Vocalist Amir Khan (1912-1974) was one of the major trendsetters in Hindustani music in the second half of the twentieth century. Son and disciple of Shahmir Khan, Amir Khan was originally a resident of Indore, but spent many years in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta. He incorporated several influences and went on to create a style of khayal singing that impacted successive generations of vocalists.

The slow and sombre quality that he brought to his raag interpretation is evident in many recordings that are available. His style is marked by an ati vilambit, or very slow, khayal, often in the 14-matra Jhumra taal. Without any trace of flamboyance, the brooding and introspective nature of his music envelops the listeners. But later, his rapidfire Merukhand taan patterns using sargam or solfège and aakaar or the vowel "aa" leave listeners marvelling at the variety of permutations.

Raag Marwa

We begin this collection of audio and video tracks with the maestro’s iconic rendition of the evening raag Marwa. The slow-paced composition is in Jhumra taal.

Raag Rageshri

Fortunately, we also have a television recording of an Amir Khan performance. Here, he sings a medium-paced composition set to the 16-count Teentaal. This is followed by a tarana in raag Malkauns once again set to Teentaal. The tarana has a couplet in Persian.

Talking about syllables

Many traditonal taranas have Persian couplets, but Amir Khan also believed that the syllables used in taranas like dani, dirtom, and others, had literal meaning. He speaks about this and his music in this interview taken in London.

Making choices

A longer interview with the maestro has been conducted by sitar exponent Nikhil Banerjee. The interview starts tentatively, but goes on to discuss various details about Amir Khan’s musical choices and aesthetic sensibilities.

Here is a Films Division documentary on the maestro.

Goonj Utthi Shehnai

Amir Khan was not averse to singing in films. He performed for the film Goonj Utthi Shehnai, in which Bismillah Khan plays the shehnai. While the music for this film has been composed by Vasant Desai, the medley of compositions Amir Khan sings in this clip includes some composed by the vocalist.

Baiju Bawra

Amir Khan also sang a duet with D.V. Paluskar for the film Baiju Bawra. The music director for this film was Naushad.

 Kshudhita Pashan

We conclude with a bandish ki thumri in raag Khamaj that he sang for the Bengali film Kshudhita Pashan. The music for this film was composed by sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan.