Innerviews, music without borders

Fareed Haque
Eliminating the fear factor
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2005 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.

I love the jam band scene because it represents an effort to recapture a sense of social purpose in music,” says guitarist Fareed Haque, co-founder of the jam-supergroup Garaj Mahal. “Jam band music isn’t based on sound alone. Like all good music, it’s based on its relationship to society and serves a function. For instance, most of Bach’s great concertos wouldn’t have been written were it not for church on Sunday and the King’s social occasions. Good music exists because there is somebody there to listen to it, need it, and move to it. To lose those contexts is the death of music.”

Indeed, gigs by Garaj Mahal and his own Fareed Haque Group are celebrations as much as they are concerts. But even though a party-like atmosphere abounds, both groups represent a serious and innovative effort to integrate world music into expansive, improvisation-based jazz-rock structures. Haque’s new solo CD Cosmic Hug exemplifies that approach with its focus on seamlessly weaving Indian classical music influences into the mix. But even with Haque’s South Asian roots, making the connection between diverse musics was an evolutionary process.

“I grew up listening to South Asian music, but up to a certain point, I was afraid to link those things together,” says Haque. “I felt like I was just shucking and jiving. And then I got the opportunity to work with Zakir Hussain and I was self-conscious about playing with such a great tabla master. He said ‘Let’s just shut-up and play. It’s all good. Just go.’ And that’s what I needed to hear in order to believe that I had something authentic to offer and not worry about it.”

Haque now tours and records with Hussain as part of George Brooks’ Summit, heralded as one of the brightest lights in contemporary Indian jazz-fusion. He’s also written a concerto titled Lahara for tabla, sitar-guitar and orchestra that features Hussain. Haque credits overcoming fear as a key to his burgeoning career. It’s also one of the lessons he teaches students at his classes at the Northern Illinois University School of Music.

“Fear is like opening up a soda can that’s been shaken up,” explains Haque. “You know when you open it that it’s going to explode all over the place. So, your instinct is to screw up your face, tense up your body and look away from the can while pulling the tab. But does screwing up your face and tensing your body actually contribute to opening the can? No. It’s just fear. If you get rid of it, you just point the can away from your body, open it up and move on. Similarly, when musicians play a difficult passage, they tend to screw up their faces and tense their bodies because they’re terrified. You need to teach your body that the fear is misplaced and that the passage is nothing to be afraid of. When you do that, your whole body relearns how to deal with the technical challenge. As a result, you might find yourself playing a passage in two minutes that you’ve been grappling with for 10 years.”

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Fareed Haque