Calming fusion

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: `My dream is to make sure that everyone in the world listens to the sound of the sarod at least once.'-- Photo: H. Vibhu

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: `My dream is to make sure that everyone in the world listens to the sound of the sarod at least once.'-- Photo: H. Vibhu  

WE ARE sitting around a table in Taj Residency's Jockey Bar. Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan in a beautiful kurta and shawl, designed by wife Subhalakshmi, art connoiseur H.K.Kejriwal who listens to us with a smile as the maestro tells me it was Kejriwal who first brought him to Bangalore for a concert, and a serious-looking shawled young man with hair combed down (and it only later hits me that this is tabla wizard Talvin Singh, the king of the Asian underground, London drummer and DJ who till recently sported blue, spiked hair!). The Ustad's nattily dressed sons Ayaan and Amaan goof around close by as they prepare for a photo shoot. The setting could not have been more ludicrous and yet Amjad Ali Khan, the master of the art of living with diversity, seems to make the fusion of styles quite natural.

"I am all for fusion, so long as it is musical. What I am against is noise that goes in the name of fusion," says the Padma Vibhushan award winner Amjad Ali Khan, munching on home-made Rajasthani snacks, sent in by a well-wisher.

Amjad Ali Khan, along with sons Ayaan Ali Bangash and Amaan Ali Bangash, was in the city recently to perform at Taj Residency to raise funds for the Head, Heart, Healing Foundation that works with several NGOs. The fusion concert titled Ek Taal was organised by Vision of India.

The event also had an auction of a painting by Ayaan Ali Bangash that fetched over Rs. 62,000. Senior ghatam artist Subhash from Chennai added to the happy fusion feast on stage.

Amjad Ali Khan was born to the illustrious Bangash lineage rooted in the Senia Bangash School of music. He was taught by his father Haafiz Ali Khan a musician to the royal family of Gwalior. Today, he shoulders the sixth generation inheritance of this legendary lineage. The Ustad spoke on various topics during the course of the interview following the concert. Here are excerpts:

You like Bangalore...

Yes, the audience here is so knowledgeable. It also reminds me of my early concerts here. It was a pleasure to play with violin greats Emani Shankara Shastri and later with Lalgudi Jayaraman. Mysore state itself is so musically progressive.

Did you know that vocalist Abdul Karim Khan was a court musician in the erstwhile Mysore Maharaja's kingdom?

That is interesting. How different is the world of your music today?

Every colour has its merits every kind of music has its charm. Audiences are changing, and as a musician I feel my audience is the soul of motivation. Yes, things have changed. There are many good musicians; there is a lot of technology and a lot of experiments being carried out, so it is quite exciting.

But does this also mean that there is a lot more competition?

There is a place for everyone. For me, music is a khoj, a search to find simplicity both in music and life. Today's world is full of hatred, a hatred that stems from frustration. I think music can lower frustrations so that there isn't so much hatred around. When young people rebel, even that is an expression of their frustration. It would be nice if they listen to soothing music, any kind, I don't mean just the sarod.

Calming fusion

Unlike the sitar or veena, the sarod has no frets and is therefore a difficult instrument. Is there a difficulty in getting youngsters to learn it?

Yes. Sarod is difficult to learn. But I strongly believe that only if God wills, a person can take up sarod. I have some 35 students across the world.

You're probably bored with this question. But under how much pressure were your sons Ayaan and Amaan to continue with your musical tradition?

I think it was God's wish that they take up the sarod. They do rigourous riyaz.

You've composed several new ragas.

Every raga has a soul and every musical note is the sound of God. The meaning of Indian Classical music is freedom within the discipline. So I've happily composed new ragas. My favourites are Babukauns, which I composed on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's 125th birth anniversary. I composed Subhalakshmi for my wife in 1995 when I turned 50. The most recent one is Shyama Gauri.

Recently, you got the 15th Fukuoka Grand Asian Cultural Prize in Japan.

I'm happy. My dream is to make sure that everyone in the world listens to the sound of the sarod at least once!

The sauve, and media-friendly Ustad ends the conversation with an excellent impromptu rendition of Rajasthani Maand and an Assamese Bihu. His sarod speaks, but so does his voice... .

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