Musically, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan does not compromise. He is totally dedicated to his sitar, upholding the illustrious traditions of his ancestors while expanding the instrument’s technical boundaries. Critics back in India have described him as ‘Indian music personified’.
Born into the legendary Imdadkhani gharana of Uttar Pradesh, he was always expected to carry the family legacy forward. His ancestors gave shape to the modern sitar, redesigning it and formulating the now-distinctive gayaki ang (singing style). The Khan family includes pioneers such as his uncle Ustad Vilayat Khan and his grandfather Ustad Imdad Khan, who in 1904 became the first recorded sitarist.
His early training was famously demanding. He had to practice for the majority of his waking life, rarely playing outside or socialising with his peers. His father Ustad Aziz Khan did not believe in praise, and avoided smiling at his son’s accomplishments despite widespread acclaim as a prodigy. For many the extreme discipline may have poisoned the music, but not for Shahid, who says “my involvement in music is so much that I do not think of anything else...I do not believe I can live a better life”.
Khan’s playing reaches scarcely believable standards: “I believe that what you play spontaneously should be perfect. Whatever comes into your mind, you should be able to play it on the sitar. It is now a complete instrument - by which I mean you can replicate any aspect of vocal music on it”.
He feels no need to dabble with fusion, saying that Hindustani music “is like a great ocean - you can spend a lifetime exploring it and will not run out of space.” Technical innovations set his style apart, with unique picking patterns and overtone whispers that glide upwards and spiral into silence.
Today he sits at the pinnacle of Hindustani music, touring widely while also finding time to teach at his eponymous SPK Academy in Arizona (“I do not teach for money - it is my passion”). But it is only the music which motivates him: “I always want to proceed, and overcome whatever boundaries I come across. But the direction is never pre-planned. It is about the green light. I don’t have to wait for it to flash - I have reached a level where it is always on. There are no shortcuts to this place, but it must be the goal”.
"New ideas can be added to any art - classical, kathak, or anything else. This does not make the music impure. I always explore within certain boundaries, but find that these boundaries are vast. It is like a great ocean."
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