Sukhawat Ali Khan

Profile: Suhkawat Ali Khan

700 Years of Musical History
In the 16th century, Sukhawat (pronounced sue-ka-vat) Ali Kahn's ancestors Mian Chand Khan and Mian Suraj Khan were called to the court of Akbar the Great. Akbar, the Emperor of India, ruled during the most peaceful time in India's history, a time of many great artistic accomplishments. Akbar counted among his treasures nine Navaratnas, literally meaning "nine jewels." The jewels, however, were not mineral or crystal in nature, but rather a group of nine extraordinary people, treasured advisors and artists. Mian Chand and Mian Suraj were the Emperor's precious jewels of music.
Mian Chand and Mian Suraj created a unique singing style. While it was common for singers of the time to specialize in ragas corresponding to particular times of the day or night, Mian Chand and Mian Suraj sang ragas together, with Mian Chan taking the lead for nighttime ragas and Mian Suraj singing backup, and Mian Suraj taking the lead for daytime ragas with Mian Chand singing backup. This was most appropriate because Mian Chand's name means "Moon" and Mian Suraj's name means "Sun."
Together, they created the Cham Chorasi School of Music, one of the ten great schools of classical Indian music that has survived through the millennia, and lives on today through the music of Sukhawat Ali Khan.
Family Innovations and Training
In the 1960's and 1970's, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan, Sukhawat's father and uncle respectively, were known throughout Europe and the rest of the world as the famous "Ali Brothers," rivaling Ravi Shankar's popularity in the United States in the genre. By the invitation of royalty and many heads of states, Ustad Salamat and Nazakat traveled to Russia, England, Germany and France, among other countries to perform.
As with Mian Chand and Mian Suraj, with innovation running through their veins, Ustad Salamat and Nazakat blended pure North Indian and Pakistani classical music with the sounds of contemporary western pop culture, pioneering a new genre of music that was emulated and widely popularized by their relative Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan.
Ustad Salamat was wonderfully influential in keeping the family music tradition alive in his five children. Wise and always watchful, he placed all of the family's musical instruments&emdash;tablas, harp, sitar, bansuri, harmonium and sarangi&emdash;in one room of their house in Lahore, Pakistan, and as his little children meandered in and out of the room, he would observe which children were drawn naturally to each instrument. After observing little Sukhawat visit the harmonium time and time again, he declared that the harmonium was to be his instrument of choice, and, thus, Sukhawat's official training began at the age of seven.
His brothers Sharafat, Latafat, Shafqat and his sister Riffat also received extensive musical training under the tutelage of their father, but their mother Razia Begum, too, played an important part in their musical upbringing.
By the age of ten, Sukhawat and Shafqat had become regular featured singers at a local radio station. It was common for the brothers to be asked to perform particular songs. When this happened, they would return home and inform their father of the request so he could teach them the songs and send them back to the station to perform. On the occasion that their father was away from home, himself performing, it was Razia that would teach the boys the songs herself. Although she never performed professionally, she was an accomplished singer with a vast knowledge of ragas and songs and was able to supplement her children's musical education with additional voice training. Her own father, Ustad Natho Khan, was a marvelous singer and sarangi player who played for the court of the Maharaja of Pitala, a state in Punjab.
Musical Styles
In keeping with his family's long tradition of musical innovation, Sukhawat performs five traditional styles of Indian music:
To each, he adds an element of North Indian and Pakistani classical music that reflects his own musical heritage. His unique signature resonates, sometimes loudly and wildly, in his Indian folk numbers, and sometimes subtly, almost silently in gazals, but his recognizable signature is ever present throughout, breathing new life into even the oldest of traditions.
Ever present in his music and often the highlighted instrument in compositions is his beloved harmonium. Though many new-world-fusion bangra mixes today feature rhythm and melodies easily identifiable as "Indian music," it is rare that the sounds of a harmonium are featured. Sukhawat further contributes to keeping traditions alive by prominently featuring the harmonium in all of his music -- another signature that makes his music unique.
The New Album: (SHUKRIYA means 'Thanks')
"'Shukriya' means 'Thanks.' Thanks for every moment we have --don't worry about property or other matters. Wake up every day and thank the ancestors. We would not be here if were not for them. Choose happiness, love, peace and compassion. When people are happy they can act with kindness. One random act of kindness will give you freedom. If you are not in a position to do good, do not harm either. Meditation is good for the self, but helping someone else is better than that. This is what I want to talk about. This is what the album is about."
-- Sukhawat Ali Khan
This album is his prayer for peace for all humanity and the greatest expression of thanks to all humankind.
Keeping the Tradition Alive
Japan, England, France, Canada, Holland, India, Pakistan and the United States have all shared the good fortune to have Sukhawat Ali Kahn grace their landscape personally with his music, and just as fortunate are the people who have attended his live performances around the world. Notably, he has performed at Montreal Jazz Festival, Nice World Music Festival, Brooklyn Jazz Festival in Prospect Park, World Music Festival in Los Angeles, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Harmony Festival and Berkeley World Music Festival, at innumerous private engagements and by invitation at the State of the World Forum founded by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
He has lent his voice and harmonium on recordings by Dr. Das, The founder of the Dub Foundation (London, UK), Janaka Siekta, founder of Dhamaal Sound System (San Francisco, CA), Stephen Kent (KPFA Radio World Music in Berkeley, CA), Robert Powell, Matt Vanuti, Conrad Praetzel, Baba Ken Okulolo, Ali Khan Band, Shabaz, Himekami (Japan), Chabi Sabah, Al Diablo, Yuval Ron, Wobbly World, Robert Rich, Sachiko Kanenobu, Joshua Selzer (on a John Lennon Music Award first-prize winning song) and James Newton Howard (on the soundtrack of the Disney movie Hidalgo).
To further the musical tradition of his family and in keeping with his sincere desire to keep the music of North India and Pakistan alive for future generations, Sukhawat teaches classical, Sufi Qawwali, folk, gazal, and geet styles of music as well as voice training and rhythm and melody training to private students.
Sukhawat is forever grateful to his father Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, who until age ten, Sukhawat viewed simply as his father. After the age of ten, Sukhawat had a revelation and recognized the magnitude of his father's influence in guiding and teaching him. From that point on, he revered Ustad Salamat not only as his father, but also as his guru.
Musically, his father was the biggest influence in Sukhawat's life but more than that, he represented to Sukhawat the embodiment of love and compassion and although a great musician, Ustad Salamat was very humble and also taught this precious lesson of humility to his son.
Shukriya was produced by the Jah Nur Music company in an atmosphere of love with co-producers Sachiko Kanenobu and Robert Halim Friedman joined by Vakila terVeld of the Wingin It Band, and the Grammy® nominee engineer couple's (Judith Kirschner and Andre Zweers) children in the recording studio during sessions.
Sachiko Kanenobu, herself a unique recording artist and producer, is deserving of special appreciation here to acknowledge her gifts of loving attention and enduring support. Shukriya, Sachiko, from Sukhawat.
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Last updated February 25. 2013.
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