Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar

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Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar

Interview Amjad Ali Khan and sons

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Joined: 01 December 2005
Posts: 1066

Posted: 19 March 2006 at 5:48am | IP Logged


Swar Is Ishwar


Between the father and two sons, they are the First Family of Indian classical music. Amjad Ali Khan has been long regarded as the greatest living sarod maestro, and he has added a contemporary dimension to the art by involving his sons Amaan and Ayaan in the endeavour to promote classical music among the youth. In a discursive interview with DARPAN Editor-in-Chief CHANDAN MITRA, the trio discusses a range of issues, including the future of the classical tradition

In this age of commercialisation, what future do you see for your art and classical music as such?

I have great faith in our tradition and commitment. I belong to a family that has always regarded classical music not as a profession but a way of life. I will tell you how. In 1960, my father was honoured with a Padma Bhushan. I was a child then, but he took me to Rashtrapati Bhawan that evening to interact with Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru) and Rajan Babu (Rajendra Prasad). On the lawns of Mughal Gardens, Rashtrapatiji came up to my father and asked if we needed something. We were not too well off then. Anybody else would have asked for a government house or some other official facility.

But do you know what my father said? He pleaded with the President of India to save Raag Darbari! He asked Rajendra Prasadji with folded hands to save this raag from getting corrupted. "It's a legacy bequeathed to us by Mian Tansen. You must do something to save it from being polluted," he told the President. My father was so obsessed with music and its purity that he remained totally naive about the ways of the world. He actually believed Parliament should pass a law to preserve Raag Darbari in its original form! I am a legatee to this commitment. So I do not compromise with music.

Do you think this is practical in present times? Young people are no longer attracted to the rigours of classical music. How can you retain audiences?

Shastriya sangeet survives thanks to the blessings of our immortal gurus. We belong to the tradition of masters like Swami Haridas and Tansen. Musicians like Thyagaraja, Purandar Das, Mutthuswami Dikshitar and many others carried this great legacy forward. We do dhyan of such maestros before we start playing anywhere. Their blessings are with us. That is why we have been able to outlive the noise pollution of contemporary music. That is why even in this age we can continue to do sadhna of Bhairav or Yaman.

But I do agree that future generations will find it even more challenging. Already Amaan and Ayaan have to compete against current trends. But believe me, media cannot make a musician. There is no substitute for sadhna if a musician wants to make his mark. If you are sincere about your sadhna, people will appreciate it. Today, it is Amjad Ali Khan versus 100 TV channels showing entertainment. Still people throng my concerts. I find there is no shortage of numbers when it comes to attending classical music concerts. Classical music has great appeal. I keep getting invited to colleges.

But shastriya sangeet is not only about playing instruments or singing. It is also about tehzeeb and tameez (culture and behaviour). That is what we need to inculcate among young people. We instituted the Hafiz Ali Khan Memorial Award precisely to recognise and encourage such talent. Last year we conferred it on Malini Rajorkar and the famous Pakistani ghazal singer Farida Khanum.

What needs to be done to preserve and promote the classical tradition among youngsters?

I find most schools are not serious about it although they should play a crucial role in shaping young minds in that direction. I strongly believe that schools should earmark one period every day in which no books will be allowed. Children should be taught tradition, values, purity and other philosophical things that generate interest in matters classical, such as music.

Nowadays I find parents everywhere disturbed about the kind of values their children imbibe. NRI parents, in particular, are very worried about their children growing up with wrong ideas, ignorant of Indian value systems. Parents were always the natural, and first, gurus to their children. Nowadays, false gurus like rock stars or sports heroes are taking over that position. This must be stopped.

Your house in Gwalior has been made into a museum. What does it contain?

We have renamed it Sarod Ghar - Museum of Musical Heritage. I was greatly inspired by the way they have transformed Beethoven's house in Germany. When we went to visit it, my wife and I exchanged glances because we thought about doing something similar at the same time. The idea was sealed there. Later we discussed how Rabindranath Tagore's home in Shantiniketan had been made into a museum of his personal belongings. We thought we would expand the scope of this at our house in Gwalior. We had a good photographer in Gwalior, Kedar Jain, who would visit our place often and take pictures of other musicians, music sessions, concerts in various places.

