Sarod legend Ustad Amjad Ali Khan talks about his new album Navras and his family’s legacy
THE PADMA VIBHUSHAN recipient, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan says 2020 has made him more mindful and meditative. “The lockdown allowed me to have a deeper connection with my music,” says the virtuoso. The result of this is his new album Navras, which is in association with Teacher’s Glasses. The album, which will be launched with a digital concert this weekend on PayTm Insider, celebrates a range of human emotions through Indian classical ragas. We speak to the artiste about the album, his family’s legacy and how instrumental music transcends boundaries. Excerpts from the interview:
What was it like composing music during the lockdown?
Like all industries, the music industry too has been hit by the pandemic, especially as congregation is an important part of the experience. So, many concerts and projects have all been invariably post-poned. It has been a huge blow. Many artistes all over the world are out of jobs including those who have been associated with institutions.
With less distractions and no travelling, I have certainly been able to meditate with music in a much more profound manner. Despite a lifetime with the 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.
Which are the different ragas in Navras, and could you tell us a little bit about them?
Musical vibrations can convey moods and emotions and have the ability to mould and shape our consciousness. Music also has many faces. Conversation, recitation, chanting and singing are all part of music. The album celebrates all the human emotions that have been a part of every human being’s life experience through the recent times. What matters eventually is the music, the effect of music and the realisation of the notes of music. I have presented nine ragas for nine moods: love/sringara (Raga Bihari), joy/hasya (Raga Khammaj), wonder/adbutha (Raga Darbari), courage/vira (Raga Malkauns), peace/ shanta (Raga Ram Dhun), sorrow/karuna (Raga Pilu), anger/raudra (Raga Bahar), fear/bhayanaka (Raga Mia Ki Malhar) and disgust/ vibhasta (Raga Tilang).
At this stage of your career, where do you look for inspiration?
Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. Our renditions are often compared with jazz, which is not misplaced. There is scope for improvisations in both the disciplines, but in a different manner. The message of Indian classical music is freedom within the discipline. Right from my childhood, I have understood the vastness and the oceanic depths of music. I feel that the 12 musical notes are so powerful and vibrant like the sun and all the harmony around it is like its rays.
It was a pleasure to see your grandkids venture into music as well. Do you think they will also be taking your lineage and legacy forward in the decades to come?
Abeer and Zohaan have been working hard and have been delightful disciples in spite of their online educational commitments. They gave me a surprise by recording a track called Our Love for my birthday! The current times have been very challenging and it’s amazing to see how children have adapted to the new normal. When the planet heals and the human race recovers from the pandemic, I look forward to creating more music with my grandchildren just like I did when Amaan and Ayaan were their age. In fact, they have taken very well to music and it would make me a very proud grandfather to
see them perform on the same stage as us one day.
Which other genres of music do you enjoy listening to?
Music can be either vocal or instrumental. Vocal music appeals to most of us because of its poetic 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. I have been hearing a lot of my father’s contemporaries of late and also listening to new talent in many genres to open up my mind.
What is one memory or performance that stands out in your mind from your career?
God has been kind to me because people have given me so much love and blessings. Of the recent concerts, some of the most memorable ones are the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2014 in Oslo, Norway and The UN Day Concert 2018 with the Refugee Orchestra Project dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, in the presence of António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN.
What do you think is the importance of such onlineconcerts?
I feel what Teacher’s Glasses and PayTM Insider are doing is extremely relevant. Especially in the wake of a pandemic. Virtual concerts 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 is a huge lesson for all of us to learn from. I believe we will come out of it as better versions of ourselves.
How do you think an online concert compares to a live event? Do you think digital platforms have
changed the reach and perception of classical music?
For those few hours when you are onstage, you are in a creative frenzy, sometimes supernaturally unreal. There are times when you get off stage only to realise that something special happened up there that day. A live event can never be replaced or recreated, however, digital concerts are the need of the hour.
Catch the performance live on February 27 at 7 pm