Renowned singer Zila Khan, the daughter of sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan, regaled a full house at her April 21, performance in the T.V. Asia Auditorium, Edison, New Jersey.
The event entitled, “An Evening of Mystical Sufi Music” exceeded its promise and was “beyond expectations,” according to those Desi Talk spoke to.
Around 200 people attended according to Anoop Bhargava, founder of Jhilmil, a non-profit behind the event, which swears by the mission, “Art Matters,” and brings a range of cultural genres from dance and music to theater, poetry and fine arts to discriminating audiences in the Tri-state area.
“This is not a large number, but not a single person who came left before the end. She sang for three hours,” Bhargava said observing that, “It takes time to develop the taste for this kind of music and program.”
“I haven’t seen or heard anything unique and different as this one,” Dr. Satish Mullick, a retired professor of dentistry from Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine (previously known as the New Jersey Dental School). “It was absolutely beyond my expectations – the way she talked about it, the interpretations, just great. And the musicians were just amazing, especially the percussionist,” Mullick went on.
The audience was struck by Khan’s ability to seamlessly combine Sufi music with semi classical, classical, and jazz. Considered one of the finest Sufi singers in the world, Khan is known precisely for her ability to do that – her wide repertoire and her command over various music styles, whether it’s world music and Indo-Jazz fusion, Indian classical, traditional ghazal, and Sufi music make her what she is today, a singer, music entrepreneur, actor, and cultural ambassador for the Government of India, according to her Facebook page.
Khan’s ensemble at the New Jersey event, included jazz virtuoso Ozz Ezzeldin, Kai Eckhardt on guitar, and percussionist Shwan Rickman, among others.
At the concert, Khan treated the audience as participants, urging them to finish the vocals of some of her more popular numbers. She easily moved from Sanskrit to Urdu, and English, interspersed by jazz interjections from other performers, that appeared to be impromptu interludes in the style familiar to both Indian classical and Western jazz. Her deep and sometimes assertive, sometimes soft, voice wound itself around every genre with ease.
Khan’s speed-beat rendition of “Dum-a-Dum Must Kalandar” an all-time popular song, was unique in more ways than one, with the synthesizer entering for a solo improv, that drew massive applause ending the concert..
She regularly performs at major Indian and International music festivals and venues such as Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Symphony Space, Broadway, Asia Society, and Trafalgar Square in U.K.
She has also been featured on MTV Coke Studio, Buzzfeed, and MTV IGGY.
Besides singing, Khan is also a music entrepreneur and overseas several ventures. She is the co-owner of Arré Siren, A first of its kind music and comedy festival in India, headlined by women artists; She is a partner and curator at Ranthambore Festival, a festival with a goal of conserving traditional music, and nature, according to her bio.
She also runs the UstadGah Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with the goal of mentoring musically talented underprivileged children to enable them to earn a living with their art.
In Bollywood, Khan has played a supporting role alongside Deepika Padukone in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali blockbuster, Bajirao Mastani. On stage, Khan is the lead in Lillete Dubey’s play, Gauhar.
Being a cultural ambassador for India, Khan is also featured in the Incredible India advertisement campaign for the Tourism Ministry of India. She received the Incredible India Award in 2017, and also the Ghalib Award. Khan performs at various Presidential and Prime Ministerial level receptions for state dignitaries in India.
“It was a great musical trip for all those who came to the April 21 performance,” said Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold. “She is a very versatile artist – singer, actor, theater artist – and she is the daughter of a legend,” Parikh added.
“The concert was amazing in the sense that it was the first time I was hearing such an integration of Sufi music with jazz – very nice to hear the tune and then the musical interlude – jazzed up,” said Ammie Singh, a retired telecommunications engineer from South Jersey.
Jhilmil’s Bhargava expressed the hope that those who came to the New Jersey concert, “will bring two or three of their friends to the next event. We need support for this kind of art.”
Apart from her artistic talents, Khan passionately supports gender equality, women’s rights and the protection of cultural heritage, according to her Facebook bio. That is predictable because Khan happens to be the first girl-child in seven generations of her family, to be singing in public, according to a March 14, 2018 news report in entrepreneur.com. She began formal learning under her father’s tutelage at the age of 9. “At that point of time, it wasn’t a natural thing for me to be trained by my father like the boys were. Seeing my musicality, his thought process changed and he was quite surprised,” Khan told entrepreneur.com.