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Sultan Khan - The Voice of the Sarangi

Orbituary by Yogendra
(January 2012)

The wonderful singer and sarangi maestro Sultan Khan passed away on November 27th at the age of 71 after prolonged illness. With his enormous versatility and his double talent both as an instrumentalist and as a singer he has been THE voice of the sarangi in the past few decades. For his services to music, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award twice and was awarded the third highest Indian civilian order Padma Bhushan in 2010.

Sultan Khan was born in 1940 into a musical family in the small princedom Sikhar near Jaipur. He learnt sarangi from an early age with his father, Gulab Khan. Later on, he deepened his knowledge with the great singer Amir Khan. His first major public appearance was at age eleven at an All India Music Conference. At 20 he began his career with All India Radio, Rajkot (Gujarat). There he had the opportunity to accompany legendary Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar a few years later. This meeting opened the doors to Mumbai for Sultan Khan, where he initially continued to work for All India Radio, but soon also earned an excellent reputation in the classical music scene as well as in Bollywood circles. Sultan Khan eventually became known internationally in 1974 on George Harrison's Dark Horse Tour, where he was heard as a member of a group of Indian musicians under the direction of Ravi Shankar.

His humble and friendly nature and his musical versatility and flexibility made Sultan Khan a very successful classical singing accompanist. He played, among others, with Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Salamat & Nazakat Ali Khan and Kishori Amonkar. A special friendship connected him with Zakir Hussain, with whom he shared many concerts and recordings - each one consisting of a tabla solo with sarangi accompaniment and a sarangi solo with tabla accompaniment. He also published numerous classical solo recordings in his own name.

His total openness led Sultan Khan also far beyond the boundaries of classical Indian music. His sarangi and his voice can be heard in numerous successful Bollywood soundtracks from the 1990s and 2000s. He has also been involved in majorWestern film productions (including Gandhi and Heat and Dust). And finally, he has also played together with all kinds of different musicians from around the worldin the contemporary world music scene. The most famous of his world music projects is probably Tabla Beat Science with Zakir Hussain and American bass player Bill Laswell.