So, we requested him to contribute to setting up a permanent exhibition of his photographs. He donated his pictures. We got together many traditional musical instruments, including those played by great masters of yesteryear. I am glad we have been able to make Sarod Ghar a place of pilgrimage for lovers of shastriya sangeet.

Indian classical music had a strong syncretic tradition. I mean religion never mattered. Is it still like that?

They can divide zameen, but they cannot divide swar and sur. All music in the world, irrespective of the religion of its practitioners, is based on saat swar - Sa-re-ga-ma - that becomes Do-re-me in the West. You cannot have music without these seven notes. So, how can religion, language or race divide music? Our family tradition always embraced all faiths. Sadhus, sants and faqirs regularly visited our home. Even my name was changed by one such travelling baba. He came to our place in Gwalior when I was a kid. He asked me what I wanted to do in life. I told him I was already practising how to play the sarod. When I told him my name was Masoom Ali Khan, he insisted on changing it to Amjad Ali.

As I was saying, like water, flower and fragrance, music can have no religion. Our family environment made us learn from nature where such divisions do not exist. As you know, my wife is a Hindu. Although I haven't studied much formally, I know enough of Hindu philosophy to admire it. In the world of sound, in which I live, these divisions are immaterial. But one cannot live outside the real world. So, it saddens me to observe so much religious hatred between people.

Unlike me, most people live in the world of words, not sounds. Many times, words generate hatred. I believe one's own atma leads to the parmatma (Supreme Being). If you share this belief, you can't hate another man. Also, because I live in the world of sound, I believe Swar hi Ishwar hai (Sound is God). In such a world, there is no place for conflict.

Tell us about your wife. How did you come to meet her? How has life together been?

I saw her perform at a function in Kolkata. Actually I was initiated into stage performances from early childhood. There was a big age difference between my father and I, but he somehow chose me as his musical successor, although my two older brothers and uncle were also sarod players. I gave my first public performance at the age of 11 at the Sadarang Festival in 1958.

After that I would perform regularly at major classical music gatherings like the Dover Lane Sammelan in Kolkata. Subhalakshmi was a talented Bharatnatyam dancer who also gave dance recitals at such gatherings. I was very impressed with the way she expressed herself. In Bharatnatyam what really matters is expression, not so much the figure. I was quite besotted with her. With great difficulty I managed to meet her separately at one such function.

I found our thinking to be on the same wavelength. She also believed that a good human being's true mazhab (religion) was insaniyat (humanity). She took a great liking to me although she was an established artiste, daughter of the renowned MP from Assam, PC Barua, while I was just a struggling musician then. Once we met, we got along very well and the rest, as they say, is history.

You must be the only musician in recent times to set up a gharana comprising your own children. How does it feel to play with them?

When the three of us play together, it is not only something unique but also a message against individualism. People say it is very taxing to play together because each musician has a distinctive style. Indeed, it is a miracle for people to stay together in the creative field, leave alone perform together. But believe me, I have improved by working with them. They are so imaginative as well as dedicated that sometimes I feel they are my gurus instead of the other way around. The three of us have shown one another new dimensions of the sarod. We are the only sarod trio in the world. My father and I started the tradition. Others have followed.

(At this point Amaan and Ayaan join us. We also move from Lodhi Gardens to Lodhi restaurant on the outskirts of the garden for a cup of tea.)

I find you have dropped Bangash from your surname. Any particular reason for that?

Amaan: We have descended from the Bangash clan in Afghanistan, our forefathers having migrated to India centuries ago. We are proud of the lineage and wanted to acknowledge it. But we found it was too much trouble explaining it. People would ask what Bangash meant. They wanted to know why we had added it to our names when our grandfather or father hadn't. We got fed up giving elaborate explanations. Conversation would digress to discussing family history, which was not the idea. So we decided it would be better to drop the suffix altogether.

You got famous hosting the popular Saregama music contest on TV. How did it begin? Why did you stop it?

It started while a Saregama episode was being shot in 1999 in New York with dad as the guest. Producer Gajendra Singh, who had conceived Saregama, approached us to anchor the show. We were very scared. We had never appeared on TV before, but decided to accept the challenge. It gave us a huge platform. We could reach out to a whole new breed of people.

