Artist Sarangi Momin Khan on balancing classical and commercial music and the importance of Riyaaz

The sarangi artist Momin Khan. Photo: Bhushan Mate

The notion of riyaaz means more than just practice or learning for Jaipur/Mumbai based sarangi artist Momin Khan. “For me, riyaaz is not just about practice, but about connecting with the divine. If I don’t riyaaz one day I really feel like something is wrong with me personally,” the 23-year-old says over the phone.

It’s that rigid sense of devotion to his instrument and Indian classical music – he hails from Jaipur gharana of artists and is the son (and disciple) of award-winning sarangi artist and singer Padma Shri Ustad Moinuddin Khan – it shows in Khan’s sparkling playing. Besides gaining popularity through soulful videos raaga rendered on YouTube and Instagram, Khan began performing with fusion bands like Perfect Amalgamation and as early as 2017 was part of songwriting projects like “Rab Jogi” fronted by singers Mame Khan and Harshdeep Kaur. It was in 2019 that he received a call from singer-songwriter Arijit Singh and his team, asking to be part of his live ensemble. “Social media was very helpful for me to get hired and contacted directly,” says Khan.

The resolution to stick to his riyaaz didn’t come easily, however. Before deciding to move to Mumbai to join Singh’s live band, Khan spoke to his father and guru for advice. “He said I should go, but I should secure my Indian classic riyaaz shouldn’t be affected and I should figure it out no matter what. It is important that you work with riyaaz – with vocals and sarangi – to keep the tradition strong. I considered this advice from my guru and knew I had to keep my riyaaz go,” Khan says.

But with rehearsal and recording schedules that often stretch late into the night and also leave very little time in the day, Khan found himself in a tough spot. He contacted Singh and he had a solution at hand for Khan. “I consider [Singh] with the greatest respect and as a big brother watching over me, I asked Arijit bay if i could have time for my riyaaz and it would help me to perform better. He was the one who gave me the excellent suggestion that I come to the studio an hour or two before rehearsal and do my riyaaz.”

The sarangi artist – who also trains in vocals and plays instruments such as the harmonium – quickly took on session musician gigs as part of the action film’s soundtrack Dabang 3 in 2019 and later found regular work with director and music composer Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his film Gangubai Kathiawadias well as movies like Pagglait, Chamak, Heera Mandi and the next movie Abhyan. Khan adds, “Sanjay Leela Bhansali has set up her soundtracks and films in a way that brings out my sarangi playing in a new light.”

With globetrotting tours and performances under his belt, Khan is now trying to balance classical music and the commercial endeavors that come his way. The most recently released project – “Ruk Ja” from Salim-Sulaiman Bhoomi’s 2022 annual release series is sung by Sonu Nigam – was perhaps a mix that allowed Khan to shine as a classical artist but in a merge frame. Khan knocks it out of the park with the sarangi that often takes center stage in “Ruk Ja.”

The goal continues to be to elevate the status of the sarangi to worldwide recognition, perhaps to the same level that a guitar is known, according to Khan. He also continues eight generations of family tradition and he intends to maintain it even as he balances classical music and Bollywood projects. “I believe if you do a good job in classical music, your name will be known and live work should be a separate side of you, like when you perform in Bollywood. I think both sides need to be kept in perfect balance,” he adds.

Watch Momin Khan Perform “Ruk Ja” With Salim-Sulaiman, Sonu Nigam, And More.

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