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Master Sarod Player Amjad Ali Khan TalkAsia Interview Transcript

Airdate: December 4th, 2004

LH: Lorraine Hahn
AAK: Amjad Ali Khan


Amjad Ali Khan

LH: This week on TalkAsia: A Master Sarod player, who's faithfully carrying on his family's tradition-six generations on. This, is TalkAsia.

Welcome to TalkAsia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. This week we bring you our final guest from our trip to India- eminent classical musician, Amjad Ali Khan. The Sarod, is in his blood. His ancestors helped create the instrument. They played for both royalty and the masses. Today, Amjad Ali Khan is taking the Sarod, global... Eager to share with audiences around the world the passion for his craft, and the unique sounds of his heritage.

For the next half hour, you will hear more about his rich, musical tradition. The pressures of carrying on a family legacy. As well as a special performance for TalkAsia, by Khan and his sons, Amaan and Ayaan. But first-let's hear from the Maestro what he tries to achieve, whenever he performs.

AAK: I am trying to connect to the world through sound, through music. I want people to have peace especially in this time when everything is so destructive, people have become full of hatred and arrogance. And I feel that they should think about the future generation and I think they should listen to music, because music has connected the whole world. Basically there are two types of music in the world, one is pure sound and the other is based on language, story, text, lyrics. And language creates barriers - music connects.

LH: Maestro, would you say you live to perform, or would you say it's the other way around?

AAK: I live to understand more depth in music, in rhythm, because music is like ocean, rhythm is also ocean. And because it's a legacy, I was handed over -- a long legacy, my forefathers. And I'm trying to. I'm doing research and I'm trying to discover the more beautiful sounds of my instruments -- Sarod.

LH: You have said that each of your performances are unique. How are they unique to you?

AAK: Unique I don't know whether it is unique or not, but it is different, it is fresh. You see I don't repeat I can't repeat a concept because I don't read music, I don't write music and in the western classical music everyone writes and read and conduct. But in Indian classical music, we are three in one, while I am performing, I am the composer, I am the performer and I am the conductor. And I follow the oral tradition, you know my father always sang (busts into song). So this slow pace and these kind of slides and glides, they are the essence of our tradition and culture, because Staccato music is all over the world (busts out in tune again). So this is like any part of music of any world, any part. But the essence and the greatest gift that God has given to Indian classical music is the slides and waves, from one note to six notes I slide (sings again). So this is very soothing, very peaceful -- and if you listen with concentration, you receive all the positive effects of our music.

LH: Maestro, tell me about the sarod, and you mentioned briefly just now about the historical connection between the sarod and your family, tell me a bit more about it.

AAK: You see sarod is a Persian word that means music. "Sa" is a very important alphabet --very important letter in India, in Hindi we say Sangeet, that means music and sarod is instrument. Now sarod, the original, the history goes back to Afghanistan, there is an instrument called Rabhab, which my forefathers played. But Sarod wanted to be more expressive, so it became Sarod from Rabhab, and now Sarod is very expressive and if you go fifty years back, Sarod was not so expressive. But from my childhood I wanted to be more expressive, I wanted to say something more, I used to discuss with my father, with my guru -- why can't I play this phrase? Why can't I play this phrase? And my father always used to say, look sarod is a very difficult instrument, it doesn't have frets like a guitar, mandolin, sitar -- they all have frets. But sarod has this metal finger boat and I have to press the strings with the edge of my fingernails and slide and play. There is no sign of any bar, no note, and in my right hand I use a plectrum made of coconut shell. And the belly of my instrument is covered with skin and it is hollowed from inside, and my instrument is made out of teakwood. There are various woods that people prefer, but in my family we respect, we love teakwood. So our sarod shape is different, our sound is different, and now also my sons, they are having a different instruments (Lorraine: "wow").

LH: Maestro you have adapted a lot of the ragas through the years. Is this part of the discovery process of yours or...?

AAK: Yes you know people out of respect, and they mentioned that I've composed so many ragas, but I feel embarrassed to say that I have composed because ragas are not very technical piece of music -they're like soul, every raga has a soul. So these melodies come around me and I hum sometimes without knowing (he hums). So suddenly I'm humming something, then when I stop and I think what was I singing, what was I humming, then I realize it was something different. That means I've realized that I have discovered this melody, and this melody asks me will you accept me or shall I go? Then I accept that melody and give it a name, like Lorraine, it can be raga Lorraine.

LH: Wow. (both laugh)

LH: Up next on TalkAsia-What would Amjad Ali Khan be doing if he was not born into his musical lineage? That and much more, just after the break.


LH: Welcome come back to TalkAsia and our conversation with one of India's most celebrated classical musicians, Amjad Ali Khan. The master Sarod player has won numerous prestigious awards both at home and abroad. And counts performing for the Dalai Lama as one of his career highlights, thus far. At 59, Khan is the sixth generation proudly bearing the torch of his family's heritage. He recalls for me some of his fondest memories, including those with his father and guru-Haafiz Ali Khan.

AAK: You know the place I was born, Gwalior when I was receiving one of the highest award there, some group of old people came up to me and they mentioned that they had heard that I was 6 years old and they are still alive, and they can see me receiving this great honour. I was really touched, I was moved,

LH: Maestro, you were taught by your father, of course a very renowned sarod player himself, how did he introduce the sarod to you?

AAK: You see my father often used to sing and he wanted me to follow through my instrument, and that was a great way of teaching because human voice is most important. I think every human being is born with sound into them -- you know what we speak, conversation, recitation, chanting, is all part of music and this heartbeat is the indication of life and rhythm. So everybody can sing but in our system, Indian classical music system, we have to be very expressive, this is what my father taught me.

LH: Was he a strict teacher?

AAK: Yes very strict. He will, you know he use to lose his temper and sometimes he was very furious and we were very scared because my relationship with him more like guru and shushia, like student and teacher, because age difference was so much between him and me. I was the last child, unexpected child, youngest child, so I was pampered also. But I was taught, in our family we were taught the values of life, how to address the senior, in our system we still touch the feet of the guru. In south India, if you know their system of namashkar, you know people lie down in respect to their guru, and the holy men, like that. So in India I think the realization of guru is a lot, so and we believe in blessings. That hard work, dedication, practice, is fine -- but if you're not blessed, you cannot achieve your goal of life.

LH: So maestro, what was it like, growing up in this musical household?

AAK: A great opportunity, I think I'm very fortunate that I was born in the family of musicians. And my father was a very kind human being, he was very encouraging, very generous. I think that is why I feel connected with the whole world, the music, is very special, it's my life. Fortunately my wife is an artist herself, and she has contributed a lot. Even though we are two different religions, you know Muslim and Hindu, she is Subhalakshmi, but she has been a great energy pillar to keep us all together, my sons, all four of us. All of us, the common bind, we feel the presence of god and we feel connected with every religion, we feel connected with every soul, we want to see a very beautiful peaceful world and for that we are working hard though music.

LH: Your conviction to popularizing the sarod and your endless passion for it, where do you think it all began for you?

AAK: You see while traveling the world, while listening to the violin, listening cello, listening to guitar or symphony or work of Beethoven or work of Mozart, I had this desire that I hope and wish that one day the whole world can experience the sound of sarod. You know-my sarod should become as popular as guitar or violin, because people are missing something in their lives. Because every instrument has a different message, every instrument has a different effect, and sarod -- the sound of sarod is something that one has to experience.

LH: Now if you weren't brought into this lineage, what do you think you would be doing?

AAK: I'm the most useless person I think because I couldn't do anything because I have not learnt anything from any book. With all due respect to all the books of the world and all the holy men and sages -- but my life has not learnt anything from any book. My life is what I experienced personally with my guru, with my knowledgeable people around the world and my own thinking. I don't feel comfortable with people who are fundamentalists, people who are bigoted, I pray for them, that they should become human beings. Because I feel there is only one religion in this world -- the humanity

LH: Just ahead on TalkAsia-Meet the seventh generation from the Bangash lineage.And hear them play with their father and our guest, Amjad Ali Khan.


LH: Lorraine Hahn

AAK: Amjad Ali Khan

Amaan: Amaan Ali Bangash

Ayaan: Ayaan Ali Bangash

LH: That's our guest Amjad Ali Khan, performing with his two sons, at their New Delhi home, where they kindly received us. Amaan and Ayaan are the seventh generation to master the Sarod-an instrument created by their ancestors. After watching their piece, I couldn't help but ask how they feel-when they play together?

