Waseem Ahmed Khan’s lineage is enviable. An exponent of the Agra gharana, Khan is a direct descendent of the stalwarts who created this stylistically unique and rich repertoire. The Agra style is heavily influenced by the dhrupad gayaki (vocalisation); During the 19th century, it embraced influences of the ‘khayal,’ (literally meaning imagination), a lighter form of Persian music and underwent some changes.
This amalgamation of dhrupad and khayal coupled with distinctive vocal styles lent by Khan’s forefathers have given an uncommon set of features to the Agra gharana. Khan is the sole living direct descendent of this major style that has existed in India since the 13th century.
Khan was born in 1974 to Ustad Naseem Ahmed Khan. Naseem was the son of Basheer Khan, another exponent of the Agra gharana who has made significant contributions to this style. From the age of six, his immersive training or taalim began with his maternal grandfather, Late Ata Hussain Khan (1899-1980), who used the pen name, “Ratan Piya” and is well-known for some of the most beautiful compositions of the Agra repertoire. Thus, Waseem was blessed from both his maternal and paternal sides with one of the richest repertoires of north Indian classical music.
Soon after, he came under his father’s tutelage and developed the ability to perform full recitals.
Khan’s debut performance took place when he was ten years old. Blessed with a voice that can handle the heavier aspects of dhrupad and the drama of khayal, Khan impressed many gurus at the prestigious ITC Sangeet Research Academy and became a scholar under the aegis of Ustad Shafi Ahmed Khan. He passed out as an A grade scholar of the academy in April 2003 and has taught for five years as a senior faculty member of Shakhri Begum Memorial Trust, an academy run by Ustad Rashid Khan, a renowned vocalist from India.
Khan has carved a niche for himself as an exponent of the Agra gharana. His open-throated delivery of nom-tom alap is detailed. Khan is known for picking up special words or sentences in a bandish (fixed composition) and improvising in the true Agra style with bol-bant, a method of expanding lyrics based on rhythm.
Apart from khayal renditions, Khan’s thumri performances have also received accolades from connoisseurs and lay audiences. He believes that true music is steeped in spirituality and digresses from all established religions. For him, the universal objective of music is the betterment of humanity. Remaining true to the spirit of his forefathers, he is also particular about choosing ragas for his concerts. Khan prefers to adhere strictly to the time-cycle theory of Indian ragas whenever he performs.
Speaking of his responsibilities of carrying such an extraordinary legacy forward, Khan had said in an interview to the Indian daily, The Hindu, in 2019, “It is a huge responsibility. But I feel proud too. I consider it my duty to carry on this tradition and if possible, enrich it. The most important aspect is to pass on this legacy to the next generation. My young daughter has started learning and I’m also teaching students at the ITC-SRA Kolkata.”
An ardent follower of cricket, Khan believes that had he not chosen music, he would have become a cricket player. He is currently based in Kolkata, where he teaches his own students in the guru shishya parampara. Simultaneously, he trains students at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in the capacity of a ‘Musician Scholar’ and lends his expertise to various other scholarly projects of this institution.
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