FRIDAY REVIEW

Music for the soul

Many facets: Zila Khan’s album ‘Zila the girl child’ is a musical gesture for women’s empowerment.

Many facets: Zila Khan’s album ‘Zila the girl child’ is a musical gesture for women’s empowerment.   | Photo Credit: Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar .



Zila Khan’s music reaches out to people from all walks of life.

There are many aspects to each of us – daughter, wife, mother, singer, activist… I believe in doing justice to each of those persons.

“What I have learnt from my father is humility. As he was such a great man, I know how small I am. If I had not seen that greatness at close quarters, may be I would have been blown away by adulation, fame and money…,” admits Zila Khan, daughter of the sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan. The singer will perform at Nishagandhi open-air auditorium in Thiruvananthapuram today.

Named after Amir Khusrao’s raga ‘Zila Kaafi,’ Zila, who has made a name for herself as a Sufi singer, says: “I know I have a long way to journey in music. When I reach that place, my goal would have moved further ahead. So it is an ongoing process.”

Zila, who divides her time between Oman and New Delhi, recalls: “I began learning as a child and I have been singing for many years. But I chose to give public performances only a few years back. Even after my father gave me permission to sing in pubic and held a ‘gandabandh shahgird,’ enabling me to carry his name forward as one of his successors, I did not begin performing in public immediately.”

Recalling her “amazing relationship” with her father, she continues: “He was my guru and my father. I am privileged to be his daughter and I treasure that privilege and am grateful for that. I have made a documentary on my father. At one point of time, I was like his manager.”

Reaching out to people

However, today, Zila has carved a niche for herself as a singer and an activist who uses music to heal wounds and to reach out to people from all walks of life.

“I don’t see my activities as giving back to society. We are all parts of the same plant. Some of us become the leaves, some the thorns. Some others are the roots while some become the trunk. Maiming one part would hurt the plant as a whole and might eventually kill it. It is this realisation that makes me reach out to those in need,” says the musician who supports a number of causes such as conservation of water and environment, the girl child, rural children and so on.

In fact, her latest album, which was launched worldwide in April, is dedicated to the girl child. Called ‘Zila the girl child,’ the compositions in the album talk about the emotions of a woman. It has compositions by women poets and it also comprises the kalma, dua and lyrics of Hasrat Rabia Basri, considered the first Sufi woman singer.

A musical gesture for women’s empowerment.

Acting in a play

Zila sees these activities as a natural extension of her place in the cosmos, a citizen of the world. Much in the same way, she emphasises that she does not want to confine herself to a genre of music. “There are many aspects to each of us – daughter, wife, mother, singer, activist… I believe in doing justice to each of those persons. At the same time, I enjoy taking risks. That was one reason why I enjoyed doing the lead role in the play ‘God’s Graves and Grandmother,’”

Based on Namita Gokhale’s novel of the same title, the play had English dialogues but songs in Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit.

“Singing the songs was not a difficult task but memorising the dialogues were,” she says. She adds that she would not mind acting in a play if a “good opera-like play was written.”

“I would love to travel with it to all over the world and stage the play,” she adds.

But Zilla asserts that she would never want to be constrained by people’s perception of how a singer, specifically a Sufi singer, should be.

“I choose to sing Sufi songs. There are hundreds on interpretations to the word ‘Sufi.’ I feel the essence of it is to ‘simplify’ one’s life. That is what I attempt to do. So I do not try to play to the gallery by dressing or speaking like the popular perception of a Sufi singer,” she explains.

But then Zila’s music speaks for her. And it speaks volumes of her as a singer and a woman.

S.N

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