Personal life and education
Alla Rakha was born in Paghwal, District Samba Division, Jammu, India. His mother tongue was Dogri. He became fascinated with the sound and rhythm of the tabla at the age of 12, while staying with his uncle in Gurdaspur. The determined young lad ran away from home, became a disciple of and began studying tabla with Mian Kader Baksh of the Punjab gharana. He studied voice and Raag Vidya under Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana. His regimen of practice and dedication were legendary: hours upon hours of hard, disciplined practice, that would later pay off.
He was married to Bavi Begum, and has three sons, Zakir Hussain, Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi, a daughter Khurshid Aulia née Qureshi, and nine grandchildren. Alla Rakha had another daughter, Razia, whose death preceded his by less than 24 hours.
Alla Rakha began his career as an accompanist in Lahore and then as an All India Radio staffer in Bombay in 1940, playing the station's first ever tabla solo and elevating the instrument's position in the process. Soon after, he composed music for a couple of Hindi films from 1943-48.
However, he still played as an accompanist, for soloists like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Allauddin Khan, Vasant Rai and Ravi Shankar. The venerable master achieved world renown as Ravi Shankar's chief accompanist during his apex in the 1960s, delighting audiences in the West with his percussive wizardry, not only as an uncanny accompanist with flawless timing and sensitivity but also as a soloist where he was a master of improvisation, a prolific composer and an electric showman. The partnership was particularly successful, and his legendary and spellbinding performances with Shankar at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in 1969 served to introduce classical Indian music to general Western audiences.
He became a Guru (or teacher) to Yogesh Samsi, Prafulla Athalye, Aditya Kalyanpur, Anuradha Pal, Uday Ramdas, Shyam Kane, and his sons Taufiq Qureshi and Fazal Qureshi. His eldest son, Zakir Hussain is also an accomplished tabla virtuoso.
Rakha popularized the art of tabla, playing across the globe, elevating the status and respect of his instrument. Abbaji (as he was affectionately known by his disciples) also bridged the gap between Carnatic music and Hindustani music by playing with both renowned Carnatic musicians and other Hindustani stalwarts.
Leading American percussionists in Rock n' Roll, such as the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, admired him and studied his technique, benefiting greatly even from single meetings. Hart, a published authority on percussion in world music, said "Allarakha is the Einstein, the Picasso; he is the highest form of rhythmic development on this planet." Rakha also collaborated with jazz drummer Buddy Rich, on their 1968 album Rich Ala Rahka.