Ustad Imrat Khan

The Great Heritage

The Great Heritage Continues

Ustad Imrat Khan

Images of majesty, romance, peace, spirituality are conjured up when one thinks of Indian Classical music. Fewer people are aware of the heritage, traditions, and genius behind the music. Ustad Imrat Khan is one such genius. Now one of the highest-ranking musicians of India, his music spans over six decades of what can only be described as the "Golden Age" of Indian Classical music. It is only through hearing and watching him play that one can begin to comprehend the lifelong dedication combined with natural instinct resulting in the profoundly emotional experience that mesmerises and touches the very depths of the soul.

Son of the legendary Ustad Enayat Khan and younger brother of the equally legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Imrat Khan is now the senior-most member of the famous Etawa Gharana (musical dynasty) which can be traced back over 400 years to the court of the Mogul Emperor Akbar. With such a deep rooted heritage whereby music was passed down from father to son by word of mouth in the most traditional methods it is of very little wonder that music runs though his veins to make him a world class artist. This does not however fully explain his unique mastery of the sitar and surbahar which have entertained hundreds of audiences and makes Ustad Imrat Khan a living legend.

In order to fully understand the mastery and originality of Ustad Imrat Khan's music one must first follow the span of his life from childhood until present day. His musical style can be described as a tapestry which has been intricately woven with the threads of his experiences. It is probably fair to say that no other artist will have had the unique training which has allowed Ustad Imrat Khan to maintain his status as a musical virtuoso of the sitar and surbahar.

The Singer

Born in 1936 in Kolkata, Ustad Imrat Khan was the second son of Ustad Enayat Khan, one of the leading musicians of his time. Born into the Etawa Gharana, a family which lived and breathed music, Imrat Khan lost his father very early on in life. By this time his brother Ustad Vilayat Khan was already establishing himself as a highly talented musician and lived outside the family promoting himself for much of the time. In this way Ustad Imrat Khan was raised by his mother, Bashiran Begum, and maternal grandfather Ustad Bandeh Hassan Khan. His mother, a trained singer and maternal family, a family of celebrated vocalists, therefore initiated Ustad Imrat Khan into music through song and this his how he started his formative life as a musician at the age of five. This was a time of hardship for the family as left with very little funds his mother struggled to keep the household together by selling her jewellery and burning her saris for the zari, gold threads. Mother and son had moved with family to Saranpur, just outside Kolkata in East India.

The Surbaharist

In 1944 the eight year old Imrat Khan and his mother followed Ustad Vilayat Khan to Bombay where he was now living and playing to rave reviews. Due to the excessive costs of living in Bombay Begum Bashiran took the young Imrat to live with his paternal uncle Waheed Khan just outside Bombay. And so began the second phase of the development of Ustad Imrat Khan's distinctive style. Waheed Khan taught his young nephew the skills of the surbahar which he had in turn learnt from his father, and Imrat Khan's grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan, the founder of surbahar. The depth and range of the Surbahar makes it ideal for the Gayaki ang, vocal style of playing which was first introduced to Indian classical music by Ustads Imdad and Enayat Khan. Ustad Imrat Khans fusion of vocal techniques with the skills he subsequently learnt on the surbahar allowed him to further refine the gayaki ang of his father and grandfather. Consequently, he spent many hours each day playing the surbahar with the finest singers who would be invited to sing by his mother until the surbahar really did "sing" in his hands.

The Sitarist

By this time Ustad Imrat Khan's characteristic style was beginning to develop and a third and undoubtedly great influence was about to be introduced in to his life, his brother Ustad Vilayat Khan. Until now, the two brothers had mostly lived apart. Ustad Vilayat Khan carving out a path for himself as a leading musician of India, while his much younger brother had lived and trained with his mother. When he was about thirteen years old Imrat Khan and his mother went to live with Vilayat Khan and this is when he began to develop as a sitarist under the expert tutelage of his brother. At the same time Imrat Khan continued to practice with singers and famous accompanists. The result was a highly versatile and accomplished young musician who could play both the sitar and surbahar with deftness and skill, be it as a soloist, with accompaniment or in a duet.

The Glory days of Gayaki

In 1952 the two brothers and mother relocated to Kolkata. Thus would begin the glory days. Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Imrat Khan lived together, played together and grew together during the next twenty years. Each learned from the other and they will be remembered by their legendary recordings as the most formidable partnership Indian Classical music has ever seen. The range of emotions, from meditation to ecstacy, the power and speed of their music, the flowing rhythm and unforgettable melodies, the world has never seen anything like the historic duets between the two brothers who developed the Gayaki ang on sitar and surbahar into the trademark style which is known and much loved today.

Four decades of music

In 1968 at the age of 33, Ustad Imrat Khan finally launched his solo career to a spellbound audience. Over the next 30 years he has moved hundreds of audiences around the world. Today in his sixties, his presence on stage speaks for itself being both electric and magical and resonates with the echoes of his rich and beautiful heritage. He is one of the few musicians who have stood the test of time while still maintaining and redefining his style and has established himself as one of the very finest exponents of the sitar and unrivalled master of the surbahar. Among his musical achievements are prestigious concerts in venues around the world and numerous recordings of his music. He has also directed the music for a number of films. The two brothers were so celebrated that they were invited to join the first Indian cultural delegation to tour the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1956 and since then Ustad Imrat Khan has taken part in many of the major music festivals. In 1971, he made history by playing the first ever performance of Indian Classical music at the Royal Albert Hall in the BBC Proms series. His life-long contribution to the cultural prestige of his country was honoured in 1988 with the highest musical distinction, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, which he received from the hands of the president of India.

The Great Heritage continues

Despite his many accolades, Ustad Imrat Khan maintains his role first and foremost as a musician. With age and experience has come the ability to create the most complex interpretations of the music which has been passed down from past generations. His improvisations and compositions are now embedded firmly in the heart of Indian classical music. A true master, Ustad Imrat Khan has reached the pinnacle of his musical career whilst still keeping alive his Gharana's traditions of teaching. As a dedicated teacher not only to his four sons who have themselves emerged as outstanding performers but also to hundreds of students around the world, he maintains the strict ancient methods of teaching that have been passed down by his forefathers.

The son of Ustad Enayat Khan and younger brother of Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Imrat Khan is a legend in his own right. In his music we see the art of a rare master conveying the full range and glory of India's musical heritage with no compromise to passing fashions.