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Ustad Sultan Khan and international colleagues


Vilayat Khan (1927-2004) was the creator of modern sitar playing, and I had enjoyed his London recitals in the past, without having the knowledge to appreciate fully why he is so revered, as was expressed movingly in a tribute by one of his disciples during this remarkable evening organised by Navras Records, with which he had an exclusive contract in his later tears. This well organised event, with colourful stage decoration, served also to launch a Vilayat Khan DVD & CD, which were formally presented to his long term colleague Sultan Khan.

Last night's memorial concert involved an eclectic mix of music given by an international ensemble, led by Ustad Sultan Khan (sarangi) whom I have enjoyed hearing play in London since c.1990. Ustad Vilayat Khan’s younger son, Hidayat Khan, was booked to commence the concert with a sitar recital, but failed up to the last minute to obtain a visa to come to UK from USA; several of the musicians were to have gone on from London to Portugal today, but they also have failed to receive the necessary visas in these troubled times.

Felix Maria Woschek from Portugal introduced the final Sufi mantras with a moving speech about music to bring together peace and understanding between nations and faiths, the audience at a far from full QEH joining in with the refrains to bring the concert to an end.

There was no printed programme (a peculiarity with Indian concerts) and the vocal introductions (partly in Indian language) were impossible for noting the numerous names and guessing their spellings. Ustad Sultan Khan and his son led off with a spell binding set; the sarangi is perhaps the most vocal of Indian string instruments and the young man is clearly another future great virtuoso in the family tradition.

Later Sultan Khan (who also sings) retreated into what used to be the accompanying role of his instrument, from which this great musician had played a major part in its emancipation. Ustad Mohammad Eghbal, singing and playing the Persian reed-flute Ney and oriental lute Ud, headed the Sufi music, of which Vilayat Khan had been fond.

Most spectacular was the full-throated singing of a colourfully turbanned duo from Rajasthan, who presented Sufi vocals, the father nearly upstaged by his eye and ear catching son, a dancing virtuoso on the mesmerizing khadtal (wooden castanets).

© Peter Grahame Woolf