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Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: The music industry too has been hit very badly due to the pandemic | Exclusive

Even in the time of pandemic, sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan will be holding a musical concert, though online. One of the living legends of Indian classical music, he believes in the healing power of music, even if it is heard from a distant virtual conference.

This time, not just sons and grandsons of the legend, popular actor Vicky Kaushal too had used Instagram to share a video of him playing a raga yamaan on his veena.  The launch of his latest Album Navras marked his first virtual music concert.

During an exclusive conversation with IB Times India, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan talked about the divinity of classical music and his first venture into the virtual music concert. 

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

Being one of the living classical legends in the era of pop songs and rock music, how do you see the future of Sarod.

Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Russia’s Tchaikovsky. Our renditions are often compared with jazz, which is not misplaced. There is scope for improvisations in both disciplines but in a different manner. The message of Indian Classical music is freedom within the discipline. Right from my childhood, I understood the vastness and the oceanic depths of music. I feel that the twelve musical notes are so very powerful and vibrant like the sun and all the harmony around it are like its rays. 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. Music is not a profession but a passion. A way of life! Creative fields don’t have formulas or methods.

What inspired you to compose Navras. Can you please elaborate on the nine expressions of the human being it is based on?

Like all industries, the music industry too has been hit very badly with the pandemic especially as a congregation is the first step of the field. So many concerts and projects have all been invariably postponed so it has been a big blow however, better to be safe than sorry. Many artist all over the world are out of jobs too who have been associated with institutions. Our salutations to all the doctors, nurses and front line workers who are doing such a great job round the clock. The lockdown has allowed me a deeper connection with my music, with less distractions and no travelling, I have certainly been able to meditate with music in a much profound manner. Despite a lifetime with Sarod, I see so many fresh avenues opening up because I’m more mindful than ever. Apart from my daily musical sessions, I am trying to reinvent myself during this time. 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 ‘foods’ 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 the music. The Nine States of Emotional Empowerment celebrates the all the human emotions that has been a part of every human being through the recent times. What matters eventually is the music, the effect of music and the realization of the twelve notes of music. I have presented nine Ragas for nine moods; Raga Shiv Kalyan, Wonder/Adhuta Raga Darbari, Joy/Hasya Raga Narayani, Courage/Vira Raga Malkauns, Sadness/Karuna Raga Pilu, Anger/Raudra Raga Bahar, Fear/Bhayanaka Raga Mia Ki Malhar, Disappointment /Vibhasta Raga Tilang and Peace/Shanta Saraswati.

I see your posts where your sons followed your footsteps. Will they be a part of Navras too. Are you planning to keep Sarod only in the family or allow the talent to spread in other places.

My years of teaching my sons, Amaan and Ayaan were quite an experience. It was for the first time that I was able to hold a student on my lap! In a family where music is a way of life and is basic to life, the training starts from the moment a child is born. I remember when Amaan was born and the first time I held him, I sang into his ear. Similarly, on Ayaan’s arrival two years later, I did the same. In essence, the training started from that point on. However, as time progressed, all their training and musical knowledge that I have tried to pass on to them happened in the Music Room.

In the course of Amaan and Ayaan’s training (which is an ongoing process for a Classical musician), I never encouraged them to copy my style of playing beyond a point. As they developed and matured as musicians, I relieved to see that both brothers developing a very distinctive and rather different approach to what was taught. This I feel is only natural as the music is a reflection of an individuals’ mind and soul. Over the years, as a father and as a guru, I have a very unique equation with Amaan and likewise with Ayaan. When there is a group concert we three perform together most of the times. However, I have had some very memorable concerts individually with Amaan and with Ayaan on various occasions. I feel happy to think that perhaps our personal equations get showcased in our musical explorations.

Our trio conveys the message of an old heritage, Legacy, tradition of old world culture and most of all, the message of Sharing, adjusting and collectively making a beautiful painting or a bouquet of flowers! An interesting aspect of Indian Classical music is that, here you have four people on stage, who don’t know what the other is going to do and yet have to perform like a rehearsed orchestra! Therefore our role as performers is really that of three people, i.e., the performer, the composer and the conductor. Three in one!

It’s a seven days long music festival. What will the musical concert include? And you have performed at international platforms worldwide. However, life has made us come back to the virtual medium. How do you perceive this?

Every appreciation and opportunity to perform is a blessing for any artist especially when they receive it at a time while they are still serving the world of music. It’s also wonderful that I could give my first virtual concert in India with them. I am launching my album Navras with Teacher’s Glasses with two live Concerts on PayTM Insider scheduled for 20th & 27th February 2021. The virtual concerts would be an indulgence for classical music lovers’ across India, and the world.

I feel what this digital medium of transactions, is doing is extremely relevant. Especially in the wake of a pandemic. Virtual concerts are something that have come to fruition at a time when humanity will need to consider meditation and contemplation more than ever. I’m glad that I’m able to contribute in my humble ways to bring serenity and peace. While I pray for the world to heal and overcome this crisis, I feel this a huge lesson for all of us to learn from. I believe we will come out of it as better versions of ourselves. I am very grateful to all those who have collaborated with me on this project. A live event can never be replaced however, digital concerts are a need of the hour for some. I wish to have music shape the consciousness in a way that contributes to oneness in children, it must be more practical and less theoretic! Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers; one that I am constantly sharing. Therefore, there isn’t an instant coffee culture that I can follow. However, I hope that the world heals soon.



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