“Music is my prayer, my spirituality, my salvation”
“My gharana is known as Rampur Sahaswan Gharana and this gharana is popularly known and respected amongst the Indian Classical musicians. This gharana started in the 19th century, but if we trace the proper lineage according to ‘teacher-student’ tradition, then we shall mention that ‘Mia Tansen, who was one of the nine gemstones of Emperor Akbar, is the predecessor of this gharana,” said Ustad Ghulam Abbas Khan in an interview with Vishwarupa Rath. Excerpts:
Where and when did your journey of music start?
Firstly, I was born into the family of musicians. Since childhood I’ve heard my father singing, and we had this constant ambience that supported music effortlessly. So it won’t be wrong to say that the journey actually started from the day I have gained consciousness (since birth) There’s this saying that I recall during all the interviews, “At our place, a child learns to speak later but starts singing first.” So basically when I was 2-3 years old, I started this journey. I clearly remember that when I was in nursery class, I started humming songs then and I used to sing in front of my teachers from that tender age. But in a proper manner, my education in music began, and professionally the proper journey started at the age of 18.
The gharana of music under which you’ve got your musical education, is quite a famous one. Why don’t you tell us about the specialties of this ‘Gharana’ ?
My gharana is known as “Rampur Sahaswan Gharana” and this gharana is popularly known and respected amongst the Indian Classical musicians. This gharana started in the 19th century, but if we trace the proper lineage according to ‘teacher-student’ tradition, then we shall mention that ‘Mia Tansen, who was one of the nine gemstones of Emperor Akbar, is the predecessor of this gharana. But the foundation of the gharana was started in 19th century by ‘Ustaad Inayat Hussain Khan’. My own maternal grandfather, Ustaad Mustafa Hussain Khan Sahab, who was one of his very favourite students,was the first person to be awarded ‘Padma Bhushan’ for the Indian khayal singing . My father ‘Ustaad Ghulam Sadeh Khan Sahab’ was also one of his students, who received the Padma Shri. Even my father-in-law has been a member of the same gharana. Many illustrious singers are known to be educated under this gharana. I’d also like to mention that not only classical music, but our gharana is connected to Bollywood music as well. Very famous playback singers in India have been from our gharana, including Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Sonu Nigam, Hari Haran, Shaan, Jasminder Narula, thus we can say that this gharana has a major contribution to Indian music industry as a whole. Not only in khayal singing but also in tarana singing, there’s been a lot of research done by our gharana.
You’ve been taught the Indian Classical Music but along with that you also sing khayal , thumri , daadra as well as Sufi songs, so we want to know how have you attained this kind of versatility?
Well, that’s a brilliant question. See, the education in Indian Classical Music given by my Father since my childhood has influenced me a lot because of the versatility of my father himself. That was the time of Mohammad Rafi Sahab, Kishor Kumar, Mukesh. Therefore before Indian classical music, I’ve hummed the songs sung by these artists and had an admiration for the bollywood music as well. Then the ghazals of the 70s started inspiring me when Ustaad Ghulam Ali sahab, Jagjeet Singh, these singers were prominent. Thus in my college life, I started singing ghazals. Although the proper education in music I received was only under Classical Music, my father had helped me prepare my voice in such a manner that I can sing every kind of song. Thus, these might be the reason for my versatility.
You often talk about the concept of Music going hand-in-hand with spirituality and the belief in God. How did this realisation strike you?
This realisation obviously didn’t happen all of a sudden. When one stumbles upon various difficulties in life, feels the pain of the worldly happenings, faces the ups and downs of life, and gradually as one grows more mature, the secrets of spirituality open to them with all those experiences. And now that these secrets are open in front of me, my paths are clearer. According to me, music is my prayer, my spirituality and my salvation. I’ve traveled to a lot of countries. Once in an interview in Japan, a music scholar asked me that why and how is there so much stability found in Indian music, to which I answered that our music is closely linked to spirituality, temples, Sufi shrines and what not. If you notice the literature in khayal singing then you’ll find how the Bandishes are based on the love of Radha and Krishna. Even if I am not able to pray 5 times of namaz, and am still able to practice music for 2 hours, I consider my worship done.
As you can see the rise of advanced technology, social media and other applications growing day by day, do you think that the love for sufi songs is seen depleting in people?
