Mapleshade

ALIF LAILA

As a little girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Alif grew up surrounded by the Bengali folk songs and the classical Indian raags her mother loved. At 8, already deeply committed to music, she started vocal studies at the Bulbul Academy. A shy child, she loved choral singing but couldn't face performing solo. Time didn't ease the problem so her mother had the idea of enlisting Alif's love of sitar music. With remarkable strength, she enrolled her daughter, now age 14, in sitar studies at the Nazrul Academy of Fine Arts — defying centuries of deeply engrained Bangladeshi taboos against women as performing musicians.

Alif had the great good fortune to enroll with Mir Qasem Khan, a virtuoso master of the Senia Maihar gharana (school). A creative explosion ensued: the young girl's crippling shyness was overwhelmed by her immediate passion for sitar-playing. Within a year, Alif had gone through the traditional thread-tying ceremony that formalized her full-time apprenticeship to her sitar master — and that launched the decade of austere, grinding, praiseless discipline required of every sitar apprentice just to learn the fundamentals(!). After 8 years she married, making it impossible to continue the apprentice's monastic day and night commitment. Her guru was devastated. But Alif continued studying and practicing sitar, filling every spare moment and sacrificing hours of sleep every night.

A family move to Kuwait in 1981 forced her to continue her sitar studies on her own. Three(?) years later she was ready for her first concert. Accompanied by tabla master Muni Khan, the evening ended with a standing ovation — and launched  continuing performances in Kuwait and Bangladesh.

In 1988 Alif and her family emigrated to Washington, D.C. Despite half a dozen years of the wrenching emotional and economic hardships of the immigrant, her musical growth continued apace. The sitar was her constant companion and consolation. Driving all over the East Coast, she gleaned inspiration and a few lessons from every visiting master of the sitar. Finally, in 1994, Partha Chatterjee, another of the great masters from the Senia Maihar gharana, became her guru for five years.

At the same time, her concert career started to take off, leading to performances on stages as diverse as the Detroit Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of the Arts, the Smithsonian, and the National Museum of Bangladesh. In 2001, Pandit Krishna Bhatt, a Senia master and the disciple of sitar immortal Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, agreed to become Alif's guru. His teachings led her even further down her chosen path of expressiveness and innovation, unfettered by narrow traditionalism. 

Alif recorded her first CD ("Devotion") in 1999, her second ("The Inner Voice") in 2003, and her third ("Meditation with Sitar") in 2005. In 2004 she was the first female sitar player to perform at the historic Shahid Minar, a national shrine to the earliest martyrs of Bangladeshi independence. In 2006 her major appearances include concerts overseas in Kolkata and Kerala as well as a landmark multimedia event at the Smithsonian Planetarium.

For more information please visit her website: www.AlifLailaSitar.com

MAPLESHADE RELEASES

Sangam: A Coming Together (#11782)

MORE PHOTOS

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