September 13 2016
One of the great Indian classical musicians will feature at Europe’s largest classical Indian music festival, in this exclusive one to one, he talks about tradition, his sons playing and the state of the world and its relationship to music and what it can do to help and heal…
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): What will it mean to come to London for the Darbar Festival?
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: London holds a very special place in my heart and my association with this city goes back over 40 years. Today, I feel so happy to see the awareness and love that Indian music has generated over the period of time and even the Prince of Wales is an ardent lover of Indian classical music. I have collaborated with many artists and orchestras in the UK. I look forward to performing for Darbar Festival.
ACV: You will be in conversation at Darbar, many musicians do not always discuss what music means to them…
UAAK: I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember. Indeed, I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life.
For my father Haafiz Ali Khan, though, there was no question of a life outside music. Life itself was music and music was Life. And so I came to inherit from him the legacy of five generations of musicians as naturally as a bird taking to the air.
Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers One that I am constantly sharing with my disciples. Musical vibrations can convey moods and emotions and have the ability to mold and shape our consciousness. Different types of music can have different effects on the mind-both positive and negative.
Our mind is like any living organism. It must be nurtured and needs stimulation to develop and grow. Music is one of the most important ‘food’ for the intellect. Each musical note is connected to this most important part of our minds. Music has many faces.
Conversation, recitation, chanting and singing are all part of music. Music can be either vocal or instrumental. Vocal music appeals to most of us because of its poetical or lyrical content. Instrumental music on the other hand, such as what I play on the Sarod, is pure sound. It needs to be experienced and felt. Since there are no lyrics, there is no language barrier between the performer and the listener, and that is why instrumental music transcends all barriers. It has truly been an honour to have performed with the Avignon Provence Symphonic Orchestra, Orchestre d’Auvergne, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and Orchestre national d’Île de France in recent times.
ACV: You will be joined by by your wife Subhalakshmi for this conversation, how did this come about?
UAAK: My wife, Subhalakshmi, trained there for nearly 15 years and continues to be a fine and creative artist and a disciple of the great Rukmini Devi Arundale*. It is a known fact even to the most ardent and knowledgeable dance critics that if Subhalakshmi had continued performing, she would have been the foremost Bharatanatyam dancer of the country. She was Rukmini Devi Arundale’s blue-eyed student.
I often say that even if I or she stops performing, the artist within always remains alive. Subhalakshmi’s creativity has not remained confined to dance, and has extended to every aspect of her life – that of a wife, daughter-in-law, mother, and now, mother-in-law.
Like the Bharat Ratna (the highest Indian civilian award), there should be an award called ‘Bharat Mata’, which she richly deserves. Ever since we got married, my wife has taken on the complete responsibility of Sarod Ghar, my museum in Gwalior and the Haafiz Ali Khan Memorial Trust. She has completely dedicated herself to my gurus and our children, Ayaan and Amaan. From coordinating and managing our Indian and overseas concerts, to designing our kurtas, she does it all.
ACV: How do you assess the state of Indian classical music in India at the moment? How do you think people should approach Indian classical music?
UAAK: Music is essential for mind and body. Pure music like Sarod, violin and other similar instruments, listened to with concentration restores the subtle mental imbalances that crop in today’s modern lifestyle.
People today need more than ever to cope with tensions, distress, depression and struggle to find peace and relaxation. Sound pollution is also a daily hazard. Music helps to retune one’s system. That is why eminent doctors and psychologists are prescribing certain type of music as a form of therapy and treatment for stress disorders. Noisy music on the other hand can be damaging to human mind and body. Music, like Sarod, needs to be heard at moderate volume and with concentration to avail of its positive effects. In western classical music, a composer scores a composition which is read and sung or played by the vocalists or musicians. In the Indian classical system, there is no written or scored music. It would be extremely difficult to record and subsequently interpret the subtle nuances on paper. We therefore follow an ‘oral’ tradition. Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers; one that I am constantly sharing with my disciples. Therefore, there isn’t an instant coffee culture that I can follow, only practice and hard work can, not any kind of digital correction!
Education unfortunately could not create compassion and kindness in human beings. Today, terrorism and destructive activities are at its peak. There are certain countries that ruin the future of their younger generation by injecting hatred among them. A group of people are committed and dedicated to destroy the world. Today the human being has become a symbol of arrogance, hatred and destruction. Thank God, the world has more peace loving people.
