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Asia

'Despite the loss, music just gets stronger'

The death of Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar has been mourned by music lovers worldwide. Deutsche Welle spoke to prominent Indian sitar player, Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan, pictured, about the loss to Indian music.

Picture of Shujaat Khan performing at the Frick Fine Arts Building's Auditorium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 8, 2011. Date 8 May 2011 Source Own work Author Lee Paxton http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ShujaatKhan.jpg

Shujaat Khan

Deutsche Welle: How big a loss is Pandit Ravi Shankar's death?

Shujaat Husain Khan: It's a very great loss. Every industry, be it business, music, movies, is sitting on pillars which hold that industry together, the legends of their time and he was a pillar of Indian classical music. Although he has only performed very very rarely in the last 10 to 15 years, it always felt nice to have a father figure for our whole generation. His not being here today does make everyone feel like orphans. He was a great legend, a great maestro, a great musician and we will all miss him a lot.

From a sitar-player's perspective, what do you think were Pandit Ravi Shankar's greatest contributions?

I come from a family with a musical tradition with a contrasting approach to Ravi Shankar's. We come from a family that has worked on the vocal style, gayaki ang (a style that simulates the human voice). So musically, when you look at it, we had very different personalities, although it all comes under the umbrella of music. I think his biggest contribution is the fact that he put in a huge amount of work into getting Indian classical music to the West and getting it known throughout the world.

You are referring to his work with the Beatles, for example...

I think what he did with the Beatles, he and I, we have spoken about this often, it was not something he would remember with extreme pride. It's something that happened, it was the time it happened. George Harrison came to him, they did stuff, but he soon realized he was performing before a huge bunch of people at the Woodstock festival, for example, who were, as he would call it, high on some substance or other. But later on he realized that this was a world which would accept him and take his music very seriously.

Did he really take it in a bad way that these people were high on drugs?

Well, not in a bad way, but he jumped into it and realized that it was not what he wanted to do. Any artist would prefer someone understanding and enjoying his music rather than a whole bunch of people who were swaying to anything you played to them.

Do you yourself have a similar feeling when you play outside South Asia?

No, fortunately by the time I started travelling, people had had enough exposure to Indian classical music to realize that it was not about some guru who was going to sit in front of you with incense sticks around him and you could, with a head full of dope, sit and sway around him. They realized that there was more to this music, there was more hard work, more tradition, heritage, years and years of practice and that it was a serious art form.

What does the future of Indian classical music look like now? You're probably one of the last people who have been a part of this tradition....

No! I already have a bunch of talented young people, sitarists and sarod players who are already performing. Music is larger than all of us. An artist is someone who takes music forward, enjoys music and gives music to the world. But music and the instrument are things that will be alive for the next thousand years. It's much, much stronger than before. We have a lot of hardworking youngsters coming along, making progress. Music takes time to mature, so you have to wait until you get into your thirties and forties, but a wonderful new generation of musicians has arrived.

Shujaat Husain Khan is the son of the legendary Sitar player Vilayat Khan and has performed all over the world. He currently lives in New Delhi.

Interview: Manasi Gopalakrishna

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