A complete musician

Padmashri Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan, who passed away in 2006, straddled the old and the new in a unique manner – he was trained in the traditional gurukula system, imbibing the intricacies of the gharana over several years of study under the master, and at the same time he had a masters degree in politics, taught at Minnesota University, USA, and served as deputy chief producer, AIR Delhi. After retirement he was vice-chancellor, Indira Sangeet University at Khairagarh, the only university devoted exclusively to music. He was also honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi for his lifetime contributions to music. Among the prestigious invitations he received was to perform at Carnegie Hall, USA, Europe, Afghanistan, Nepal (on a royal invitation from the king) Pakistan and the Middle East. Because of his lucid command over English, his recitals abroad, interspersed with explanations that would help foreigners understand the intricacies of Indian classical music, were everywhere a great hit, as media reviews testify. He also acted in a German movie on Tansen, called “The Rain Maker”. When the Delhi durbar fell, and subsequently the British ousted the nawab at Audh (Lucknow), most of the court musicians form these two places moved to Rampur durbar because the nawabs of Rampur were known for their love of, and patronage for, musicians.

The specialities of this gharana are tarana singing (with nom-tom improvisations, which very few vocalists do), emphasis on melody rather than the just dry, grammatical sophistication, chhoot taan (spectacular jumps through the octaves, calling for a sound voice and pitch control it calls for). Despite his strict adherence to gharana norms, Hafeez Ahmed Khan was eclectic enough to create new ragas, adapt south Indian melodies into the Hindustani idiom, and perform jugalbandi duets with Carnatic musicians. He performed at Bangalore a few years ago, under the auspices of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. The Rampur gharana was nurtured by successive nawabs of Rampur state, some of whom were also composers. The programme includes a chaturang (a rare form, now obsolete) composed by the last nawab. The gharana also specialises in ragsagar (where several ragas are strung together like a garland). Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan (who was the son-in-law of the legendary Ustad Enayat Hussain Khan who founded the Rampur gharana) was a court musician at Baroda and subsequently moved to the Sangeet Research Academy of ITC, Kolkata, where he served as a resident guru for 17 years and trained disciples like Ustad Rashid Khan, currently an internationally acclaimed vocalist of Hindustani music. Hafeez Ahmed Khan’s disciples are now all over the world, from Melbourne to Minnesota.

One interesting detail about this gharana is that the musical lineage descends through sons-in-law – each guru chose his best disciple and gifted him not only his precious musical knowledge but also his daughter. Thus Nissar Hussain Khan was the son-in-law of Enayat Hussain Khan and Hafeez Ahmed Khan was in turn the son-in-law of Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan. Another interesting, and heart-warming detail is that in spite of being very devout Muslims, these ustads composed in praise of Lord Krishna – Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan (another son-in-law of Enayat Hussain, and the first musician to be awarded the Padmabhushan by the government of India when the Padma awards were instituted after independence) composed many songs in praise of “ Sri Ramachandra” and “Shyam Bihari” (Krishna), while Hafeez Ahmed Khan’s father Ustad Rashid Ahmed Khan, composed the famous bandish thumri, “Tore bina mohey” (that Rashid Khan has immortalized) in praise of “Brij ke Nandlal” (Krishna). Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, Rashid Ahmed Khan, Hafeez Ahmed Khan and his wife (daughter of Nissar Hussain Khan) insisted on being buried only at the holy Nizamuddin dargah at Delhi, and Nissar Hussain Khan used to interrupt his recitals if it was time for namaaz – but in spite of this religious belief, where music was concerned, they did not hesitate to sing in praise of Krishna. Reciting the “soz” (elegy performed only during Mohurrum, to mourn the death of Hussain at Karbala) is a speciality of Rampur ustads. March 15 is the birth anniversary of the late Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan, from whom I began learning in 1966 and it went on for 39 years. This musical tribute at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, tomorrow by his disciples is a beginning of a series that will take place in various cities of the country, to spotlight a gharana (style) that has few exponents today.

Tribute to Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan is on March 15, 5.30 p.m. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:15:18 PM |

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