Shujaat Hussain Khan is Indian classical music royalty. It’s hard to imagine a more illustrious lineage than the scion of the Imdadkhani gharana. His father is one of the greatest sitarists India has ever produced Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan and his uncle, Ustad Imrat Khan the surbahar master and innovator. His grandfather, the sitarist, Enayat Khan, was the son of the famous Imdad Khan, founder of the Imdadkhani gharana (also sometimes referred to as Etawah gharana, for the family’s ancestral town in central Uttar Pradesh).
Shujaat has established himself as one of India’s premier personalities in the classical music world and enjoys a keen fan base internationally for his many collaborations with western and other non-Indian musicians. Most famous for his work with the Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor as part of the ‘fusion’ group Ghazal, Khan is Grammy nominated and a regular performer on international festival stages, alone and with others.
This collection is one part of a double CD set issued about 10 years ago by Mystic Music, called Unforgettable Sufis. The first CD (shared below) is dedicated to several songs of Kabir; the second to the works of Amir Khusrau. Khan’s father, Vilayat Ali Khan, is credited with creating a style of sitar playing known as gayaki ang which seeks to imitate the nuances of the human singing voice. The style developed naturally as part of the maestro’s playing as he felt an urge, similar to many jazz musicians, to vocalise the melody.
Shujaat has not only followed his father’s innovation but turned it into a distinctive feature of his artistry. Many of his albums and performances feature his unique whispery, moaning singing voice which adds another level of complexity to his already sophisticated music. Though at times it is hard to make out exactly what he is singing, the overall effect is mesmerising; perfectly suited to the spiritual tenor of the material. “I don’t consider myself a singer but this urge to sing was natural and instinctive. My effort now is to reach a wider audience,” he said in a recent interview. Certainly, once you hear him you’ll never fail to recognise his voice
For this selection he has chosen a refreshing mix of Kabir vani some of which are not so frequently performed. The centerpiece of the set is the twenty five minute Patta Bola Vriksh Se (The Leaf Spoke to the Tree).
A leaf says to a tree: ‘Listen O tree of the forest, when your leaves wither away you will be done in and forgotten.’ The tree says to the leaf: ‘heed my words, dear brother o’ mine, It is forever the way of this world – one comes while another goes. In every breath remember the Divine Name, lest any breath escape wasted, who knows whether another breath will arrive or not! Always say such words, that will sanctify your heart, tranquil your entire being and emanate peace and joy to others.
But my favorite and the one that resonates most with my own battered philosophy is Moko Kahan Dhundhe re Bande (Where Will You Search for Me, Oh Follower)
Moko Kahan Dhundhere Bande
Mein To Tere Paas Mein
Na Teerath Mein, Na Moorat Mein
Na Ekant Niwas Mein
Na Mandir Mein, Na Masjid Mein
Na Kabe Kailas Mein
Main To Tere Paas Mein
Oh Follower, Where do you search me?
I am always with you
Not in pilgrimage, nor in statues
Neither in solitude
Not in temples, nor in the mosque
Neither in the Kabha nor in Kailash
I am with you, oh follower
This collection has zoomed to the top of my personal favorites for its choice of material, elegant, contemporary (but never inappropriate) production and arrangements and of course the great man’s elegaic singing.
01 Humka Udhave
02 Man Laago
03 Chunri Mein Pad Gayo
04 Moko Kahan Dhunde Re Bande
05 Patta Bole Vriksh Se
06 Rehna Nahi Is Desh Mein