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Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Mumbai is a great attraction for any musician

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Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with his sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash

As the legendary maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan welcomes the morning sun in Mumbai, Boski Gupta wonders at the serenity that music brings to this exacting city

It’s not every day that you wake up to the musical bliss of listening to the legendary Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. But today can be that day. Today when the morning sun would lovingly touch the cool waters of Arabian Sea at the Gateway, the Ustad with his two sons – Ayaan and Amaan – would welcome the day with his magical incantations on his sarod to the goddess of music and the charioteer of the daylight. Mumbai maybe the busiest city in the country, but its mornings can be serene as any other small town of India. “Mumbai has always attracted me, right from the time when I visited here as a young boy for my first concert in 1961,” says Khan but adds smiling, “But that was long time back.” In a freewheeling interview, the musician talks about his love for this ‘multi-faceted city’, the future of music and his tuning with his descendants. Excerpt:

How is performing in Mumbai different than any other city…


Mumbai is a great attraction for any musician. There is an audience for all kinds of music here, be it European classical music or jazz, blues or folk music, ghazal or qawwali. People will come to listen to you at any time of the year. Earlier too, I have performed in the morning here but I am really looking forward to Gateway performance as I will perform with my sons (Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash).

…and it always feels special to perform with them…

Yes, it’s a special occasion. All three of us rarely perform together. By the grace of god Amaan and Ayaan are both invited for their solo and duet concerts. It is very important for every young musician to experience the stage alone. Every concert whether solo, duet or trio is a big challenge and great experience for a musician. They are dedicated musicians, and as a father I feel happy to perform with them. But it also feels good to see that they have learnt well. I never tried to impose music on them. They naturally showed interest, they used to follow me, listen to me, they learned naturally. Actually the real guru of the of every child is his mother; in their case it was Subbalakshmi ji who gave time to Amaan and Ayaan and made them acquainted with this age old musical gharana. Gradually, they realised the thin line between the father and the guru in me.

What is the association of music with mornings?

You see internationally they have concerts only in the evening. Mostly because of the culture of evenings and night outs. But music is a celebration of life and you can celebrate anywhere, anytime. There has been a tradition in our country, especially at the time of rulers, zamindar, and aristocrats when they would have musical fests for days and nights. I myself have played alone in Kolkata three times from 9 pm to 7 in the morning! And the last time all three of us performed one after the other… Ayaan began at 10 pm, two hours later Amaan came on the stage and he played for about two-and-a-half hours and then I joined at 3 am! It was very heavy dose for the listeners but you would be surprised to know that it was a sold-out concert. But these kinds of concerts don’t happen frequently. Today things are totally different. People prefer indoor life, and then there are also the questions of safety and money. In fact, I understand the preference for evening concerts and single artiste performance. People come with fresh mind and listen to just one artiste and they enjoy their evenings. However, sometimes I’m sure people would like to hear morning ragas as well.

Do you think the classical musical scene is fading out?

Nothing is fading out. These are all very natural sounds, natural kind of music; they will never go out of fashion. But only a few may survive — whether you are vocalist or instrumentalist. People cannot listen to every musician. Countries have thousands of musicians but very few are in circulation. Classical music is like an ocean and you may be good at it but you need to be accepted by the audience. Indian classical music is not for everybody, it is only for those who love and respect it and there is no threat to any genre of music. Every genre of music will always survive.

Are musicians forced to match the ongoing trends and for that, they compromise with quality? What would you say about fusion music?

There are very few classical musicians who are considered true representatives of this field. Sense of proportion is very important for every musician, everybody knows when to begin but very few know when to end. There is room for all genre of music, be it European, folk, jazz or blues or Indian classical music. Fusion music is a very recent phenomenon. Some fusion is very appealing and some are total confusion. There is no threat to any genre of music.

 With auto-tuning and technology, do you think music has become an easier vocation?

Technology has become a very big weapon for the younger musicians. With the help of technology they can watch video recordings of great maestros, listen to earlier versions and through YouTube they can learn a lot. Young generation is at an advantageous situation. This technology and electronic gazettes were not available when I was doing my musical sadhana, but I must assure that no technology would help you if you do not riyaaz. Shortcuts do not help in classical music. Hard work is necessary.

What would you suggest our academicians so more children are musically-inclined in their growing years itself.

 It is my personal advice to every school that they must teach and introduce our folk music and European classical music to our children. With all due respect to the education system, we are in 21st century and still killing each other in the name of religion and caste. Every child is born with sound and rhythm. It is a duty of schools to discover the interest of every child; their creativity should not be ignored or suppressed. It is my humble appeal to schools that in their assembly sessions they should make children sing the sargam because these seven notes are connected with our most important cells of the brain.

What do you think about the television reality shows where stars are ‘made’ in six months?

Reality shows have created awareness among children and the younger generation. Some people learn music only to make a video and some people learn only to appear in a reality show. How many of these youngsters learn though? Very few are learning Indian classical music to understand the depth of this beautiful world. It is very healthy to be connected with the appealing music because music is a celebration of life. But half knowledge is of no use.

(Ustad Amjad Ali Khan will perform for Pancham Nishad at Gateway of India today at 6.30 am. The concert is non-ticketed and open to all.)