I was only seventeen years old when I heard the maestro Ustad Rashid Khan live for the first time at the Doverlane Music Conference. Before that, I had heard his popular playback songs like Aaoge Jab Tum and Allah Hi Rahem in Bollywood films such as Jab We Met and My Name is Khan. But listening to him live — his rhythmic vocals, his masterful breath control and his command over an array of vocal ranges accompanied by the melody of the swarmandal gave me goosebumps. I have always been an ardent devotee of Hindustani Classical Music but have always preferred its instrumental arrangements. Listening to Rashid Khan for the first time created an exceptional impression on me and showed me what Indian Classical vocals should feel like. After that, I have heard him perform many a time at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy but like all good things, you never forget the first time.
Two days, earlier the 55-year-old legendary singer passed beyond the veil at a hospital in Kolkata after having battled cancer for over four years. Not just Kolkata, but the entire music fraternity from across the country; musicians and fans alike, expressed their deep condolences. In times like these, when folks say that he died too young, I always go back to something my grandma told me years ago:
"God picks up the finest flowers first. So today, instead of wallowing in tragedy and shrouds of death, let us celebrate the life well-lived of a musical genius, our very own Ustad Rashid Khan."
Born on July 1, 1968, in Sahaswan, Badayun, Uttar Pradesh, Rashid Khan hails from a family of prolific classical musicians. Khan’s musical journey began under the tutelage of his maternal grand-uncle, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, a figure whose influence would shape the young prodigy's destiny. Despite an initial lack of interest in music, Rashid Khan's latent talents were recognized by his uncle, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, who provided early guidance and trained him for some time in Mumbai. However, it was under the strict yet formative training of Nissar Hussain Khan that Rashid Khan's musical prowess truly blossomed. The rigorous discipline of voice training from the early hours of the morning, with hours spent perfecting a single note, laid the foundation for his future mastery of taan and layakaari.
Rashid Khan's debut concert at the tender age of eleven marked the beginning of a musical odyssey that would captivate audiences for over three decades. His move to the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta at the age of 14 further honed his skills, leading to his formal recognition as a musician by 1994.
The Rampur-Sahaswan gayaki, a style closely linked to the Gwalior Gharana, became the canvas upon which Rashid Khan painted his musical narrative.This specific genre is characterized by its moderate to slow speeds, deep and full-bodied vocal quality, and complex rhythmic patterns. His mastery of the Vilambit Khayal gayaki, influenced by maestros such as Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, showcased his ability to infuse emotional depth into his melodic elaborations.
Beyond the confines of traditional Hindustani music, Rashid Khan's innovative spirit led him to experiment with fusing Sufi music and collaborating with Western instrumentalist Louis Banks. His versatility was further evidenced in his proficiency in playback music for blockbuster films, showcasing his ability to transcend musical boundaries.
Rashid Khan's impact on the world of Indian classical music was not only recognized through prestigious awards such as the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award but also through his enduring presence at classical concert conferences and his commitment to sharing his musical legacy, even during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the 31st generation of Sangeet Samrat Mian Tansen, Ustad Rashid Khan's legacy transcends accolades and awards, and continues to resonate in the hearts of millions of Hindustani vocal classical music enthusiasts. His melodic odyssey stands as a testament to the timeless power of music to transcend boundaries and touch the soul.