In 1968 Mickey Hart was studying at the Ali Akbar College of Music with Tabla Master Shankar Gosh. He would work on compositions with Shankar which included Rhythmic Cycles of 4, 6, 16, 5 & 7 and take these teachings to Bill Kreutzmann. Mickey and Bill were instructing Shankar on traps in exchange for Tabla lessons and would combine their knowledge in compositions of East and West.
In September of 1968 the Grateful Dead played a concert at Berkeley Community Theater. Before the concert the drummers had planned a surprise for the audience. During part of ‘Alligator’, the Grateful Dead amps rolled apart and two risers rolled on stage between Mickey and Bill. On them were Shankar Gosh and Vince Delgado, a fine dumbec player and a student of Shankar’s. The four men sat and fixed compositions together, taking a rhythmic journey through many ‘Tals’ or time cycles. Ali Akbar Kahn composed the closing composition for them and when they were finished, the applause was deafening. Shankar left Ali Akbar College in 1969 and returned to India, at this time Mickey also left to pursue electronic music.
In 1970 Mickey was introduced to Zakir Hussain, son of Mickey’s mentor, Alla Rahka. Mickey met Alla Rahka in 1967 and had given himself over to the teachings of Indian rhythms during their first meeting. He subsequently became Shankar’s student in California. Zakir had come from India to replace Shankar as Ali Akbar’s personal drummer as Tabla instructor for the school. Quite a job for a man of 21, but Zakir had been studying since 8 years of age- he came well prepared. In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advanced students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn College of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975, the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band. The concerts at Winterland in San Francisco on May 16 & 17, 1975 were successful. Alia Rahka was there both nights and was very pleased. Bill Graham was elated and the musicians from the other groups were very receptive to the music.
The Diga Rhythm Band album is one of the true classics produced at the Barn studio on Mickey’s ranch. The band worked really hard for months on the compositions. They practically lived at the ranch, rehearsing for hours on end. What was created is stunningly beautiful. The music will stand the test of time. It was the last album released by Round Records.
Photo Credits: Todd Cazaux