“I am still a student and I have a lot to learn”
Sarod legend Ustad Amjad Ali Khan recently performed at the 26th Parampara Series – The National Dance and Music Festival at the Natya Tarangini Institute of Performing Arts, New Delhi. Khan presented his compositions on various time cycles and traditional ragas. In this exclusive interview, he talked to us about, among other things, reinventing himself during the pandemic, his goals for the coming years and teaching the sarod to his 10-year-old grandsons. Extracts
You continue to modify and experiment with the sarod…
Music is the greatest wealth I inherited from my ancestors – one that I constantly share with the world. I believe in blessings and hard work. We can only do our best and leave the rest to power up there. Music for me is a way of life. It is not a profession but a passion. In a traditional musical family, most children become responsible very early in life and they have a great sense of family pride. I was very lucky to be the youngest child of my father and guru Haafiz Ali Khan. I had the opportunity to be around my guru. With the music, I witnessed the importance he gave to humanity, to the values of life and to his total surrender to God. However, I could not enjoy the freedom of my childhood.
During the pandemic, you would have “reinvented” yourself as a musician. Tell us about this in more detail.
The confinement allowed a deeper connection with my music. With fewer distractions and no travel, I was able to meditate with the music in a much deeper way. Despite living with the sarod, I see so many new avenues opening up because I’m more aware than ever. Apart from my daily musical sessions, I tried to reinvent myself during this period. I was also able to teach my grandchildren Zohaan and Abeer while working on my new releases with Joe Walsh, Sharon Isbin and Wu Man.
Tell us how you taught the sarod to your 10-year-old grandsons…
Perhaps the silver lining of the lockdown was that Ayaan could hang out and teach her twins. My 10-year-old grandsons, Zohaan and Abeer, work hard. On my birthday in 2020, they gave me a big surprise and recorded and released a track called Our Love.
Learning never stops for an artist. I feel like I’m still a student and I still have a lot to learn. Adding to the celebrations and eternalizing the spirit of 75 years of Indian independence, the five of us recorded a special rendition by Vande Mataram, entitled Three Generations — One Nation. For the first time, we were joined by the eighth generation of musicians in our family.
What do you think of the future of the sarod and its relevance for the next generation?
Creatives in all fields sometimes become very arrogant. A lot of creative people don’t behave in the normal way. We must be normal and humble. Behind every instrument there must be someone whose music is appealing.
It is the most important. We have so much talent now all over the world. Sarod is a difficult instrument like many others. However, since it has no frets, it is more difficult for beginners. There are hundreds of sarod players today. The mantra is humility.
You will be 80 in three years. What are your goals for the coming years and beyond?
I feel truly blessed and overwhelmed with all the love. A wonderful mystery of music is the fact that you can spend your life trying to achieve knowledge and perfection and still feel like you’ve touched just a drop of water.
Throughout the journey of research and discovery, the learning never stops! His understanding changes with each year a musician lives.
What advice would you give to the next generation of sarod musicians, who will carry their
I am so happy to see the progress of young artists. They are very lucky to have access to so much content today via YouTube etc. However, to be a professional, you must learn from a teacher. My guru often told me that he was doing what he thought was right and that I should do what I thought was right. I am truly proud of the achievements of mankind, but technology must be cultivated in harmony with peace and tradition.
What worries me is that the future children of this world must not behave or look like robots. To do this, it is essential that modernization be accompanied by respect for academic traditions, which have been valued over time. We need kind and compassionate people in the world, and I see classical music as a way to nurture such feelings.