You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
Music runs in their family for generations and now mother-son duo Zila and Faizan Khan are coming down together with The FeZ Project to make Sufi and classical music exciting not just elderly folks but younger ones too.
To start with Zila Khan is the daughter of Ustad Vilayat Khan, who is one of the pioneers to introduced Indian classical music to west, renowned sitar player of his time and from a family used to be court musicians in the glorious days of Mughals. “As in most Gharana’s sublime music was felt and heard before one is born and one learns complicated music compositions like one does nursery rhymes. My father was a legendary sitar maestro, and a self-taught western classical musician. So my childhood was uber privileged in the musical, spiritual, and secular sense,” says the Sufi singer about her beginning and the day when she was passed on with the rich heritage. “My father made me a formal student with a ceremony in the presence of Naushad sahab the film music director and other artist from Mumbai of that time. I was the first girl-child of a gharana who was bestowed with equal rights.” Zila Khan started singing after nine years of becoming mother. Her first album was titled ‘Zila’ which came out in 2002 and signed first recording album contract with Music Today in February 2004. Now it’s her son Faizan Khan who is all set and happy to carry on the legacy, “Since childhood, I’ve had constant exposure to all types of music. It defined my personality, and ran parallel to everything including academics and sports.”
As they say nothing is constant but change, so is the music. “I was having a conversation with a friend in college who was curious about classical music. I made him listen to a raag and tried to explain some of the finer details of it but almost everything blew over his head. That was the time I realized the massive disconnect between the youth and classical music and that’s how the idea of The FeZ Project formed. It will encompass traditional classical music with various other genres of music that are familiar to the youth, so that a foundation can be built to start listening to classical music again,” proudly Faizan the brain child behind the project. Approving the idea Zila Khan, “Everything needs a change from time to time. Even our classical music is not the exact same as it was 70 years ago and even changed before that. Why were the big change makers and improvisers great? Because they tried to bring something new and brought the change!” Moreover that son is also quite happy to have mother on his side, “When I spoke to mom and proposed the idea to fill this gap and try and disrupt the current situation. I was really glad that she liked the idea, it just showed how open minded and pro-active she is, both as a person and as an artist.”
Getting into the minutes the younger musician explains, “The objective of the project is to package and present Indian classical music in a way that the youth will connect with, imbibe, experience, and enjoy it. We aim to bring about a re-connection to our roots, particularly with regard to the youth, by releasing songs which merge classical music with genres popular today, like Beat-boxing, Electronica, Flamenco, Rock etc. Tags like ‘remix’ & ‘fusion’ have become run of the mill and done-to-death. We have been careful to ensure that we don’t dilute the quality of the songs, and yet marry the two genres while keeping the essence and relevance of each intact.” Understanding the youth, they have released one of the song “Chapp Tilak” on YouTube which has been quite appreciated, including Bollywood actor Anupam Kher. “By no means do we think that this is the only way or form of listening to classical music. In fact, this is just ‘one’ of the many ways. Traditional form of classical music will always live on and hopefully thrive. But the hard fact is that the youth finds it difficult to connect with it in its traditional form. So, it is equally important that we find a common ground to ensure the revival of classical music among the youth in particular,” making his stand clear the twenty-two years old musician.
Like all the mothers, Zila Khan is also awestruck with latest technology and dynamism of the youth. “I am told there are many emails and messages on social networking sites about the freshness of the sound of The Fez Project. Things like beat-boxing with traditional songs has very rarely been done ever before, if at all. It is beautiful and funky but the credit goes to Faizan for that, it is his idea and am amazed at how a young mind thinks,” says the mother. Then chips in the son to reciprocate, “Working with Maa was a lot of fun, she gave me a lot of freedom in deciding which classical song to fuse with which type of modern genre. She was always around for guidance and I could always pick her brain. But honestly, all these songs wouldn’t have sounded even half as good if she hadn’t sung them. She can sing the most complex classical songs as easily as she sings jazz or a western song.” Coming back to the trade, on a serious note Faizan, “I think it’s a fantastic time to be around if you’re a musician or a music lover. With the rising Indie scene, things are definitely looking good. So many different genres are now getting attention. A band can upload and share its music on platforms like YouTube and reach out to a massive audience base with just one simple click of a button. Even the audience is more open and receptive now.”
Well, things look good and mother is also happy with her music. She explains, “Sublime music elevates the soul, mind, senses, and heart to a higher platform, from where the inner vision gets a broader picture of the basis of life and everything surrounding us. The science of classical music and Sufi lyrics opens the ‘intellect’ to a higher realm, and then it helps us develop faster in our journey from birth to death and the understanding and meaning of it all. Then if we are enlightened enough to express it, it help others see that broader picture as well.” After being in the trade for quite a while, Zila allocates pros and cons of her trade. “Best thing is that I don’t need to tow along any instrument with me while traveling, just carry myself with my voice. And the worst thing is one has to protect the voice from every element you can think of, from the weather to eating to resting hours.” Though she has no plans to hang up the boots but there are things she wants to do before that. “I want to see thousands of Zila Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan. Looking forward for a concert platform where musicians can have concerts as much as they want. Also, I am working with HRD Ministry on school syllabus for 2nd to 8th grades where they will have Music Appreciation classes a week.” Also she bestows about a project which is very close to her heart, “I have been writing memoirs of my father Ustad Vilayat Khan’s life since about 30 years now, and started the process of documenting his photographs with a leading publishing house. It will be insight of his outward and inward personality since his childhood, to teenage and adult and mature life.”
After a point one wonders, do they do something else other than singing or listens to other’s music also? “I love listening to as many different genres and artists as possible. My favorite Indian band right now is Blackstratblues. Internationally, there are too many to choose from.” Looks like we have touched the right chord with Faizan, he continues excitedly, “I am a huge football fanatic and Zinedine Zidane is my all time favorite footballer. I’d be ready to play even if you wake me up at midnight for a match.” What else you expect from a twenty-two year old lad. “It’s been a year since I completed my Bachelors Degree in Media & Communication. Also, I love understanding how a person’s mind works and what makes them tick. If I was forced out of the music industry, I’d love to learn psychology and maybe become a psychoanalyst.”
On the other hand Zila Khan also happily but calmly shares, “Ustad Vilayat Khan has inspired me in music the most. And among my favorites are Andrea Bocelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson – his perfectionism and riyaaz in every tiny dance move. Alicia Keys and Adele are wonderful singers. Then there are Begum Akhtar and Abida Parveen for coming up in their career with such difficulties and making a mark in man’s world. I love Ustad Maa Kishori Amonkar for her ability to present a whole raag through just the one musical note. Pt. Ravi Shankar-ji for his struggle all his life with traditionalists who said he gave up his musicianship for popularizing his name over music.” Now that was quite a list and when she is not doing things related to music, “And I like spending free times relaxing with Faizan and very few selected friends who have a great sense of humor and also brilliant in their field of work. They have understood that as important as it is to be on top of your game/work one gets an edge over others with the dabbling of sublime poetry, music, and art. We are on this beautiful journey together and learning as each day goes by.”