Zakir And His Friends
Switzerland / Germany 1997.
The film is about rhythm. Rhythm played by professional percussionists in India, Burkina Faso, Japan and other places around the world. Rhythm performed by kids making music by clapping their hands on their cheeks. Rhythmic sounds coming out of everyday work, rhythmic sounds from vehicles like trains and cars.
The protagonist is Zakir Hussain, an Indian musician. His father is a great tabla player, and Zakir has become a very talented tabla player himself, travelling worldwide with his music. The film follows him to concerts, practising, and teaching. He appears as a drifting being living in a world beyond the real, a world of music. Wherever he is, whatever he does, he is creating rhythm. When driving he beats the rhythm on the wheel. When cutting pumpkins for Halloween, he has to clap a rhythm on the pumpkin. Close-up shots of his face when he is playing show a person deeply absorbed by the music.
And so is the universe the film tries to create.We may not have noticed, but our everyday life is full of sounds, and the sounds, when experienced and edited correctly, create rhythms. The sound of wet clothes being dashed against a stone when washed, leaves being cut with swords in the jungle, food being crushed with a big wooden mortar, metal hammers driving a metal post into the ground. All done in a repetitive beating rhythm.
The soundtrack is very smoothly edited, interweaving one piece of music with another. The rhythm of everyday sound slides into African drumming music. A scene of a ship sailing is accompanied by the monotonous sound of a ship engine, or so we think. Cut into the next scene, and we realise the sound is actually from a Japanese drumming session. This kind of careful sound editing makes the film into a great sound experience. Leonhardt has chosen to make a film about the feeling and sense experience of playing music, and not about musical technique. This is emphazised by close-ups of the musicians’ faces when playing, instead of focusing on their hands and instruments. These insistent shots of the faces allow the rhythm to develop, and provide time to listen and almost feel the meditative state the musicians seem to be in. A few times this experience is interrupted by interviews that break the continuous music chain. The interviews that offer more knowledge about Zakir are interesting, but the others could have been left out to preserve the flow of the film.