Well-known musicians Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan, who will perform before an invited audience at The Hindu Best Fiction Award function in Chennai on November 1 open up on the responsibility of being sons of sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and how music is an intrinsic part of their lives.
They are not just their father's sons. Ayaan Ali Khan and Amaan Ali Khan, musicians in their own right, play the sarod with a finesse and expertise that speaks of their legacy. Music runs in their blood and the duo from the Bangash Gharana are all set to perform in Chennai at the Award Ceremony of the Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010.
Born in a family of musical stalwarts, both of you carry an ancient legacy. What does that responsibility say to you?
Ayaan: I feel fortunate to have been born in a household where the family language was music. It was in the very air we were breathing. And, as children, we were deeply influenced. I don't even remember when I first started playing the sarod. Of course the relationship with my father was first of a son and then of guru and student. I don't feel pressured by high expectation. Instead I feel lucky to be compared to the best in my field.
Amaan: To be born in a family that already has a rich legacy and has achieved a very high standard was fortunate but made things less easy. These things can either matter or not, depending on how much hard work you are ready to put it. We could have rested on my father's laurels, enjoyed the fame and fortune that came with it. Instead, we chose to use the opportunity of learning from the best.
Would you agree that Indian classical music is on the way out?
Ayaan: I don't agree. It is not only unfair, it's also wrong. Classical music originated as an art form that was not meant for the masses. It was for intimate gatherings. The concert hall performance of classical music is a fairly recent phenomenon. It started sometime in the 1960s. So from 1960s till now, the audience has increased. Be it the Carnegie hall or halls in Mumbai and Bangalore, our shows are always sold out. Despite the changing times, if people come to listen to two hours of classical music, I'll say we have no reason to complain.
Amaan: I don't think the statement is correct either. Classical music is meant for a small gathering of people. Its western counterpart would perhaps be chamber music. Its audience can vary from 50 to 5000 and but that doesn't mean it's on its way out.
There is a general perception that youngsters do not understand classical music.
Ayaan: I don't think that's true since, in all our shows, we see youngsters in the audience. Not only that, there is young and budding talent everywhere and is more focussed and interested not just in listening to classical music but also learning it.
Amaan: The thing is, music isn't supposed to be understood. It is meant to be enjoyed. I have no reason to complain as far as the young generation is concerned. A large part of my audience is youngsters, and I have always been able to connect with them.
How fair is it to pit classical music against the instant popularity of Bollywood music?
Amaan: Actually not at all. Bollywood is about instant celebrity. In classical music, it takes years of practice for a person to become a big name. It is great that reality shows and talent hunts on TV are discovering new talent. But in classical music, one hit or flop does not make a great musician. I tell our students that they should not be in a rush to perform. They should chase excellence instead.
Tell us more about the two books both of you have co-authored.
Ayaan: Our first book was a candid personal journey. The second one, 50 Maestros 50 Recordings, was a challenge as well as an honour. It was an honour because HarperCollins approached us with the faith that we'd be able to do justice to such an enormous project. We chose 50 records we grew up listening to and then identified those we thought were the pillars of Indian classical music. We cover everyone from Vilayat Khan to M.S. Subbulakshmi to Pandit Ravi Shankar. This book recommends all these records and masters to anyone looking to become familiar with Indian classical music at its best.
What about the stereotype attached to the appearance of classical musicians?
Ayaan: In our case, we grew up travelling for performances. It made us city people. We don't dress or appear a certain way to cater to or break any stereotypes. It's who we are. I don't believe that looks or clothes can change the degree of your talent.
Amaan: I don't believe in convention but I do believe in tradition. The kurta-pyjama is like my uniform for performances and concerts, but I like to mix with the crowd when I go out. Then I don't need to look like a musician. I am one, and wearing or not wearing something won't change that.
How important is it to blur the lines between a performer and an artist?
Ayaan: It is very important to be a performer as well as a musician. If you see, every legend who has been loved and accepted has also been a performer. You can be the greatest musician but, on stage, you also need to be a performer. I think you owe that to the audience who comes to watch you play. If you can achieve a blend of both and balance it perfectly, only then can you achieve greatness.
Amaan: I think the sound is definitely more important. But, to a certain level, so is the need to connect with the audience. Your appearance should complement the music but not overshadow it.
What do you think about collaborations between classical music and cinema?
Amaan: The thing is: the base of film music has to be Indian classical music. I am not trying to be arrogant, but I do say that with some pride.
Ayaan: Ironically, the evolution of Bollywood began with classical music. Many great classical musicians created music for movies in the past. Now, Bollywood is about instant hits and flops. Classical musicians are not used to that. We don't work around hits and flops. We are also not comfortable with our creativity being dictated to. But the collaborations that did happen produced some beautiful music.
Personally, would either of you consider working for movies in the future?
Ayaan: The entertainment industry is in a transitory mode. There is space for change; nothing is set in stone. I can't make a definite statement right now. I would certainly love to work with a director who understands music and has faith in me. Ironically, every time we have been approached by directors, it's been to act.
Amaan: I don't think I'll be working for movies anytime soon. I have had one bad experience with Bollywood and, for now, I am not looking for any more work there. I have a lot to learn and achieve right now and want to concentrate entirely on my music.