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YouTube is the New Ustaad, Says India's Much Loved Sufi Singer She is the first girl child in the seven generations of her family to be singing out in public

By Vanita D'souza

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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When Ustad Maa Zila Khan was about a year old, she would often sit on the chest her father Ustad Vilayat Khan, and sing along with him while he would feed her a variety of dry fruits. Even though she feels her training began right from the time she was in her mother's womb, her official training actually started when she was just nine-years-old and went on for 14-16 hours a day.

She is the first girl child in the seven generations of her family to be singing out in public. In a conversation with Entrepreneur India, Khan said, "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."

Soon after, her father then wanted Khan to be heard in public and wanted people to witness the musicality in her as he would often say, "Mere jaisa koi kar sakti hai toh sirf Zila kar sakti hai (If there's anyone who can replicate me, it's my daughter Zila and no one else).When kids in her family are taught music, they are taught to become the best in that field. But for her, it was more than that. She was simply following her passion!

"Sufi music is my calling. I love rhythms. I love that I can be a child in Sufi music. I love the philosophy of it. However, more than me my father knew where I was going to be. There was no pressure on me to be where I am and what I am. My musicality has helped me reach where I am today," she added with gratitude.

Among the many accolades she has earned over the years, the "roll of honour" presented by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Ghalib Award are notable ones.

The First Act

Going back to her first experience of performing in front of live audience, which was, in fact, a private event hosted by Dr Azra Raza in Toronto, she shares that the entire experience was just surreal.

"It was beautiful - the interaction with his eyes while I was singing a phrase and trying to remind him that you had taught me this back then. It also included him looking at the guest with an admirable expression, which meant -look at her musicality," she says while adding that, "My first performance was my father listening to me. It was an extension of my learning experience with him."

Thereafter, on special request, Ustad Vilayat Khan joined his daughter in her performance.

She claims, "It was very unconventional for the gharana (House) system, where usually the boys sit and play with their fathers. But in this performance, it was the other way around. I was singing and my father was accompanying me with a kind of personalized non-verbal interaction."

On asking her about her favorite artists, she names the Sabri Brothers and adds, "It is the way they pull out different facets of a poet or person and present their work in one performance while making the masses love it even the ones without inclination for music. That's the greatness of them."

YouTube, the New Ustad (Master)

For her, YouTube is a great platform which can be used for preserving and promoting cultural hubs. "It is where we get to listen to so many different kinds of musicians and also learn a lot from the old music, which has become lost in time but preserved only because of the platform," she noted.

Additionally, for her, the platform promotes equality, as she goes on to add, "Why only privileged or people who are invited to perform should be heard? And why not people, who are deserving but lack access to privileges? The platform provides an opportunity for everyone and therefore, I feel, YouTube is the new Ustad."

Meanwhile recently, she hosted Arr? Siren, India's first all-woman two-day music and comedy festival in Mumbai. Elaborating on the initiative, she says that there has been a massive disparity in the representation of female artists at festivals across the globe. Even the most reputed festivals keep their headline spots primarily for male acts.

"We must have entrepreneurs organizing this kind of concerts and I'm willing to work side by side them for this. The voices of women are either missing from popular music or getting increasingly marginalized. The story is no different in India. I think it's time for women to take the center stage and bring a change," she concluded.

Vanita D'souza

Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India

I am a Mumbai-based journalist and have worked with media companies like The Dollar Business Magazine, Business Standard, etc.While on the other side, I am an avid reader who is a travel freak and has accepted foodism as my religion.

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