UCLA to Host Sitar Legend Shujaat Husain Khan

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For more than four decades, Shujaat Khan has been recognized as a leading sitar maestro of Hindustani classical music. On Friday, October 7 at 7:00 p.m., Khan will cap a week-long residency as a Dr. Sambhi Visiting Artist at The Herb Alpert UCLA School of Music with a free public concert at Schoenberg Hall.

Shujaat Khan’s artistry has earned him worldwide fame. He has played to sold-out crowds on several continents. His storied discography runs over 100 titles and enjoys a wide, popular following. Many of his albums have set the benchmark for recordings in their respective fields. His collaboration with Persian artist Kayhan Kalhor in 2004 produced the Grammy-nominated album The Rain.

“Shujaat Khan is one of the all-time greats of Hindustani classical music,” said Anna Morcom, who holds the Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music. “We are fortunate that the Sambhi Foundation has provided the funding to invite such important artists to UCLA.”

Khan comes from the Imdad Khan gharana. Gharanas are stylistic schools or lineages, which have been passed down in families and master to disciple relationships. The Imdad Khan gharana traces back seven generations to Imdad Khan (1848-1920), and is one of the most influential of the sitar gharanas. Shujaat Khan began learning sitar at age three as a disciple of his father, the legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan (1928-2004).

Khan’s pedigree and training are unquestioned. But this is not what truly distinguishes him. “My biggest achievement is that I have been able to establish my own identity as Shujaat Khan amongst my audience across the world,” Khan told The Global Indian.

Khan’s distinctiveness as a performer has been defined in part by his embrace of gayaki ang, a style of playing sitar that seeks to emulate the subtleties of the human voice. He often sings when performing, a rarity among sitar maestros, and emblematic of what Khan refers to as “pure gayaki ang.” His performances have been lauded not just for virtuosity, but for their range, depth, sensitivity, and warmth.

Khan may be grateful for the enthusiastic reception he has been accorded, but is unwilling to rest on his laurels.

“Things like nominations and awards are fleetingly exciting things,” Khan told The Hindustan Times in 2007. “They’re not enough for me to become complacent. The creation of music should continue.”

Khan has proven restless, always experimenting with new styles and types of music. His curiosity is accompanied by a penchant for risk-taking. He has recorded popular and folk music as well as classical, and has explored the history of the sitar and its antecedents on the Silk Road. His recent artistic collaboration with Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi in 2021 produced the album This Pale, a musical interpretation of the poems of the thirteenth-century Persian poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi.

“Shujaat Khan Sahib’s music and collaborations are world-class, and he is also the foremost exemplar of pure gayaki ang,” said Rahul Neuman, co-director of the Music of India Ensemble at UCLA. “He will bring with him a wealth of experience in one of the great gharanas, as well as his own innovations. This is one of the reasons we are so fortunate to have him in residency.”

In addition to his concert at Schoenberg Hall, Khan’s residency will include a masterclass and visits to academic and instrumental classes on Indian music during his week-long stay. UCLA students will have the opportunity to learn from a world-class sitarist. Neuman understands just how important that can be.

“When I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Shujaat Khan arrived as a visiting artist, and I studied sitar with him,” said Neuman. “ I started to really appreciate Indian classical music; it opened up a musical world for me. As famous as he is, he is very generous as a teacher, and I’m excited that students will have the opportunity to learn from him.”

The Music of India Ensemble is housed in the Department of Ethnomusicology and is open to any student who wants to register for the class. Registration is not limited to music majors, and Neuman was quick to point out how students from all over UCLA – such as the social sciences and humanities – have participated in the ensemble. It has proven welcoming and popular, and is oversubscribed most years.

“We really hope to expand the program,” said Morcom. “And certainly having Shujaat Khan here for an artistic residency will raise our profile.”