AAK: Yes, it's all-natural. I think it's blessings of God, and because now we can throw our inclusions, we're looking at each other. And how would we like to say?

Ayaan: I think it's important to know the individual who you play with on stage and in this case it's my father and my brother and likewise for my brother. So I think there needs to be a bonding in a different level, apart from musical bonding. I think that once that... like my father says once you're in sync even mentally, then musically also you sound great.

Amaan: And you're celebrating the music that you're playing together, the whole idea is to be happy and you're sharing all these joyous moments together.

AAK: But we can't be too happy, we have to maintain the rule of the ascending and descending of the raga.

LH: We mustn't forget that right? What is he like -- your father, as a teacher?

Amaan: Well my father in fact as a teacher never forced us into classical music. He has always made it very clear to us from day one that whatever you do, you both are responsible for it. But he made sure that the environment that we got was very musical around us so that we could feel the responsibility ourselves. What we need to do as young musician, being sons of him.

Ayaan: Actually like my brother said he didn't force us into it, but then again the days that we didn't practice his not saying anything,.. (laughs)... I think he used reversed psychology on us, his not saying anything made us feel oh we haven't played today.

AAK: but I think it was a tough task, tough job to create an atmosphere for them, you know that they were drawn towards music -- that actively I did. That they should be drawn towards sarod, the sound of sarod, the music, and they all started singing afterward.

Amaan: With very little hesitation

LH: Right, but there must be some pressure, I presume, for you to perform as good as your father.

Ayaan: The pressure is obviously there because you know, of whose son you are, and the music has been there in the family since many generations. So that pressure's there but then again at the end of the day, it depends how good you are on stage. You can't bank on the fact that you're a famous father's son.

Amaan: And it's like people make you responsible. You know whenever we used to go with our father for concerts, they used to be like, oh when are we hearing you play, next time? So you know that responsibility, we heard your grandfather, we heard your father, when do we hear you next? So that makes you very responsible.

LH: Amaan what do you think, Ayaan as well, is the most important value that your father, and I presume your mother as well, have engrained in both of you?

Amaan: Well as they say, music is a reflection of one's nature. My mother and father have from day one have always told us that we don't want you to be the greatest musicians on this planet, but what we really want both of you to be are symbols of humanity, good human beings. Have a lot of patience, humility, love everyone and don't have hatred towards anyone -- so that is the main thing that our parents have...

Ayaan: That's kind of been the mantra for both of us -- be good human beings first and the music part follows later. Because you have many talented people around, but the moment that you are discourteous to the elders or you don't give proper respect to a senior artists -- all these things I think matter.

LH: As the seventh generation now, what sort of responsibility do you have to keep the Sarod music continuing, but not only continuing but to thrive as well in this generation?

Amaan: Well as being sons of our father, whose a great musician, which we never realized that but more and more as we grow older we realized that. It's a bit scary because the responsibilities are so high and the standards have already been set, you are supposed to play well. People look up at me and my brother, they compare us with our father which is sometimes is -- not annoying -- but at the end of the day is a back- handed compliment, that they are comparing you with a great maestro. There's a lot of hard work required. I would not say I'd would like to get out of my father's shadow overnight; both of us are trying to follow and be like him. And we're hoping that one day with his blessing and our mother's blessings we make our own identities.

Ayaan: And in our own humble way with all humility we are trying to do what we can, because we...god's been kind-I think the younger generation does connect to us on a certain level. And that makes a difference because in today's time and age you don't have many people doing Indian classical music

LH: Maestro, what have you attempted to teach your sons?

AKK: It's a complete way of life, it's not only the music. It's very important to be well-rounded We don't consider ourselves like entertainers, we are humble representatives of a long legacy and we have to carry forward with dignity, so almost like an elephant walk -- it's not a race, a horse race or a rat race. But it's an elephant walk, it's a walk with dignity, one has to carry forward and the destination is really very far

LH: Master Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Amaan and Ayaan. A family who's proudly connecting their ancient heritage, to a modern society. And that wraps our special edition from India. Thank you very much for joining us. We leave you with more of the Khan's performance for TalkAsia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.

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