Ustad Sultan Khan, born in 1940, is an Indian singer and sarangi player who belongs to the Indore Gharana and specialises in Hindustani classical music. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 2010. He is also a member of the Indian fusion band “Tabla Beat Science”, along with Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell.
He was born in the Sikar district of Rajasthan. His family moved to Jodhpur and he grew up there. He learnt music under his grandfather Ustad Azim Khan and his father Ustad Ghulab Khan. It was at the All India Conference, at the age of 11 that Sultan Khan first performed. From there he has gone on to perform internationally with Pandit Ravi Shankar in George Harrison’s 1974 Dark Horse World Tour.
As his mastery over the sarangi grew, he experienced a lack of opportunities inherent to living in a small city. He soon found a job in All India Radio, Rajkot, Gujarat. His life changed when he played before Lata Mangeshkar and she was so impressed with his talent that she asked him to move to Mumbai permanently.
Once in Mumbai he became a regular in the music circles of Mumbai. The Seventies even saw him share a stage with Pandit Ravi Shankar and The Beatles. Likewise, he was involved with the music of the Oscar winning Richard Attenburough movie “Gandhi”. He has also collaborated with the pop queen Madonna. In 1993 he composed and recorded music for Ismail Merchant’s movie “In Custody”.
His son, Sabir Khan learns the sarangi under him and is also a well-known sarangi player.
The Ustad’s formal training in classical music did not come to the fore until director Sanjay Leela Bhansali insisted that he sing the song “Albela Sajan Ghar Aayo Re” (along with Shankar Mahadevan) in the movie “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” in 1999. Subsequent to this, the pop album he sang with K.S. Chitra titled “Piya Basanti” upped his popularity among the youth. He broke new grounds in popularity when he won the MTV International Viewer’s Choice Award. Since then he has sung 6 albums as a solo singer and has recorded 45 albums as a sarangi player. In 1998 he also collaborated with Gavin Harrision on his 1998 solo album “Insanity & Gravity” with vocals and sarangi. Recently, in the year 2009 Sultan Khan played the sarangi in the Tamil film Yogi. He played the sarangi for the song “Yaarodu Yaaro” and the solo for Yogi’s theme.
Awards which he has won in recognition of his talent include the Sangeet Natya Academy Award a.k.a the President's Award (twice), the Gold Medalist Award of Maharashtra and the American Academy of Artists Award in 1998, while 1997 saw him perform at Prince Charles’ 50th birthday celebrations. He has also received the Dinanath Mangeshkar award, Hafiz Ali Khan award, Marwar Ratan award & Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Academy award.
It is through the efforts of the likes of him that the sonorous sarangi has attained the solo performance status among classical music fans.