Ustad Rashid Khan is perhaps the most visible face of north Indian classical music in his generation, carrying the audience to heights of delight wherever he performs, in India and abroad. Gifted with a beautiful baritone, he represents the 10th generation in an unbroken line of vocalists of the Rampur Sahaswan gharana.
Khan sahib, you have faced hard times in your life. Tell us about that.
I was 10 when I came to the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata. I didn’t really know anyone and was quite lonely. My Ustad was very strict too. Singing was not a passion for me back then; it was something I was forced into as the elders thought I had potential. I always found the monotony of practice boring. Incidentally, I see the same happening with my son, Armaan, today. He, like me, hates the relentless repetition. But without that monotonous hard work, one just can’t achieve anything. It’s not enough to have a good voice, the genes and a good teacher. It’s backbreaking work as well. As I am home these days, I am teaching him quite intensively.
Coming back to my early years, those days of hardship were good days. I slowly started getting a few concerts. I encountered appreciation early on. What I really miss about those days is that the elders used to come to listen and encourage the younger generation at the Sangeet Research Academy, as also other places.
You got married in Kolkata and now live there. But do you ever think of a home elsewhere?
I love living in Kolkata; it has been my home for years now. But there is something that draws me to my roots, to my home in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh. I also love the hills, but have to confess that once it gets dark in the evenings, I find them too silent. That way I prefer being near the sea. There is beauty and there is more raunaq.
You say singing was not really a passion initially. Did you ever see yourself doing something else other than music?
I started life in music very young and never got a formal education. Even if I had, I don’t think I would have been able to work for anyone else. But today music is my world. That’s all I know and love. I love listening to other forms of music too. I like folk music, and am aware that our classical tradition emerged from folk.
People have been saying that digital platform will be more relevant for concerts in future. However, I wonder if they can ever replace the experience of a live concert. The interaction between the artistes on stage and the nuances that you understand when you are face-to-face with the artiste are unparalleled. Maybe one will get so used to sitting at home and receiving the finest entertainment digitally, one would not mind. But I do feel that paying for tickets to hear music is important; these free concerts are harmful.
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