Sitar player and vocalist Ustad Shujaat Hussain Khan needs no introduction. Son and disciple of Ustad Vilayat Khan, he has music running in his veins. “Over generations, the tradition of Indian classical music is still beautifully strong,” ; he says.
The maestro belongs to the Imdad Khan gharana and his style, known as the gayaki ang, is imitative of the subtleties of the human voice. He first laid hands on the sitar, albeit a specially made small one, at the age of three. His first public performance was at the age of six, and there’s been no looking back.
Besides performing at prestigious music festivals in India, he has given performances in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. His approach to rhythm is largely intuitive, fresh and spontaneous and has entranced audiences world over.
His recent performance in Theatre de la Ville in Paris was sold out six months in advance. His forthcoming performance at the Lincoln Centre, on March 7, is already sold out. Such is his fan following in the west.
One wonders whether the people in the west actually appreciate Indian classical music. “There are so many people in the West, especially in Germany, France, Holland and Switzerland, who have been listening to Indian classical music for over 50 years. So, they not only enjoy, but also understand it and are involved deeply in it. The respect in the west for Indian classical music can only be judged when you are there,” he remarks.
Beyond his passion with chords, Ustad Shujaat tells us, “I have a wife, two kids, a dog and a home; in short, a perfectly normal family life. Earlier I used to go to clubs and play squash and badminton. But holidaying, restaurants and friends are what I enjoy now. I am away from home for nearly nine months in a year, but that’s part of the job. I spend a lot of time travelling between Delhi and Los Angeles where I have another home.”
He has recently released two new albums: “Unforgettable Sufis” and “Enchanting Strings”.
The first is a twin CD cover bringing together poetry of mystic poets, Kabir and Hazrat Amir Khusrau. “Both Kabir and Khusrau have been very influential in my thoughts since childhood. I wanted to do a double album of theirs for long, and am glad that the music company,” he says. “There is something very simple and straightforward in their writings. I personally feel that, in the times we are going through right now, the common man would like to listen to this kind of poetry. So, I thought it would be fun to do a double album.”
“Enchanting Strings” contains mesmerising performance of Raga Bageshri. “It is pure, undiluted classical music for people to enjoy it in that form. In my new album, I have worked with a lot of young musicians, so there’s a particular freshness in it. The younger generation has a futuristic way of thinking that’s reflected in the interesting background music. However, the music remains traditional and not fusion.”
Asked about his personal favourite, Shujaat says, “All the pieces are like my children; it is very difficult to choose one over the others. But if I had to pick one, it would be Chaap Tilak in the CD of Khusrau. It is a very old composition and has been sung by many others and still doesn’t get old. However, like I said, it is a very difficult choice as all the others are also quite nice."
So, what can be expected in the coming year? “Last year, there were four releases, and that was three more than there should have been. I should just release one, wait for it to work in the market before going for another one. So, right now I am not thinking of anything else. There are, of course, other projects like background music and the likes, but not an album,” he sums up.