Musical Maestro: Shafaat Khan at The Ark


Shafaat Khan at The Ark

Shafaat Khan.

Sitar and tabla player Shafaat “Maestro” Khan demonstrated the aptness of his title at The Ark on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Khan’s command of his instruments evoked select meditative, spiritual, and romantic moods and the evening passed as more of a conversation than a one-sided performance.

To call Indian classical music a tradition in Khan’s family would be an understatement. Indian classical music is an institution in the Khan family. Shafaat Khan is the nephew of legendary Ustad Vilayat Khan and son of Inayat Khan. His brother is Shujaat Khan, another eminent sitarist whom I had the privilege of attending his performance in Kolkata, India in 2009.

As a student of sitar, I have an appreciation for the advanced skill these teachers bring to the instrument. But it was clear that by the sheer talent Shafaat Khan brought to the stage, anyone and everyone could appreciate his music and skills.

Khan began his set with a solo performance on tabla, which is a two-piece percussion instrument with bass and treble drums. A bass guitarist soon joined in for an Indian classical piece that fused the two instruments. Vibing off the audience’s energy and enjoyment, Khan became further engrossed in his performance, playing a 16-beat tabla improvisation.

To explain where his music originates, Khan analogized the many different states in India and their cultures to the various states in the U.S. In each region that the states comprise such as Benares and Punjab, there are different styles of tabla playing. Khan seamlessly sampled these different styles in his tabla performance with the bass accompaniment.

In between songs, Khan allowed the audience to ask questions. One fan asked, “Are you playing only with your hands?” As if in surrender, Khan raised his hands to highlight that indeed, it was only his hands he was using to play. I am guessing the audience member’s question arose from the sheer number of simultaneous beats Khan produced, puzzling to the audience member because of this very simultaneity. “What I am striking has its own language,” Khan asserted, reinforcing the conversation aura of the performance.

Khan then moved on to the sitar and a student of his took over the tabla. In instructing the audience on his style of playing and the general improvisation that goes with sitar playing, he noted the absence of a written down score. No notes are on a sheet of paper to follow in playing a piece, as there is much improvisation in scales and solos.

For sitar, in particular, there are nine total moods, from the aforementioned, and for further example, from angry to erotic, sad to heroic, that the sitarist tries to produce in their playing.

While Khan did not mention that there is a happy mood played in a sitar performance, his final piece was a congratulatory “mubarak” piece on the birth of his son. The piece ended in a short sampling of the similarly upbeat renowned Sufi piece “Lal Meri Pat.”

While the increasingly fast and intense tabla and sitar playing looked painful to an audience member such as myself, Khan smiled throughout as his performance appeared effortless. A maestro indeed.


Sairah Husain is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library.