Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan


Truly a classical virtuoso (1931-2021)

Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan was a popular Indian classical Hindustani musician of the ‘Rampur-Sahaswan gharana’. Born in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh, music ran in the family. His father, Ustad Waris Hussain Khan was the son of celebrated musician Ustad Mureed Baksh, and his mother, Sabri Begum, the daughter of Ustad Inayat Husain Khan, founder of the gharana.

The eldest son among seven siblings, his tutelage started at a time when he would remember the tune but did not understand the words. He would practice in a graveyard so he could sing without inhibition or distraction. After receiving initial training from his father, he took umbrage under Ustad Fida Hussain Khan, court singer of Baroda’s royal ‘durbar’ and then his cousin, Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan. He was hailed as a child prodigy. At eight, he performed at a Janmashtami concert. He had four sons, all singers with his wife Amina Begum, the grand-daughter of Padma Bhushan Mushtaq Hussain Khan.

His awards and achievements include the Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, National Tansen Samman, Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar Award, Tagore Ratna Award, etc. Khan performed at the Golden Jubilee in the presence of the honorable Queen of UK at Festival de Lille in the presence of Lady Diana in France.

An eternal romantic, he lent melody and soul to both classical and film music. As graded artiste of All India Radio, he started performing across the globe. He became a playback singer for Marathi and Gujarati films from 1957 and sang first for the Marathi film ‘Chhand Preeticha’. He debuted in Hindi films with Mrinal Sen’s ‘Bhuvan Shome’ (1969) and sang ‘Sajanaa kahe nahi aaye…’ for ‘Badnaam Basti’ (1969), for the same music director, Vijay Raghav Rao.

He composed music for more than 70 documentaries of the Films Division, many of them receiving international and national awards and performed across India and European countries. He was the playback singer, composer and also played the role of Baiju Bawra in a German Documentary ‘Rain Maker’ shot in Jaipur. His memoir is ‘A Dream I Lived Alone’, co-written with daughter-in-law Namrata Gupta Khan. His versatility ranged from ‘khayal’ and ‘tarana’ to ‘tappa’ and ‘thumri/dadra’ and ghazals. His creativity endeared him to artistes across all genres of music. He was open to all forms of music, a rarity in classical maestros of his time. His deep and dazzling voice were result of rigorous ‘riyaaz’. He spent years teaching some of the greatest musicians of our time. He drew great joy from the seven notes that represented life for him.

His ghazal compositions reflected his love for Urdu poetry. Who can forget the melodious ‘Raga-Mala’ (garland of ragas), from Bhairav to Bhairavi, in ‘Umrao Jaan’ (1980), film-maker Muzaffar Ali’s seminal film, showing Rekha’s journey from an innocent teenager to a captivating courtesan. Ustad remained an eminent guru to many leading musician greats from the late 50s, like Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Geeta Dutt, Hariharan, Shaan and Sonu Nigam. He helped Lata Mangeshkar lend a classical touch to her vast repertoire and A. R. Rahman to understand the richness of Hindustani music.

Very few classical vocalists of his generation agreed to not only compose music for films but also sing. As a part of Ghulam Mustafa Khan’s three generation performance, he along with his son’s Murtuza, Qadir, Rabbani, Hasan and Grandson Faiz collaborated with Music Director A.R. Rahman at Coke Studio @MTV where he sang a composition in Raag Yaman, alongside guitars and drums.
A brain stroke in 2019 paralyzed his left side. He passed away at his Mumbai residence, aged 89. His passing away leaves our cultural world poorer. His passing has left Hindustani Classical Music and its students orphan.

A Radhakrishnan

A Radhakrishnan is a Pune based journalist, poet and short story writer.