distractions. It was pure bliss. Thousands of people (from 15,000 to 20,000) were gathered throughout the banks of the river, listening in absolute quiet meditation to our music. That was one of the most amazing performances I have ever given and experienced.

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