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‘Our music was never meant to be played on TV or telephone screen’: Ustad Shujaat Khan on virtual shows

"Concerts are a spiritual contact between musician and listeners, and that can only be felt live," he said

Ustad Shujaat Khan is a well-known classical musician and sitar player. Belonging to the Imdadkhani gharana, he has performed at various music festivals in India and abroad for his listeners who, he feels, attend his concerts to “enjoy their evening and derive as much as they can from my art.”

Recently, he performed as part of Transcendence: Music for the mind presented by HCL Concerts. In an exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, the maestro talks about his music, virtual shows, collaborations and much more. Excerpts:

You have grown up with the influence of some of the greatest musicians of their time. Who has had the biggest impact on how you understand and approach classical music?

My father Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Jasraj. All these people have been great influences.

Your son is also a musician. What basic difference(s) have you observed from the time you were learning as compared to him?

My son is mostly a composer and a singer-songwriter. He doesn’t play the sitar or classical music. He realised the pressure of being my son and doing the same thing quite early. So it was something he did not want to take on himself, so he’s pursuing the same art form but differently.

You have performed live across the globe. But, the pandemic forced many artistes to go virtual. What is your view on virtual shows vis-à-vis physical ones?

A total waste of time, energy, resources. Our music was never meant to be heard or played on a television or telephone screen. It makes absolutely no sense. I understand that it was done so that people keep in touch and enjoy music. So once in a while when it is done in a very beautiful way, it’s a wonderful thing. But sitting in your homes, in your bedroom, and putting on a small television camera or telephone in front of you pretending you’re giving classes or attending music concerts in a slipshod manner — with no good lighting, no good sound — it’s senseless.

Concerts are a spiritual contact between musician and listeners, and that can only be felt live. The pandemic, like everything else, will one day finish, and then we’ll hopefully start performing again.

Over the years, how has classical music evolved?

Classical music evolves with every generation as everyone has a different presentation within the same boundary. I’m a gharana person who has heard only one gharana, but now people have an option to listen to many great masters. So, if you are open to ideas then it automatically opens the mind and that is how an artiste can take ideas and feelings and thoughts from many different great masters and incorporate them into their music.

Many classical musicians also collaborate with Bollywood to create music. What is your view on the same?

I don’t mind collaborations. Unfortunately, nine out of 10 are senseless and boring. But if there is a collaboration between two wonderful musicians then why not? There is no reason not to collaborate, but if you’re collaborating just for the heck of it, it makes no sense. Although for me, collaborations are always second. It’s important for me to listen to an individual/solo artiste because then I can actually listen to them. Collaboration always seems as if both parties are compromising a bit to meet somewhere between their individuality.

Have you ever thought of collaborating with music directors/singers for Bollywood projects?

I used to work in Bollywood long time ago, in background music. I still play the sitar for the industry and I am sure open to similar projects. If someone is wants me to sing or play, I would do it. Some of the singers and music directors today are unbelievable great geniuses, and it would be a pleasure.

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