We came to be known all over the country and even abroad. But after some time, we began to wonder if this was what we wanted. We were recognised all right, but only as anchors. There was no creativity in the job; it was not our calling. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience being on TV. Finally, we parted ways quite cordially.

Your father says your generation will face a lot of challenges upholding the classical tradition. How do you feel?

Amaan: I think there will be a lot of filtration. Only the serious and sincere will survive. The ones who are deeply rooted in the classical tradition will make a mark.

Ayaan: It is very satisfying to see the number of people who pay to attend classical music concerts. If one keeps in mind the alternative forms of entertainment they sacrifice to come and listen to us, it becomes a proud yet humbling thought. Today's audience, in that sense, is very special. The number may be a bit smaller than the past, but it is a quality audience.

Amaan: I would add that classical music will probably be the only kind of music that will survive after all the experimentation is done with. It is amazing to find 2,000 to 3,000 people turning up for our recitals. I am confident that the golden age of classical music is on its way.

You have diversified into other kinds of music too. What led you to do that?

Ayaan: Yes, we have just made our debut in lounge and electronic music. Our album, Reincarnation, packaged for lounges, has released and done very well. But all its eight tracks are based on classical ragas. I would say it is classical music reinvented for Generation X.

Amaan: Whatever fusion element there is, it is only experimental. There's nothing wrong about experimental things. Even a ghazal singer can be experimental. You can't call strumming a guitar with a ghazal fusion!

Ayaan: Basically, we wanted to establish our claim as classical exponents. Nobody had tried using the sarod for lounge or electronic music. We're encouraged by the response to our album.

Why aren't more young people coming into the classical genre?

Amaan: I think schools and musicians have scared off young people from classical music by insisting on the form rather than content of teaching it. Classical music needs to be projected among the youth in an informal way. We want to do something to change the image of classical music being a formidable and forbidding art form. We are thinking about what can be done.

Ayaan: Actually, we do a lot of classical music teaching abroad during the summer break. In a few years we hope to set up our own, permanent school.

Do you like today's music? What kind of stuff do you enjoy listening to?

Amaan: I am a Bollywood music guy. I love Hindi film stuff. In particular, I am very impressed with Himesh Reshammiya's compositions. Roop Kumar Rathod is also very good. Besides, I really enjoy lounge music.

Ayaan: I love qawwali. I listen to a lot of traditional and modern qawwalis. My interest in Bollywood music is merely periodic. I love Western classical a lot, especially old composers. Of the present lot, my favourite is Celine Dion.

As new generation youngsters, what do you do in your spare time?

Amaan: We are rather normal kids really. I am 28, he is 26 and I think we are just like average youngsters of that age group. We discuss current affairs, watch movies with friends, eat out, have long chat sessions over tea, discuss future plans and do all the things that young people do. Music is work for us. We take it seriously. But that doesn't mean there's no life outside music.

Ayaan: It's different with Dad. For him music is life, it absorbs all his time. That's not exactly the way it is with us.


Too_Much IF-Rockerz
Too_Much
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Joined: 19 November 2005
Posts: 6389

Posted: 19 March 2006 at 5:51am | IP Logged
thank too long but read it later....
I am very impressed with Himesh Reshammiya's compositions. this line moved me...thanks koi to hai... Wink
SolidSnake IF-Rockerz
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Joined: 12 January 2006
Posts: 6908

Posted: 19 March 2006 at 5:52am | IP Logged
Wow, great article. Clap
giggles_2005 Goldie
giggles_2005
giggles_2005

Joined: 01 December 2005
Posts: 1066

Posted: 19 March 2006 at 6:01am | IP Logged
He doesnt AD...one of his sons does...no wonder they were booted out as hosts of SGMP... Wink
giggles_2005 Goldie
giggles_2005
giggles_2005

Joined: 01 December 2005
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Posted: 19 March 2006 at 6:02am | IP Logged
"But shastriya sangeet is not only about playing instruments or singing. It is also about tehzeeb and tameez (culture and behaviour)". ....and thats my fav line from the whole lenghty interview, which I was too lazy to edit   Tongue

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