Originally, the scheduled dates were to have the shores of South Africa graced by the late ghazal maestro, Jagjit Singh. With his sudden passing away instead of cancelling the event altogether, Nisaar Pangarker, Inner Circle Entertainment’s visionary had opted to dedicate the 14th and 15th of April 2012 to Singh and what greater tribute can one offer than that of Ustad Shujaat Khan, son of one of my personal favorite musicians, Ustad Vilayat Khan. Shujaat Husain Khan is one of the greatest North Indian classical musicians of his generation. He belongs to the Imdad Khan gharana of the sitar and his style of playing sitar, known as the gayaki ang, is imitative of the subtleties of the human voice.
Shujaat Khan’s musical pedigree extends seven generations. He is the son and disciple of the great sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, and his grandfather, Ustad Inayat Khan, his great-grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan, and his great-great-grandfather, Ustad Sahebdad Khan, were all leading artists of their respective generations.
This was a much awaited evening for Indian classical music enthusiasts ever since it was announced that Ustad Shujaat Khan would be playing in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The three-hour-long concert saw lovers of classical music and newbies in attendance. I spotted some modern day ‘gora’ rockers in the audience, which did not surprise me as this was the concert to attend for inspiration from our Indian maestros. As with any concert production by Inner Circle Entertainment the venue was completely filled out.
This was an aural feast of select musical instruments as the tenor of the flute, the hypnotic vibrations of the sitar and the bass of the tabla evoked much applause. The evening was dominated with a jugalbandi between the tabla, sitar and flute, which amalgamated into a show of music masters.
Like Ustad Shujaat Khan mentioned, I wasn’t surprised when he opened his concert according to the Vilayat Khan protocol. The first segment unaccompanied by percussion, then the second segment with percussion accompaniment. Khan’s ‘Alap’ an opening segment silenced the venue hall as he introduced his signature Sitar playing technique of mimicking human emotives into musical sounds. This was the moment I lost all sense of time and let my entire being permeate with the spirit of Khan’s musical genius. Concerts in India typically begin slowly, just as ragas themselves do. A player introduces the notes of the raga’s scale and gradually brings in the melody through a kind of timbral and harmonic haze. This could be compared to a cloud taking shape but always changing. The second section is rhythmic, and it becomes increasingly dynamic, typically ending in a wildly entertaining dialogue between the sitar and the tabla (which are tuned Indian drums).
I was among peers, among a selection of people where we all experienced the soul stirring magic that had us tapping a finger, slow swaying movements of heads, elevated heartbeats and emotional cries from others. We all were transported to a time and place that we can call Nirvana, where nothing mattered but the sustenance of our soul. The need, the want to experience true musical genius, and what better than at the hands of Ustad Shujaat Khan. After an hour of the first segment, that which ended with a powerfully moving fast paced command of the Sitar by Khan. I had a feeling that the second half was to be twice the impact of what he had just masterfully produced. As I focused on his music with my eyes closed, my heartbeat racing and tapping along with the raga’s on my fingertips, the audience around me whispered and some shouted in excitement the common phrase of acknowledgement – ‘Kya baat hai’ with the compulsory wave of the palm as Khan evoked such passion. Somewhere in the middle of the recitation of his poetry, I found myself unaware as I repeated the lyrics of ‘Naina Lagai Ke’ – on of my very personal favourites, my throat opened, and my voice started to fly… and then I was flying. It was only for a few seconds… when I returned to earth, I saw some were smiling, some had their eyes closed, some were crying.
After the ruminative opening evening raga, Khan played a longer, fast-paced one with a snappy beat structure. All evening Khan seemed in warm, high spirits. In slow sections he became as if transported. Khan with his team of spirited and masterful musician produced an aural experience that left the audience yearning for more and a 2 minute standing ovation.
“Music may not have, precisely, saints.” But amongst us we have legendary musicians and Ustad Shujaat Khan is one of them.
Watch Eastern Mosaic for a glimpse of this musical feast that swept across South Africa.
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