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Oct 13 2021

My Ancestors and Their Music: A Conversation with Sarod Player Irfan Muhammad Khan


In this conversation with ethnomusicologist Max Katz, Irfan Muhammad Khan will discuss the lives and contributions of his ancestors and will reveal the musical specialties they have bequeathed him.

Lineages of hereditary Hindustani musicians transmit rarified musical and genealogical knowledge from generation to generation. Today, Irfan Muhammad Khan is the last keeper and protector of a vast treasure trove of historical texts, oral narratives, and performance repertoire inherited from four prior generations of master musicians within his lineage. In this conversation with ethnomusicologist Max Katz, Irfan Muhammad Khan will discuss the travels and travails of his ancestors, their experiences within royal courts and bourgeois institutions, and the musical specialties they pioneered and propagated. In particular, Irfan Muhammad Khan will introduce numerous examples of instrumental compositions taught to him by his father and uncle that represent the three distinct styles contained within his family’s tradition. This conversation is part of an ongoing project of collaborative ethnomusicology between Irfan Muhammad Khan and Max Katz that seeks both to highlight the living source of musical knowledge and to make that knowledge widely available to the scholarly community and the interested public.

Irfan Muhammad Khan is the presiding chief of the Lucknow-Shahjahanpur Gharana, a lineage of sarod and sitar players traceable to the nineteenth-century royal court of Lucknow. Born in 1954 in Lucknow, Irfan Muhammad Khan learned sarod and sitar from his father Umar Khan (1916-1982), and from his uncle Ilyas Khan (1924-1989). From 1984 to 1988, and again from 2010 to 2013, Irfan Muhammad Khan lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he trained students and concertized extensively. He has also performed and taught in the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Germany, and Japan. He lives and teaches in Calcutta, his home since early childhood.

Max Katz is an associate professor in the Department of Music at William & Mary. Since 2007 his research has focused on the music and history of a lineage of Hindustani instrumentalists known today as the Lucknow-Shahjahanpur Gharana. His first book, Lineage of Loss: Counternarratives of North Indian Music (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), explores the oral and textual record of the lineage toward establishing a new historical narrative. His next major project, together with Irfan Muhammad Khan, documents and analyzes the lineage’s unique musical repertoire.

Part of the Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, this event is sponsored by The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Department of Ethnomusicology, The Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair in Indian Music at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and The UCLA Center for India and South Asia (CISA), with support from the Dean of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Register in advance for this event. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.