Her name ‘Zila’ was inspired by the Persian Raga Zila Kafi, which is an amalgamation of the Indian and the Persian melodies as created by the Sufi Mystic Hazrat Amir Khusro. Born to the legendary musician, the sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan Saheb, Zila Khan learned the nuances of traditional Indian music genres from her illustrious father till she achieved perfection. She is known today for her diverse musical repertoire and her effortless renditions across genres, from Indian Classical, World Music and Indo-Jazz Fusion to Traditional Ghazal and Sufi.
A highly revered performer, a music entrepreneur, actor, and a cultural ambassador for the Government of India Zila Khan tells about her musical grooming, her initiatives to promoting traditional Indian music genres globally and treating ailments through Music therapy in an exciting conversation with loudest.in
The virtuoso begins the conversation as she gives a glimpse of her musical environment she was brought up in, “Apart from my traditional training in Indian Classical Music from Abba, I have been trained not only in Indian Classical Music but also trained in Sufi, Thumri, Kajri and Western Classical Music. I have grown up listening to the records of Beethoven, Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, Beatles, John Baez, Bob Dylan, Jay Coffsky, Schubert, Schumann who are all western classical and popular musicians. So since the beginning, I was exposed to an entire gamut of the musical genres, and they are not different for me.”
Being the Cultural Ambassador of India, what does the word culture signify to her, shares Khan, “When I started doing international concerts with artists from various countries, my overall grooming across the genres helped me imbibe their musical subtleties, along with my knowledge of traditional Indian music forms. So all that together has become my culture too, because I believe Music has no boundaries and it is universal. Whatever I am, is my culture. The kind of Music I have grown up with, to the outfits I have imbibed from the west, to comfortably suit my look is all part of my culture and what I call as development. Till the time we are rigid about these things we cannot grow. We should try to incorporate everything, although it can be selective to choose what we want or don’t want.”
Talking about her ongoing projects, “I have created new songs which have ‘Bandishes’ and ‘Sufiana Kalams’ of traditional Sufi repertoire and poetry of eminent Sufi literary icons like Hazrat Amir Khusro, Bab Bullehshah, and has a few Bandishes of Abba, Ustad Vilayat Khan Saheb’s, because I wanted to bring to light his compositions. The entire work is an amalgamation of various genres of Music, to include Indian Classical, Egyptian, Jazz. But for each piece, I have kept the Indian rhythmic patterns of Matras and Indian Ragas which will soon be released on the digital platforms.”
Talking about the Rumi Yatra which was presented by Asia Society, the Consulate General of India in New York and the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), Khan said, “I explored this concept of fusing Indian Rhythmic patterns and ragas live with some of the exceptional international musicians like the jazz virtuoso Ossam Ezzeldin, bass wizard Kai Eckhardt and the eminent flute player Steve Gorn. They seamlessly fused Jazz music with Indian harmonic ideas and Sufi literature, while I also made my audience count the Matras as we sang the compositions.”
Zila talks about her initiative Ustadgah, her music school where she imparts training on Indian Classical Music, Sufi and popular genres to the younger generation, “Ustadgah means ‘Ustadon ki Jagah‘ in Hindi, i.e. ‘The abode of the Masters‘. I teach 300-400 children every year who learn not only Classical Music or Sufi Music but also learn how to perform Modern Music and, how to collaborate with others. Post which I put them on to the international stage, to enable them to earn a better lively hood. We teach them ragas, taals, and essential elements of Classical Music, so they use the tools of Classical Music in Modern-Day Music. This has helped preserve Classical Music by teaching it to the next generation. Moreover, Modern Music gives them a reach to bigger audiences, which increases their earning power too, and this is what Ustadgah does.”
“I want all of you to have a lot of Ustadgahs, i.e. music school where on the one hand our traditional music is taught along with modern music so that the youngsters of today start taking an interest in classical music, since it enables them to enrich their art, and also use classical music as a tool to explore collaborations,” adds Khan.
Congratulating Music Inc 2.0 on its success, Khan said, “I loved meeting my friends here and hearing the ideas and thoughts that everybody had to share with the body of the work they had done. It’s a fantastic platform to come and educate yourself about what is happening in the industry. There was so much solidarity as people of the same ideology got together to talk on Music, and it’s betterment so that it blossoms in every direction. We are very fortunate to have these kinds of discussions where there is too much ideating going on while it also covers aspects like Events, Music, Tourism and everything under the sun connected with entertainment and giving an opportunity to listen to everyone’s viewpoints.“
Addressing Music Inc. Session on ‘Music in Tourism’ Zila stressed to bring Arts on a pedestal to promote tourism by saying, “The need of the hour is to put Indian Music and arts on a priority! The day we start thinking like Paris and how France does it with their ‘Art is Sublime’ thought, putting it as a top priority over everything be it politics, economy, transport or industry is essential. With places like Louvre Museum and likes, they get so much traffic to the country, earning one-fourth of the tourism revenue of the world. In India, we have so many different states boasting of Exotic Music, Art, Handicrafts, Artisans, and Musicians at the grass-root level. If their Art and Music gets the kind of recognition and promotion it deserves, it will automatically attract tourism across the states.”
Zila also urged to Prime Minister Modi to Push Indian Classical Music Therapy the way we we celebrate Yoga internationally. “Very few people know that there is a science to Classical Music and it’s very calculative and has mathematics and healing powers to it. Once this kind of initiative is taken, I am sure it will help promote tourism to India, as it will also help classical Music.”
Elaborating on her music therapy initiatives at the The Fortis-Zila Khan Music Therapy Centre, Khan says, “Indian classical Music is very scientific as every raga has a method of rendition, which is sung with a specific permutations and combinations to produce different chemicals, affecting different fibers of the body which can be further used to treat diseases like Autism, Learning Disabilities, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Cancer, as well as patients suffering from Neurological Disorders or Traumas. The treatment sessions consist of 20 to 30 minutes of listening to ragas, which stimulate a patient’s awareness of self, bringing about positive changes in the emotional, psychological and physical health of a person.“