No I do not believe so. In fact, I have would say that social media helped the existing art to pierce the veil and gave new dimensions to them. Because frankly there was a time when the talented artists who lived in remote areas could never get this kind of scope. Social media brought this revolution with itself which now allows all kinds of artist to exhibit their talent easily. Although the increasing crowd of performers in the new platforms is a disadvantage in the sense that it confuses the audience to a large extent about the real qualitative content. But then again I believe that be it any kind of art, if the artist has worked upon day and night with all the dedication and hard work towards it, it’s clearly evident in the art form. “In a crowd full white umbrellas, one black umbrella stands out after all.” Therefore yes, social media has been helpful for artists all over the world.
How many and Which all countries have you travelled throughout the world for the purpose of music?
I’ve visited about 26-27 countries. Most of Europe, America, the Middle East, South Asia, Far East Asia, and the Pacific are covered by me only for the purpose of music. And I’m blessed to say that I didn’t have to spend a single penny from my pocket for these trips, as I performed in each of them. I always had this wish to travel the world, and by the grace of God, my music helped me fulfill this wish. And I’m honestly proud to be someone who serves Indian Classical Music. I performed in the corners of the world where people weren’t acquainted with ghazals and classical music, Malaysia and Japan are few examples as such. Our nation has a vibrant identity and Indian Music has a great role in the formation of this identity. Our music is not only limited to Bollywood but it’s rather too vast. There’s no other place in this world where the raag is sung according to the weather. And I find it my responsibility to spread this greatness of Indian music all over the world.
We know that you’ve done a lot of research in the field of Music and you’ve also innovated many new raagas . Please let us know more about it.
Since childhood, my nature has been to try new things. At the age of 15, I did my first composition, and my musical education was still continuing in that period. So you see I have always been keen to create new things. In the last 4-5 years, when I crossed 50, I thought that however about a decade ago I’d been awarded the ‘senior fellowship award’ by the Indian government for research in the field of music, now creating new raaga would still be very challenging for me. There are so many ragas already created in our music,that there’s hardly anything left. But again with the Blessings of God, new paths laid open for me and I tried my voice to create something new. The very first raaga that I created is called ‘Mohini Bhairav’ which is a new type of ‘raaga Bhairav’. Then I created ‘raaga moh bihaag’. Recently, about a year ago I created a new raaga named ‘Raseshwari’ . You know, the bond of Radha and Krishna has always been inspirational for me, and I’ve great admiration for Lord Krishna. He’s a great idol for love and for music. So I dedicate this raaga ‘Raseshwari’ to Radha ji and it’s named after her. It’s a beautiful raaga and will be released very soon. (He then blesses our ears by singing in his melodious voice, some parts of The Raag Rageshwari) Thus I’ve invented some 6-7 raagas as such and more than 100 Bandishes and taraanas of khayaal.
Your students are there all over the world. How do you teach them music and in what ways?
Well it’s known that for two years the world has been facing this pandemic, but as I said before, social media has contributed very beautifully to bring people together. So whilst the lockdown, I met more and more people online, and hence the medium of education was through the online platforms. So nowadays , about 99% of the education I provide is online. I’ve more than 100 students in America, UK, Australia, Singapore, Germany, and of course many parts of India, collectively. Some of them have already acquired great popularity in the field of music. Sejal Ghayal Sahiba, one of my very favourite students, is a well-known artist in America. My other favourite students are Devendra Pandit, Neha Borkar.
What is your opinion about the rapidly growing music industry? What would you suggest to the forthcoming singers of Sufi music and ghazals?
The music industry surely is growing at a very fast pace. Due to social media, even a short-cut is available for many people, to be in the field of music without getting the proper education. Technical support has been so up-to-date that even someone who can hum a little, can get their voice edited in the studio through auto tunes and other stuff and can present the music very easily. But those who haven’t got proper education through the teacher-student connection, can’t really last in this field after a certain period of time. Popularity could be gained for a short period of time, yes, but the shelf life would be very less. I always say to the young generation that whatever content you upload on social media, your level of practice and education in the field can be easily recognised by experienced professionals. Thus it’s very necessary to understand that if one wants to learn something by heart, there is no shortcut to it and it can never be achieved without the education and direction given by a teacher. Indian classical music is a secret knowledge that can be unraveled only in the presence of a true teacher.
By Vishwarupa Rath