Vilayat Hussain Khan


Sitar player who, though steeped in the classical tradition, was an innovative proselytiser for Indian music. Ustad Vilayat Khan who carried the tradition forward yet made significant innovations - mixing the East and the West in his music, and one of the greatest maestros of sitar players of his age. Ustad Vilayat Khan's forte was classical interpretation in the old improvised style of spontaneous composition. His trademark melody was imbued with emotion and passion. His skill for finding intellectual solutions to unlocking a raga's heart, especially with unexpected melodic twists, kept rasikas (music connoisseurs) glued to his every note and phrase. His speciality was gayaki ang (singing style), in which the sitar replicates and replaces the human voice by bending the string several times after plucking the note to alter the pitch and produce a 'singing tone' through a fluid continuity of notes. In addition to his many flawless recordings of classical ragas, he also composed music for films, including Satyajit Ray's 1958 The Music Room and the 1969 Ismail Merchant feature The Guru. Ustad Vilayat Khan toured tirelessly and was familiar figure in the West, giving sell-out recitals in the world's great concert halls. He lived for many years in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, sitarist and composer, was the rebel who refused prestigious awards that other lusted after, was born in Gowripur, East Bengal (now Bangladesh). He was born into line of five generations of musical pedigree - Etawah gharana (school and style of interpretation) after his grandfather and Imdadkhani gharana after his father's reputation. His mother was herself the product of several generations of vocalists. He traced his lineage back to Tansen. Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan died of lung cancer in Bombay. His body was taken to Calcutta to be laid to rest next to his father.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan

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