No strings attached for this sitarist

Getting exposed to different cultures and music at the same time made it a unique and amazing childhood, legendary sitarist Ustad Hidayat Khan tells Deepa Natarajan Lobo

Hidayat Khan

Blending Indian and Western music with ease, sitarist Hidayat Husain Khan, son of the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan, is globally acclaimed as one of the greatest sitarists of recent times.  

With many interesting projects in his kitty, Hidayat also has a band named Vinyl Kut, and is part of the jazz ensemble Melodic Intersect. He has also collaborated with various Indian and international artistes of repute like Shweta Sherry, Zakir Hussain, will.i.am and Alicia Keys. In an interview, he speaks about his early years, working with renowned artistes, and more:

How was your childhood? Did you always have a passion for music thanks to your father?

Childhood was definitely far from ordinary. I grew up in a very gurukul system where at any given time, there were about 10-12 students from different parts of the world always living with us or meeting us. Getting exposed to different cultures and music at the same time made it a unique and amazing childhood. I definitely have to thank my father for that.

Who are your inspirations?

Musically, of course, my father is my biggest inspiration. Ustad Amir Khan sahab and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sahab are my other favourites. I also keep getting inspired by the world. Anyone from a five-year-old to a great sportsman like Roger Federer inspires me. 

Tell us a bit about the projects you are working on.

I just finished a classical tour of the US. I was also in Amsterdam for a recording with the unbelievable guitarist Hans Utter. I have a recording coming up with my jazz ensemble in the US — Melodic Intersect — which has been included in Grammy Ballot for the Best World Music Album. Then, I also have some work with my other ensemble over here — Vinyl Kut. And then hopefully, I will be in India performing, recording projects and working on everything that comes my way.

Do you feel the younger generation needs to be more aware and appreciative of Indian classical music?

Definitely. But it’s not just the younger generation. Everyone needs to be more aware and educated about it. I strongly feel Indian classical music should be a part of the school curriculum in India. In the American public schools, kids have to take up music or theatre or some form of art from the fourth grade. Why can’t Indian schools do the same? 

From Hindustani music to forming bands like ‘Vinyl Kut’, you have covered many genres of music with ease. Do you have any favourites? 

This is a very interesting question. The disciplines of different music are very important to maintain. I feel if you have a clear vision of what you want to present and stick to that, it’s very easy to go between genres. For me, I have grown up all over the world and spent a whole bunch of the years in the US. So,Western music and jazz come to me easily. Since my foundation is Indian classical, blending comes easily too. But be it any genre or fusion, I try to stay true to it. 

You have worked with a range of international superstars like Alicia Keys, Usher and Zakir Hussain. Any fond memories of them?

Yes, lots of interesting and amazing experiences that I could actually write a book on. The first time I met Usher was during the rehearsals of a concert in New York. I had heard him on the radio and when I met him, I found him to be an amazing guy with a great sense of humour. He has the unbelievable ability to mimic and his voice range is incredible. We were rehearsing from 10 am to 6 pm and he sang like everyone from Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder to Paul McCartney and Tom Jones. He even acted like them so it was hilarious.  

Who are the people that you would like to work with?

I am a bit fortunate to have collaborated with so many amazing people and being a fan of music, there are just too many that I want to work with.

 

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