‘Not a profession, but a passion’

As the sixth generation of the prestigious Bangash lineage, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is sad that he could not enjoy his childhood.

"In a traditional musical family, most of the kids become responsible very early in life.

Having all these responsibilities, I could not enjoy the freedom of my childhood or do the carefree things children my age were doing," he explained in an e-mail interview with tabla!.

The youngest of six children, Amjad Ali Khan, 69, was taught the sarod by his father and guru Haafiz Ali Khan, for whom "there was no question of a life outside of music". He was six when he gave his first sarod recital.

The sarod maestro, though, stresses that his love for music was not forced. "I inherited from my father the legacy of five generations of musicians, and I took to music as naturally as a bird taking to air.

The love for music was in-built. For me, it's not a profession, but a passion," he said.

The sarod is a string instrument that is smaller than the sitar. It was modified from the rabab, an Afghan and Persian folk instrument, by one of Amjad Ali Khan's ancestors, Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, in the middle of the 19th century.

The focal point of the changes was a new element of melody, and thus the instrument derives its name from "sarod", which means "melody" in Persian.

Amjad Ali Khan, who also learned vocal music and plays the tabla, believes that although Bollywood music has been an integral part of every Indian's life, there is space for classical music as well.

"Bollywood culture was never the face of India. There are so many other aspects that the country has to offer," he explained.

He said that while vocal music appeals to most of us "because of its poetic or lyrical content", instrumental music is pure sound.

He added: "Since there are no lyrics, there is no language barrier between the performer and the listener. That is why instrumental music transcends all barriers."

Indeed, there are no barriers when it comes to the places the performer and his two sons, Amaan and Ayaan - who are the seventh generation carrying on the family legacy - have performed.

Amjad Ali Khan's first performance outside India was in the US in 1963 and, since then, he has performed worldwide.

He has also performed in Singapore on multiple occasions since the 1970s.

He and his sons recently performed at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize presentation ceremony as well as at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert at the Oslo Spektrum.

"It was perhaps the largest gathering I had performed in outside of India," the sarod maestro said.

"The venue seated over 6,000 people, and the audience included Prince Haakon of Norway and members of the Norwegian royal family."

The concert saw the trio performing alongside artistes from different genres of music, like American rapper-singer-songwriter Queen Latifah, Steven Tyler from the rock band Aerosmith and rock band Extreme's guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.

"The atmosphere backstage was magical. All the artistes were interacting with one another with the highest regard for each other's genre," Amjad Ali Khan explained.

His respect for and appreciation of other genres of music is evident in the numerous collaborations he has done with artistes and orchestras the world over, from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoshikazu Fukumora, to American folk singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, to the Welsh National Opera.

For his concert in Singapore, organiser Soorya (Singapore) is exploring the possibility of a collaboration with two instruments from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the yangqin and the guzheng.

This year marks Soorya's 10th anniversary. The organisation has been promoting classical arts by bringing in high-profile artistes, and its president Dr Chitra Krishnakumar could not be more excited about the sarod maestro's concert here.

"It will surely be a wonderful listening experience, with the sheer magic of great music casting its spell," she said.


Amjad Ali Khan and his sons will be performing on May 1 at the Esplanade, accompanied by Satyajit Talwalkar on the tabla. For more details and to purchase tickets, log on to www.sistic.com or contact 6348-5555.

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