As with many artistes who are born into families steeped in music, Hindustani classical musician Ustad Faiyaz Khan was initiated into the art very early. He was barely five or six years old when he began his lessons. The Kirana Gharana musician is today a much-respected vocalist, sarangi player and tabla artiste, besides being a music guru, composer, playback singer and founder of a music school.
This multifaceted artiste tells us that he is "the eighth-generation musician in the family". His family belongs to the Kirana Gharana and his forefathers were highly talented court musicians in different samsthaans or riyasats (royal courts). Faiyaz's grandfather Ustad Shaikh Abdullah Khan was a court musician (asthana vidwan) in Gwalior and also the court of the-then Mysore Maharaja. He accompanied stalwarts such as Abdul Karim Khan and Abdul Wahid Khan, the founders of Kirana Gharana. Following that tradition, Faiyaz's father, Ustad Abdul Khadar Khan served as a court musician in the Nizam's court in Hyderabad, besides being a staff artiste with All India Radio (AIR), Dharwad. He also accompanied the likes of Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Mallikarjun Mansur, Basavaraj Rajguru, etc.
Faiyaz adds: "My mother too was a sarangi player and vocalist. In those days, female musicians were not allowed/encouraged to perform in public, but she was one of the very few performers who did, now and then. Even so, as per the convention in those days, after marriage, she stopped performing in public. She, however, continued to play at home in chamber concerts and also taught her children, that is me and my siblings."
Today, keeping the family tradition going are Faiyaz's two sons, Sarfaraaz Khan, sarangi player and vocalist (A-Grade artiste in AIR) and younger son Faraaz Khan, who is both a vocalist and sarod player.
It was a long and arduous journey that brought Faiyaz to his place in Hindustani classical music today. He began learning the tabla under the guidance of renowned tabla artiste Pandit Basavaraj Bendigeri at the tender age of five and also learnt the instrument from another respected percussionist Ustad Mammulal Sangaonkar. "At the same time, I was learning sarangi and vocal music from my father. After his demise, I went to Mumbai for further training under the guidance of the legendary Pandit Ramnarayanjee."
Gratitude to gurus
The three skills — vocals, sarangi and tabla — complemented each other: "I actually found it easier to learn one because of the training in the other. My tabla and sarangi supported my vocal training and vice-versa," he explains.
Like so many performers of today, Faiyaz gives gratitude to his gurus for their methods and approach to teaching. "All my gurus made me do riyaaz in the proper or chaste method, gave me true taalim, and taught me the dos and don'ts of music practice and performance. They gave me life lessons too. Incidentally, they never enforced any kind of diet. In fact, I am happy to eat well and eat anything I wish, even today. By God's grace, my voice does not get affected by my diet."
The training and practice were rigorous. "I used to spend 14 hours a day in sangeet sadhana. I was never much into academics and studied only till the 10th standard. However, in the past few years, I have gradually stopped performing on the tabla and am focusing only on the sarangi and vocals. Nowadays, I practice for three to four hours every day as I have other duties like teaching, running my foundation, composing, performing onstage and in studios (playback music), etc." Faiyaz has rendered songs for many films and TV serials.
As a composer
There is an opinion in some circles that classical musicians should not sing for films, at least frequently, as it adversely impacts their concert voice. What is his viewpoint? "I would not agree. If the music and lyrics of the film song are appealing to the classical artiste and he has the kind of voice which suits the song, why not render it? It all depends on the musician's own choice and the suitability of his voice. The suitability in turn depends on the training he has received and the nature of the voice itself. From the filmmaker's point of view, it is about the kind of voice that the particular song demands. For example, the great Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sang in various genres — chaste Hindustani classical, ghazals, film songs (in Mughal-e-Azam), bhajans, light music — because his voice was flexible and versatile and suited all kinds of songs. The music icon M Balamuralikrishna too sang memorable film songs. It all comes down to the music director's interest and the willingness and ability of the classical musician."
Faiyaz's work as a composer began around three decades ago when he came up with his first bandish. Today, he has 1,800 compositions in all the major ragas and different taalas to his credit. "I continue to compose newer ones and also perform my own creations in live concerts and teach these to my students too. I have also written lyrics and composed music for many Kathak ballets, Hindi bhajans, Kannada dasavani, etc. My pen name (vaggeyakara mudra) is Gunirang."
Talent is not enough
He set up the Parveen Begum Smruti Music and Education Trust in 2012 in memory of his wife who died in a tragic accident. The aim is to promote the fine values of chaste classical music and encourage talented artistes, especially young upcoming ones. "I always tell my students: have faith in God, in your guru and the importance of riyaaz. Also, respect everyone whom you meet in your music journey."
Talking of today's generation, he says: "It is great to focus on music and music alone as did the artistes of the previous era, but since today's generation needs and wants academic qualifications, I suggest they try to take out as much time as they possibly can for riyaaz. Inborn talent is not enough, there must be rigorous practice too. Also, I feel that a performer must learn the meaning of each lyric thoroughly or else the bhava gets affected."
In fact, this is one major suggestion from Faiyaz when asked about the current challenge in the Indian classical music scene — how to increase audience turnout. "I think the performer must educate the audience a little bit by explaining briefly the background and meaning of a lyric during the concert. This, of course, means he himself should know the meaning of the lyric first to be able to do this." He hopes future generations will both learn and support Indian classical music, given the treasures it holds within its bosom.