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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chand Khan and Suraj Khan

The current online interview features the duo of Chand Khan (23 years) & Suraj Khan (22 years) hailing from both the Patiala and Shamchaurasi gharanas. The talented vocalists and sons of the distinguished vocalist Ustad Hussain Bukhsh Khan talk to Saqib Razaq about various facets of their career.

When did you start learning classical music?

Chand Khan (CK): We started learning together from our father, Ustad Hussain Bukhsh Khan, I was fifteen years old, whilst Suraj who is a year younger than me, was fourteen. Although we learnt and practiced together there was no intention of us singing in the form of a jugalbandi.

Suraj Khan (SK): Actually we had heard about a number of famous duos breaking up due to personal problems and clashes during the course of their careers, keeping this mind our father decided that we concentrate on independent solo careers. All this changed when we toured India with our father in the year 2000. We had a concert in New Delhi at the residence of Punjabi pop singer Daler Mehndi where a number of prominent names of the Punjabi music scene were present. Due to a late start, we were asked to perform as a duet. The audience were delighted at our performance and urged us to sing together.

Are Chand & Suraj your real names?

SK: My real name is Akbar Ali Khan whilst my brother’s name is Asghar Ali Khan. My brother Asghar was always known by the nickname of Chand. Following a performance in New Delhi, a member of the audience commented, “If Asghar is Chand, then you (Akbar) should be called Suraj”. A prominent Pakistani journalist, Tahir Mir was present amongst the audience, and on returning to Pakistan, he addressed us as Chand Khan – Suraj Khan in a series of newspaper articles. From then on we became known as Chand Khan & Suraj Khan.

Suraj Khan & Chand Khan

How did your initial music training begin?

CK: Like most youngsters from professional musical families, we were also given training in the traditional manner. Our initial training began by strengthening our command over each musical note on a daily basis lasting two to three hours. When our father was satisfied with our progress, he began to teach us raags. The first raag we learnt was Mian Ki Todi. We managed to cover a raag for about seven to eight days before proceeding onto the next one. Our father had strictly ordered us to practice with the tanpura.

During the initial phase of our training, we were allowed to perform ghazals, pop and Punjabi folk music in order to provide us with exposure on how to perform in public. We hated performing light music and longed to sing khayal, thumri and kafi.

What gharana are you associated with?

SK: Patiala and Shamchaurasi. Patiala is our primary gharana. Our grandfather, Ustad Natthu Khan was the shagird of Bade Fateh Ali Khansaheb (co-founder of the Patiala gharana). Natthu Khansaheb was amongst the closest disciples of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan was also known to seek his advice on musical matters.

The connection with the Shamchaurasi gharana is that my paternal aunt, who recently passed away, was married to Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Our father is greatly inspired by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and received training from him. They shared a very close relationship and my father was amongst Ustad Salamat Ali Khan’s favourite choice of musicians from the younger generation. A journalist once asked Salamat Ali Khansaheb on which artistes he enjoyed listening to. He named our father amongst a select few.

Ustad Hussain Bukhsh Khan

Favourite raag?

CK & SK: Deskaar, Ahir Bhairav, Shree, Kanwal Bhairav, Bhairav Bahar, Nat Narayani, Megh & Puriya Dhanasri.

Which musicians are you inspired by?

CK & SK : Our father Ustad Hussain Bukhsh Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khansaheb, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khansaheb, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khansaheb and Ustad Umeed Ali Khan.

In the field of ghazal we admire Mehdi Hassan saheb and Farida Khanum ji. Lata ji is an inspiration, a living legend. In the younger generation we like Rashid Khan of India. He is brilliant. In Pakistan, we are both inspired by Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan. He is a masterful layakaar and is following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. We are impressed with his treatment of singing in complicated rhythmic cycles like Talwara and Dhamar.

Can you tell us about some of your memorable performances?

CK: Our most memorable performance till date has been at the Harvallabh Music Conference in Jullandhur on 26th December 2004. It was an honour to sing at such a prestigious venue, we sang raag Madh Kalyan and were greatly appreciated. We also sang at the All Pakistan Music Conference in Lahore in March 2006, performing raag Abhogi Kanada, that was also a great experience.

The other notable performance was in January 2004 at the Alharma Arts Council in Lahore. Renowned tabla player Ustad Tari Khan performed a solo in taal Roopak and accompanied Shafqat Ali Khansaheb and Aqeel Manzoor. We sang raag Rajeshwari and were accompanied on the tabla by Kashif Ali Dhani.

Chand Khan Suraj Khan performing at Harvallabh

Your father is a great musician, how hard is it easy to follow in his footsteps?

