Nishat Khan

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Nishat Khan
Nishat Khan by Lilly Creightmore.jpg
Khan performing in Los Angeles in October 2008
Background information
Born25 October 1965
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Associated actsImrat Khan
WebsiteNishat Khan

Nishat Khan is one of India’s finest musicians and a virtuoso sitar player, transcending musical barriers with his provocative expression and spellbinding technical mastery. He is also referred as the fastest sitar playing maestro in the world. Nishat stands at the threshold of the future of sitar and Indian music with his uniquely invigorating and contemporary approach. He is the son and disciple of Imrat Khan, the nephew of the late Vilayat Khan and a member of one of the oldest and most prestigious musical families and schools in India – the Imdadkani Ganara of Etawah. His trademark sitar playing is lyrical in quality, as is evident in all of his music. Nishat has mastered not only the North Indian classical idiom, but has also worked with music as diverse as Gregorian chant, Western classical music, jazz and flamenco. He has collaborated with some of the world's leading performers and composers such as Philip Glass, John McLaughlin, Paco Peña and Evelyn Glennie.

Early life[edit]

Khan is a world renowned sitar player, born on 25 October 1965, in Kolkata, India. He comes from one of the most famous music families in the North Indian classical tradition that extends back for seven generations. He is the son of Imrat Khan and the nephew of Vilayat Khan.

A strong influence growing up was his grandmother, Inayat Khan. She was an incredibly strong lady with vast musical knowledge, a very strict disciplinarian but also very loving. She not only taught him a lot about music but also had a big part to play in his riyaaz (practice schedule). He started playing the sitar at the age of 3 when he was barely sitting. Riyaaz was rigorous, disciplined and enjoyable, and he rehearsed whenever he felt like playing the sitar, which was all the time. He was always around music and there was no conversation without it, all his entertainment was centred on music. His father Imrt Khan was known for his rigorous riyaaz. He has even skipped school to play. He also attended a lot of concerts, and when he returned home, an analysis of what he heard and taalim (training) would start; sometimes all through the night. He played his first concert when he was 7 years old.

Personal life and collaborations[edit]

His first concert abroad was in 1977 in London, when he performed with his father, Imrat Khan, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with the eminent musicians of India sitting together in the front row, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Alla Rakha and Salamat Ali Khan.

He has collaborated with John McLaughlin, Philip Glass, Paco Pena, Evelyn Glennie and Django Bates.

Nishat Khan performed live with John McLaughlin in Italy in 1986 and featured on his album The Promise.[1] Performed at a comparative music concert with Philip Glass and collaborated with him on his opera of Satyagraha in which he played Tilak Kamod in South Germany in 1993. Paco Pena and Khan have had several tours in the UK and Europe as part of his group Spirit & Passion. With Evelyn Glennie, he performed at two concerts – one with BBC Scottish Symphony, a special piece Khan composed called Dancing with Seagulls. This was also performed in London at Wigmore Hall. Khan has also composed and recorded sitar and vocals on the rock song Love is the Answer by Weezer in 2009.

Tours and performances[edit]

Nishat Khan has performed at major venues internationally, including Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2004, he was invited to perform alongside Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and others at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas. In 2007, he toured across India with violinist Vanessa Mae and performed at the Seagrams 100 Pipers Pure Music Show in August. In 2008, he toured Europe with his pioneering project, Spirit & Passion, featuring Flamenco guitar great Paco Pena, and later that year performed a solo concert at the BBC Proms. In 2009, he performed at Bovard Auditorium, Los Angeles. In October 2010, Nishat Khan worked on the concept of Mélange, a fusion-jazz show that features an eclectic mix of musicians from all around the world and performed at Tata Theatre, NCPA.

The world premiere of Nishat Khan’s Sitar Concerto no. 1 The Gate of the Moon featured as part of the BBC Proms programme at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 August 2013. The occasion was Khan’s third appearance as a soloist at The Proms but was the first time that one of his own compositions had featured. The work integrates a sitar concerto with Western orchestration to tell the love story between the mystical "unknown traveller" (sitar) and the princess. David Atherton conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the performance of The Gate of the Moon, which was broadcast live on both BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Asian network.

In November that year, Nishat Khan held the audience in a spell as he indulged dance guru Pt Birju Maharaj in a duet or juggalbandi on stage at the opening of the 44th International Film Festival of India in Goa.

