A life dedicated to classical music and its Gharana


Representing an illustrious gharana of Hindustani classical music must be both a sense of pride and discouragement. Nadeem Khan (40) is a Hindustani classical singer who knows this feeling all too well. It represents Rampur-Sehaswan gharana, which is credited with giving the country’s first Padma award recipient for classical music.

Nadeem, quickly put things in the right perspective. He says, “It doesn’t matter what lineage you come from, but music is an art that cannot be granted to you. You have to work hard to learn it and earn it. He quickly adds: “I also understand that I come from an extremely rich lineage of classical music, which is why I have a great sense of responsibility towards my art and my elders.

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Nadeem lives in the congested locality of Khirkee, south of Delhi. Things are so cluttered here that sunlight has a hard time penetrating her home. But he makes up for it by filling his house with the warmth of the notes of Hindustani classical music.

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The gharana to which Nadeem belongs is called Sahaswan, in the current Badaun district of UP.

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Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan (1878-1964) the first recipient of the Padma Bhushan award, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan (Padma Bhushan 1971), Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan (Padma Vibhushan), are some other big names from this Gharana. Rashid Khan, who has made a name for himself in Bollywood movies (from celebrity aaoge jab tum sajana of Jab we met) thanks to his purely classical singing is Nadeem’s first cousin.

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“Our house was always filled with Hindustani classical music notes when I was growing up as a child. This is how my initial training began,” says Nadeem. His initial training was under his maternal grandfather Ustad Sarfaraz Khan and later under his father Ustad Aftab Ahmed Khan. He was a formal student of his uncle Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, an illustrious singer. “I would say that my training in classical Hindustani singing started from my first breath. We also had the freedom to choose what we wanted. I had a natural inclination for classical singing and my dad encouraged it more. On the other hand, my brother didn’t go the classical singing route and has his own rock band and sings music. Indi-Bollywood music. Still, my dad didn’t object.”

In the Gharana, Gayaki has always been taught in the guru-shishya parampara and Nadeem has come out through the same grind. It is always said that the Ustads are tough on their followers. So how was it for Nadeen, of whom Ustad was his father? “I have to say my dad was a little soft on me. He encouraged me but was never hard on me.

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Nadeem is of the opinion that music academics cannot take you too far. “Music is not an academic thing. That’s what my elders said and I believe the same. Having a doctorate in music will not make you a good singer. Only riyaz and learning under the tutelage of Ustads can make you a good singer.

Speaking of his own singing style and influences, he says, “I’ve always sought to create my own personal style. But then you cannot avoid the chhaap (impression) of the ancients in your style. People say that my singing style bears the impression of my father’s and Ustad Hafeez Ahmed Khan’s singing style.

He had started giving live public performances when he was quite young. His first live performance at the age of 13 was at LTG Auditorium, Mandi House, New Delhi.

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Ulhas Kashalkar, Kaushaki Chakrabarty, Ghulam Niyaz Khan and Pandit M Venkatesh Kumar are among the contemporary classical singers from other gharanas whom Nadeem admires.

“Our gharana is famous for Tarana Gayaki and Tantrakari is our specialty. Also, raag desh is a kind of patented raag of our gharana. Saying this, he bursts into a famous bandish en raag Desh which is a signature rendition of the gharana.

Nadeem is all for maintaining the purity of classical music, but he believes that this insistence on purity should not be restrictive and one-dimensional. “In our gharana, versatility in singing is encouraged. We are encouraged to sing in different styles in addition to bada khayaI. This is why semi-classical sung forms such as thumri, chaiti, ghazals are not frowned upon. I pass on the same attitude to my students as well. ”


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