CK: My father’s singing is vast. He is a master of all the major musical genres.

SK: All I can say is that our biggest reward would be if someone were to say that our singing even slightly resembles that of Ustad Hussain Bukhsh Khan.

There has been a tradition of vocalists singing in jugalbandi in both the Patiala and Shamchaurasi gharanas with each vocalist’s role clearly defined. How was each of your role defined by your father?

CK: I have been naturally talented at rendering taan patterns since childhood. Suraj has had to work hard and is very good now.

SK: Our father said that both have us should have no drawbacks in comparison to each other. If Chand renders a Saree taan, then I should be able to follow him. Both of us are balanced as vocalists.

CK: The saree taan is a subject in itself. My grandfather used to say “Jis gawaiyye ke gale mein saree naheen hai, woh gawaiyya nahin”.

Click to hear Chand Khan demonstrating the Saree taan in Thumdi Yaad Piya ki Aaye

How do both of you share your responsibilities during each performance without overlapping each other?

CK: Let me explain. Even though both of us sing to an equal measure, this does not mean we render tans and paltas all at once. We approach singing in a disciplined manner. If I do a behlawa, Suraj will expand on it. If I render a taan, his taan will be different.

You’ve toured India on an extensive basis, what is the difference between the atmosphere between Indian and Pakistani audiences?

Lahore 2005: Performing raag Lataagi with Kashif Ali Dhani on Tabla

CK: Indian audiences are very receptive towards classical music and create a mood for the artiste to perform to the best of his ability. I still remember a concert featuring our father in Ahmedabad a couple of years ago. When we entered the auditorium, we were amazed to see the hall elaborately decorated and the entire audience seated on the floor. Certain members of the audience requested our father to sing a thumri in raag Des. As the performance progressed, we noticed that there was total silence, no voices of appreciation and cries of praise to what we were used to in Pakistan. I was extremely concerned and worried that the audience was not enjoying the performance. When the recital finished, the audience showered Hussain Bukhsh Khansaheb with continuous praise and affection.

What are your views on Fusion music?

CK: I am in favour of any musical form as long as it is in tune and doesn’t sound bad to the ears. We did a fusion performance with a Swiss group at the World Music Festival in 2003, organized by the Rafi Peer Group in Lahore. We are not against pop music and admire pop artistes such as Sajjad Ali. We even dabbled in pop music for two years but like I’ve mentioned earlier, we didn’t enjoy it. Our real goal has always been to become recognized classical musicians.

What is the future of classical music in Pakistan?

SK: We are determined to make the future bright. Presently, we are seeing a revival of classical music in Pakistan. Classical music concerts are well attended, audiences in some concerts can number well over a thousand in Lahore. This means that classical music is still alive.

CK: Credit also goes to Shafqat Ali Khan for actively promoting classical music and trying his best to keep classical music alive. He has openly criticized the media for their poor projection of the art form. Classical music can be promoted by presenting it on primetime on media channels instead of the current state of presenting classical music at night when everyone is sleep. Pop music is constantly being broadcasted and you can see the likes of Abrar-ul-Haq performing all the time.

Shafqat Ali Khan

A recent positive step has been the regular broadcasting of classical music on Pakistani TV channel STN3. They broadcast old classical recitals of maestros such as Roshan Ara Begum and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Because of this channel, the likes of us can have the privilege of seeing these legendary musicians.

Click to hear Chand Khan - Suraj Khan perform a thumri in Mishra Khamaj

How can we promote classical music in Pakistan?

CK: People should organize concerts on a monthly basis of quality Pakistani artistes. Indian artistes should also be invited to perform on an active basis so there can be open environment between the musicians of both countries. A dialogue will be extremely beneficial between the musicians of both countries and will provide additional exposure.

SK: The government can promote classical music to the youth by organizing concerts actively. Currently, the STN channel is a great step in the right direction.

The next five years are crucial to your career as vocalists, what plans have you got on your musical development?

CK: Our father has taught us the techniques of riyaaz and it is up to us now on how we utilize it. Riyaaz is crucial, there is a famous saying amongst musicians that for each day you miss riyaaz, you set back twenty-one days. Music is an art form and requires years of dedication, we are still learning and there is no limit on how much a person learns. Someone once asked Bade Fateh Ali Khansaheb on what he had achieved in the field of music. He took the person to a river nearby and putting his hand in the river said not even half a drop.

SK: The dedication of our father still astounds us, you won’t believe it but even now he does more riyaaz than us. There is no limit in this field. We need the encouragement and blessings of all our seniors to make a name for ourselves.

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