An 'ustad' for all seasons

Hindustani music

An 'ustad' for all seasons

His name evokes mixed reactions. His fan following is like no one else’s among the current generation Hindustani male vocalists. Ustad Rashid Khan, hailed as the undisputed emperor of Hindustani vocal music across the world, isn’t a complicated or sophisticated man, unlike many others in his genre. His simplicity and humility are touching.

“What I have learnt is because of the mentoring my gurus have given me. I owe it all to them,” says the vocalist, who is the torchbearer of the Rampur-Sehaswan tradition of Hindustani music. His gharana is one of the oldest in the history of Hindustani music tradition with a long lineage of stalwarts.

Caught him young

Rashid Khan, as a child, had little interest in pursuing a career in music. His uncle, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, was among the first in his family to note his talent; however, it was the training he received from Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan that shaped his thinking. A strict disciplinarian, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan was a taskmaster who would insist on voice training from four in the morning. He would make young Rashid do his riyaaz for hours on end.

Sometimes, a whole day would be spent on practising just a single note. With such arduous training, it wasn’t surprising that Rashid Khan debuted at the age of 11 years, taking the world of Hindustani music by storm. Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan moved to the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta along with young Rashid. In a very short span, Rashid grew to be a bright vocalist. Those who heard him hailed him as a child prodigy. Then, there was no looking back. 

“They say that Maharani Gayathri Devi is supposed to have the most exquisite set of pearls strung in a necklace in the whole country. Rashid’s crystal-clear taans, the emotion in his voice and the range of his music can beat even those pearls,” wrote a senior critic. Rashid had arrived as a child prodigy even without his knowledge, and the honorary title of ‘ustad’ was bestowed upon him at a very young age. 

Inviting critique

Ustad Rashid Khan shot to fame in the last couple of years for a few reasons that weren’t exactly in his genre of music. His accusers have been at war saying that he has been diluting the purity of classical music. “Lots of people complain about fusion music. I feel it has only popularised our own classical music among listeners. That does not dilute our tradition at all. It only shows the flexibility of classical music. It also works as a medium to earn a decent livelihood for many good classical musicians.

I have sung in Hindi films and for private albums. Before me, many legends like Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt Bhimsen Joshi and others have done the same. Singing in films did not bring down the quality of their music. It only enhanced the experience of watching good cinema.

There are countless songs which Lataji and Ashaji have sung that are based on our classical ragas, and they have stayed on as evergreen melodies. We still sing them and enjoy them with newness. Indian classical music is so powerful that it can touch a chord in anyone’s heart. It can express every possible human emotion, and that’s why everybody is in awe of it,” says Rashid.

The episode of Coke Studio in which he took part went viral on the Internet and became a rage with everyone. Once again the purists accused him of diluting the purity of classical music and catering to the West. “A lot has been said and written about the history of Indian classical music. There are various contesting stories.

But what is important to notice is how Indian classical music has proven itself strong from time to time. I don’t believe our classical music system can easily get influenced by the West. Each of these genres has its own place and its own audiences. Many Western instruments like the violin came to India and we have conveniently ‘Indianised’ them to suit our needs, and excelled. our classical music has been very graceful in accommodation,” he adds. 

Indian music on world stage

“At an international level, Indian classical music has defined a significant space for itself. Today, our classical musicians travel all over the world and enthrall global audiences. At a concert in Australia, over 50,000 people stood in the rains and patiently heard me till the end! Such events have increased of late and it shows a presence of constant admiration towards our music system,” he says about Indian classical music’s international appeal. 

When the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was asked who was a successful heir to the legacy of classical music, the one name he could think of immediately was Ustad Rashid Khan; an accolade and honour the young ustad holds in high esteem. Savvy, smart and up to date with technology, his jet-setting life doesn’t find a minute of peace, and yet, he has all the time in the world to talk about music. 

“Today’s technology has popularised our music among youngsters. Many hard-working youngsters are considering classical music as a full-time profession. I can only see the future getting better and brighter. Indian classical music has survived for thousands of years, and it will continue to reign,” says the ustad on a highly hopeful note, as he prepares another of his signature paan with a smile on his face. We can say that as long as ustads like Rashid Khan continue to inspire musicians through their immortal music, there always will be audiences for the genre.

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