I grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am the first and the only classical performer in my, otherwise very enlightened family. My mother, Shehida Haque, introduced and lead me on to the sitar, a dream which was unfulfilled for herself. After initial training in vocal music, I was very fortunate to become the disciple of late Ustad Mir Qasem Khan, nephew of the legendary Ustad Alauddin Khan, founder of the Senia Maihar Gharana. I feel lucky to have been embraced in this ground breaking (at the time of its birth) musical ideology and school of thought.
As I was trained and groomed in Indian classical sitar in the 'Guru Shishya Parampara' (on a one to one basis), I earned a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts at the Dhaka University. I moved to the USA in 1981 and continued to study sitar, going back and forth between the US and India, under great teachers like, Partha Chatterjee, Krishna Bhatt, and Kushal Das. Each one of my teachers has contributed greatly to enrich my music through different aspects of my growth and connection with the music. I feel a deep sense of gratitude.
Sitar took over my life and the journey with this rich form of music instilled positive energy and strength within me. I continued to grow professionally and soulfully. I have performed in prestigious venues such as The Kennedy Center, The Bangladesh National Museum, The Sangeet Research Academy, The Purcel Room, South Bank Center, etc. I recorded and performed with world renowned tabla artists such as Pandit Anindo Chatterjee and Ustad Taari Khan. My sitar DVDs, 'Hrydayaragam' was featured in the Women's History Month at the Smithsonian in 2008 and 'Strings of Resonance' was nominated for the Best Classical Music Award in Bangladesh in 2010. I have collaborated with South Indian classical, jazz saxophone, and lately with world percussion. I have composed music for cello, dance, and sitar ensembles. My artistic creativity leads me on to fuse boundaries of my music & art. I have presented audio visual sitar concerts in major venues in the USA, the UK, and Bangladesh.
I have founded Sitar Niketan, my music school, in the Wash DC area in 2015.
- Manu Sharma, Sitar Niketan Student
- Meem Haque, Sitar Niketan Student
Alif Laila is the founder and guru of Sitar Niketan. An internationally recognized professional sitarist, Alif has been teaching Indian classical music for over 20 years. Alif created Sitar Niketan to pass down her musical knowledge that she received from her gurus, and make her hopes of blossoming it with refreshed reality. The vision of Sitar Niketan encompasses her dream of a world resonating the beauty of sitar. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Alif’s mother first encouraged her to start learning sitar. She began her musical journey with studying under the late Ustad Mir Qasem Khan, a celebrated Bangladeshi sitarist, studied as a disciple of his uncle, the legendary Ustad Allaudin Khan. She was trained by Mir Qasem in the Senia Maihar gharana, the gharana she teaches today.
Alif moved to the United States after she earned her fine arts degree from Dhaka University. She persisted studying sitar, learning under several celebrated contemporary sitarists including Partha Chatterjee, Krishna Bhatt and Kushal Das. She continued to expand her knowledge and passion for sitar under these gurus.
She began her career as a full-time musician in 2000. Her premiere performance was at the Bangladesh National Museum. She played the concert alongside the living legend of tabla, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee.
Since then she has become a well-established performer in world music. Alif has played alongside many of the biggest names in Indian classical music. Her audio-visual work of based on raags and nature was presented in the Smithsonian’s 2008 Women's History Month events. She has entertained crowds at venues and music festivals across North America, Europe, and Asia including famous venues such as the Kennedy and Southbank Centers, UNESCO, Paris. In 2010 her album, Strings of Resonance, received a nomination for the Best Classical Music Award in Bangladesh. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from ASHA (Wag DC)for her cultural contribution to the community. Aramco World featured Alif in 2020 as an eminent creative sitar artist.
Outside of performing, composing, directing, and producing Indian classical music concerts, Alif continues to work tirelessly guiding her students. Alif dedicates much of her time organizing projects to strengthen Sitar Niketan’s community. The growth of creative new ideas and music for sitar is her constant endeavor. She consistently seeks professional musicians across all genres for new collaborative projects.
“[Sitar Niketan] is not coming to just learn an instrument… It’s much more than that. It’s a personal thing. It’s something like a family… It’s a very positive inclusive type of energy that she [Alif Laila] has created. It goes beyond just trying to learn how to play sitar.”
- John Carr, Sitar Niketan Student
Mission of Sitar Niketan
The mission of Sitar Niketan is to spread the peaceful resonance of sitar out into the world. Sitar Niketan hopes to pass down the knowledge and traditions of Alif’s gurus, to its students, the community and beyond. We seek to establish a community where the beauty of South Asian culture resonate through music and continues to thrive. Sitar Niketan hopes to spread peace and unity through music.
Sitar Niketan envisions a world where music strengthens the bonds of humanity and ends conflict: A vision where the spiritual resonance of sitar radiates in every person.
Sitar Niketan’s works towards this vision through teaching students. The creation of a fully trained and accomplished sitarist community is its hope. Sitar Niketan has Alif Laila’s advanced pupils performing and teaching the next generation as its intended legacy. The continuation of sitar’s message of beauty and inner peace lives through them.
I became Ustad Mir Qasem Khan's 'shishya' ((student for life) almost 50 yrs from now. My guru is no more but I am continuing to learn from all that he has taught me. Back then moments were not recorded moments with the continuous clicking of camers. I have preserved every moment with him in the camera of my mind and heart. Just recently I created this image with one of his very old photos and my recent photo. This image symbolizes the continuity of music ,love and devotion.