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Music in the genes

Zila Khan was in Delhi the other day to launch her new album of classical and semi-classical musical forms. Music is her passion, and music is in her blood, but over a cup of tea, the delights of a good lemon tart cannot be surpassed, she tells ANJANA RAJAN... .



Zila Khan performing rare musical forms in Delhi at the release of her new album. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

THE CHILDREN of eminent artistes often struggle to maintain their individual identity before a public that insists on regarding them as appendages of their more illustrious parents. Zila Khan, daughter of pre-eminent sitar maestro Vilayat Khan might be considered among this number. But while she is carving out a niche for herself by performing across the world as a solo vocalist known for her mastery over rare forms, she is also fiercely proud of her lineage.

"Yeh khoon hai naa," she reiterates more than once, referring to her solid background. Even the recorded music in her family goes back four generations. But it is not merely a blood relationship with her father, it is the bond of a guru and disciple too.

Zila, who divides her time between Oman and London and was in Delhi recently for the release of her music album by Art Karat Entertainment, has as much encouragement for the aspiring `first generation' artistes who don't come from traditional music families, as she has praise for the offspring of famous performers, who like herself have decided to carry on the tradition despite the temptations of living a life of indolent luxury fuelled by the parent's music royalties.

From the time of her grandfather Inayat Khan, the family has been known as generous in sharing and teaching, and, stressing her grandfather's progressive outlook in teaching women, she declares we would not find a woman from a well-off family in West Bengal who has not had the opportunity of learning from him. And yet, in her own family, she is the first woman to learn and perform music! Paradox or no, Zila has no qualms about admitting it.

"I am absolutely honest," she affirms, and her eyes have a fiery glint. It was her father who was the radical in her family, but though he taught her "like a son" he asked her to refrain from performing till she got married, and blessed her that she may get a husband in conformance with her aspirations.

Zila is sure his blessings have found their mark, and in Khalid Anwar Shaikh, she has found the perfect match who understands her passion for music and supports her in her globe trotting career.

Thankful that she is able to pursue "my greatest love and passion," Zila, with her vast range of musical forms, like qaul, qalbana, gul, and others - each with its own special method of singing, its own theka - and her 10-year-old son Faizan who roams the world with her while simultaneously pursuing his studies, in the process keeping up the khaandani tradition, still finds delight in the little pleasures of life, like India International Centre's irresistible lemon tarts. You have to agree with her when she calls herself "magan."

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