I hope and pray – let the younger generation experience peace, harmony and tranquility in the world. As a human being I feel proud to see the achievements of a mankind. However, I feel that an educational degree is important for any artist today as a backup plan. Creative fields don’t have formulas or methods. I wish to have music shape the consciousness in a way that contributes to the oneness in children, and it must be more practical and less theoretical!
ACV: How do you feel about the state of Indian classical music abroad? How would you encourage people not familiar to listen?
UAAK: Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. However, often in the race for cultural superiority we pit one order against the other. The anti-thesis of this conflict phenomenon is fusion music, a rage among the current generation of music-lovers, which sees the world as a global village. I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians such as Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Russia’s Tchaikovsky.
Our renditions are often compared with jazz, which is not misplaced. There is scope for improvisations in both the disciplines, but in a different manner.
The message of Indian Classical music is freedom within the discipline. My Sarod concerto for example has been aimed to preserve the essence of both Indian and Western traditions so that they can flow into each other without artistic compromise. The aim is through this process to joyfully explore the common musical ‘DNA’ of both traditions.
As I often say that every raga has a soul and every musical note is the sound of ‘God’. In Samaagam, my Sarod Concerto that I recorded with Scottish Chamber Orchestra for World Village, several different ragas are presented. Some will making only a fleeting appearance; while others are explored for longer.
To be a musician is in itself a blessing as you are really not answerable to anyone but yourself. For those few hours when you are onstage, you are in a creative frenzy, sometimes it is supernaturally unreal.
There are times when you get off stage only to realize that something special happened up there on stage that day. It’s a blessing to be in a profession and something you love doing. It is also a non-debatable factor that music is indeed the best way to connect to that supreme power that we have never seen. Be it any religion, music has always been the pathway to spirituality.
UAAK: I am grateful to God that He has given us Amaan and Ayaan. My years teaching them have been quite an experience. In a family where music is a way of life, and fundamental to it, training in its intricacies starts from the moment a child is born.
When I held Amaan for the first time, I sang into his ear. On Ayaan’s arrival two years later, I did the same. In essence, their training started from that moment, soon after their birth.
From the day they came into the world, they were both drawn to music. Perhaps, a wise parent would not allow two sons to play the same instrument, but because music is the only wealth I inherited from my forefathers, I wanted to share it equally with both of them. As a teacher, it was the first time I was able to hold a student on my lap! As time progressed, their training and the musical knowledge that I have tried to pass onto them, continued in our music room. In the course of Amaan’s and Ayaan’s training, which is an ongoing process for a classical musician, I never encouraged them to copy my style. As they matured as musicians, I was relieved to see that both the brothers were developing an approach that was distinctive and rather different from what they were taught. This I feel is only natural, for the music that an individual creates is a reflection of his or her mind and soul.
Over the years Amaan and Ayaan have received immense love and blessings from people in India and all over the world. From the beginning, Amaan has been a protective older brother to Ayaan. And Ayaan has always given him the respect and love due to an older brother.
For lot of young people, Amaan and Ayaan have become role models. I feel I too have learnt a lot while teaching them. Today Besides playing classical music, Amaan and Ayaan have made albums of experimental music too. I have really enjoyed their collaboration with guitarist Derek Trucks, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, violinist Elmira Darvarova, and Karsh Kale, the London Philharmonia and Britten Sinfonia.
Subhalakshmi and I always hope to see them progress, be successful and happy. By the grace of God, they have matured into multi-faceted personalities. I am sure that by the blessings, love and encouragement of music lovers, they will achieve their goals and everything they deserve and desire.
With time, Amaan and Ayaan have become my closest companions in the music industry. Most of our concert tours, especially the ones overseas, are together, and as a result we have been able to spend immense quality time, both as father-son and teacher-disciple.
All concerts have been memorable, from numerous ones at the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver, among many others.
* Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986) was a famous Bharatayanatyam dancer and teacher widely regarded as being responsible for the revival of the art form in the 20th Century.
Listings (Ustad Amjad Ali Khan only)
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: In Conversation – Level 5 function room, Saturday, September 17, 1pm-2.30pm with wife Subhalakhshmi (£10) see: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/ustad-anjad-ali-khan-in-conver-96519
Double bill: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Shuba Mudgal, Royal Festival Hall, Sunday, September 18 from 5pm. Tickets from £15 see http://www.sohbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/shubha-mudgal-ustad-amjad-a-96465