Digital fans no measure of talent, says Ustad Vilayat Khan's daughter

Jul 04, 2018, 10:32 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Ahead of a gig that ties world music and Indian tradition, Ustad Vilayat Khan's daughter speaks of embracing the stage as singer-actor and why social media love doesn't equal good music

Digital fans no measure of talent, says Ustad Vilayat Khan's daughter
Zila Khan in performance

Ready access to recorded music spanning five generations of renowned artistes in the family, the walls of her living room packed with portraits of Indian and international musical greats, and a childhood immersed in not just her father and legendary sitar player Ustad Vilayat Khan's music, but also that of icons like Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez and Aretha Franklin; when Zila Khan says "badi shaukeen tabeeyat se bade hue hain", she means it.

Khan in a scene from Gauhar with Rajeshwari Sachdev
Khan in a scene from Gauhar with Rajeshwari Sachdev

It is this exposure to the many sounds of music from an early age that shaped the musician in Khan, an accomplished Sufi singer, rooted as much in the Indian classical tradition as she is open to indigenous music from Spain, Africa, Scandinavia, and West Asia. Connoisseurs will get a glimpse of her collaborative approach to music at her upcoming performance, Echoes of the World.

"I like to work with stimulating music, and music from different cultures adds to my stimuli. At the same time, I have consciously woven the Indian thread into it to join these traditions to my roots," says Khan, as she takes a break from an intensive rehearsal.

Khan in a scene from Gauhar with Rajeshwari Sachdev

Khan is among the few artistes who has also tested her skills as a performer in the field of acting, both in theatre and cinema. She has played the role of Deepika Padukone's mother in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani, and currently essays the role of the older Gauhar Jaan as well as her mother in Lillete Dubey's production, Gauhar, on the life of the thumri singer. "Doing theatre is difficult, it requires a different skill set. A play has its own pace, as does a music concert. But, I love doing things that test my limits. Even when my father would be happy with my eight hours of practice, we would go on for 16 hours because I liked to push myself," she recalls.

As a curator of several music festivals that give a platform to lesser-known but deserving artistes, she rues the fact that popular entertainment ventures attempting to do the same don't pay attention to the selection process. "I am sad that Coke Studio, which had the best indie music, was mishandled by its representatives. The blame doesn't lie with the artistes, but with the selectors," she reveals.

And, even as indie music is making its presence felt in the country, she is wary of the importance accorded to social media stardom. "Musicians today are judged by their digital followers. Whether or not they are good doesn't really matter as long as they are multimedia savvy. While it is a wonderful platform, we should also focus on the musicality of the artiste, and the artistes should themselves look at honing their own musical skills. I am not saying, don't use social media, but we must judge how much to use it," shares Khan.

As an artiste who loves to "celebrate the arts in their entirety", she also puts the onus on the audience to make the most of the access they have to cultural events. "If you don't experience what you are given a choice to listen to, if you can't use your faculties to the hilt, toh kya maza hai?"

ON: July 5, 7 pm
AT: Experimental Theatre. NCPA, Nariman Point.
CALL: 22824567
ENTRY: Rs 500 onwards

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