In 2015, he performed at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC and at a concert at the Budapest Festival 2015. He has also collaborated with the artist-sculptor Anish Kapoor in London. In 2016, he visited Tehran with the Prime Minister's delegation and performed a solo concert at the Vahdat Hall. He also performed at the Barbican Hall in London the same year. On 8 October 2017, he performed at the Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Centre in Manhattan. He also opened the Sixth Edition of the Delhi Classical Music Festival in October 2017.

Versatility in music[edit]

The son and disciple of Imrat Khan, Nishat stands at the threshold of the future of sitar and Indian music with his uniquely invigorating, contemporary approach. He draws on his own musical heritage as well as engages other genres as diverse as Western classical music, jazz, Flamenco and Gregorian chant. He has worked with other major performers and composers such as John McLaughlin, Philip Glass, Paco Peña, Evelyn Glennie.


In 2011, he composed his first Bollywood film score, Yeh Saali Zindagi, for the director Sudhir Mishra. In 2013, the Indian Government commissioned him to write a 70-minute orchestral score for the Indian silent film, A Throw of Dice. The work was commissioned especially for performance at the Centenary Film Festival, which celebrates 100 years of Indian cinema.

Besides these he has composed music for Heat and Dust (1983) and Little Buddha (1993).

Press appearances and interviews[edit]

"Nishat Khan’s new Sitar Concerto offered an altogether more meditative engagement with India. This sitar legend (just the latest in a dynasty of great musicians in his family) is a familiar face at the Proms, but he has never before appeared as both composer and soloist. The concerto itself follows in the footsteps of Ravi Shankar’s concerto, marrying the textures and techniques of Indian classical music with the instrumentation and symphonic structure of western music." — Alexandra Coghlan, The Arts Desk, 13 August 2013

"Nishat Khan himself and the orchestra gave an exemplary account of the concerto. The charismatic presence of Khan on his podium dominated the whole performance and his interactions with the orchestra were fascinating, genuinely touching and exciting by turns." — Chris Garlick, Bachtrack, 14 August 2013

"Khan’s playing emerged from and receded into the textures like the mysterious traveller, the sitar was meant to represent. Although his performance cohered exactly with the mood and tempo of the orchestra, it also embodied a sense of autonomy from external constraints, not least by the resonance of its sympathetic strings outlasting all other tones, and by the increasingly virtuosic strumming towards the end, compounding the impression of a source of dynamic energy whose origins are unfathomable." - Curtis Rogers,, August 2013

"The main event of the evening was the world premiere of Nishat Khan’s The Gate of the Moon. Like Ravi Shankar before him, this Calcutta-born sitar player has been impelled to create a sitar concerto with Western orchestration: with amplification, the two elements can be brought to a sort of parity. Nishat Khan was invited to puff his piece beforehand and did so fulsomely, describing his instrument as ‘the unknown traveler introducing a mystical and positive energy’." — Michael Church, The Independent, 13 August 2013

Compositions and albums[edit]

CD Title Ragas Record label CD Ref Year
Great Heritage Great Tradition Malkauns
His Master’s Voice EASD 1423 1984
Meeting of Angels Mixed Amiata ARNR 1096 1996
Heart of Fire Desh
Navras NRCD0209
Indian Classical Masters Bhimplasi
Tilak Kamod
Nimbus NI 5233 1990
Sentimental Sitar Chandini Kalyan
Mishra bhairavi
Sitar Pilu
Raga Khan Gawoti
Amiata ARNR 1997 1998
Mian Ki Malhar Mian Ki Malhar
Indian Archive IAM CD 1024 1996
String Craft Mixed Victor Japan Amazon ref: B00005GWAT
Nishat Khan and Zakir Hussain Yaman
Suha Sugrai
His Master’s Voice ECSD 3134 1985
Nishat Khan Sitar Behag
EMI Amazon ref: B005389HJO
Indian Classical Masters Bhimplasi
Tilak Kamod
Nimbus Amazon ref: B00000E08X 1990
Secret World Bhairavi Amiata ARNR 2697 1997
Jhinjoti Jhinjoti His Master’s Voice EASD 1472 1990

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Promise". The Promise. doi:10.5040/9780571292745.00000004.

External links[edit]