World Music Day special: Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and sons collaborate with maestro Joe Walsh for the EP, Prayers
Legendary sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash are not new to collaborations. Last year we caught them matching rhythms with multi-Grammy winning classical guitarist Sharon Isbin. This year they are back with another exciting collaboration with celebrated guitarist Joe Walsh of the iconic rock band Eagles and together they dropped a three-song EP titled Prayers. A sonically mesmerising collaboration, the music celebrates two radically different artistic traditions while finding common ground. We caught up with the sarod virtuoso, also a Padma Vibhushan awardee, who has been enthralling music lovers since the ’60s, as he talks about the new album that promotes, love, unity and peace and is dedicated to the frontline COVID-19 warriors. Excerpts.
Q. How was it collaborating with Joe Walsh?
Amjad Ali Khan: I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Russia’s Tchaikovsky. Prayers is my first collaboration with the rock ‘n’ roll world. It’s truly been an honour to collaborate with Joe Walsh who is such a legendary figure.
Q. Take us through the EP, Prayers…
Amjad Ali Khan: The album has a meditative, transcendent spirit. The EP’s tracks are Goddess, Healing Love and Hope (We Shall Overcome), which have an organic feeling at both the cellular and cosmic levels of two musical traditions, often perceived to be radically different. Along with Amaan and Ayaan, I was very honoured to be joined by several iconic Los Angeles-based musicians; drummers Stewart Copeland (of the Police) and Jim Keltner, bassists Nathan East, Leland Sklar and Abe Laboriel Sr, keyboardist Ed Roth, guitarists Davey Johnstone (Elton John’s long-time lead guitarist) and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale, with whom Joe Walsh has been a bandmate.
Q. The album is a tribute to frontline Covid workers...
Amjad Ali Khan: Like all industries, the music industry too has been hit very badly by the pandemic. This is our tribute to all the doctors, nurses and frontline workers who are doing such a great job round the clock. This pandemic has shown us a different experience. It is a new life for all of us. When we started out during one of my tours in the US, little did we know that this creation will come to fruition at a time when humanity will need to consider meditation and contemplation more than ever. Through this collaboration, we strive to preserve the essence of both Indian and Western traditions so they can flow into each other without artistic compromise.
Q. Are you working on any independent single/album?
Amjad Ali Khan: I am working on my second sarod concerto and hope to premiere that very soon.
Q. With the dominance of commercial music, how do you see the future of classical music?
Amjad Ali Khan: Indian classical music is being carried forward by brilliant musicians from the younger generation. However, what worries me is that the inheritors of this world should not behave or look like robots. To ensure this, it is vital that modernisation must be accompanied by a reverence for the Indian academic traditions which have been valued through times. We are still struggling on account of religion and power. We need kind and compassionate people in the world and I see classical music as a means to nurture such feelings.
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Q. Joe, tell us about your experience of collaborating with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons?
Joe Walsh: Well, the experience was memorable. We created this music in the hope that people would hear it and get some relief from the pain and fear overshadowing us during troubled times. Amjad started playing and all of us followed him. The song was launched in that way. We spoke about Martin Luther King and Gandhi before we all sat down to play. I’m confident that our inspiration came from that discussion.
Q. What is it that led to the collaboration?
Joe Walsh: The time I spend in India is always transformative. A deeper curiosity stirred within me for Indian instruments and their music during my visits. It was exciting to see how the maestro Amjad’s instrument and mine could work together. We were both blown away by the outcome. It was one of my life’s most treasured experiences. It was as if our souls united in a symphony of a shared love for music in its purest form. The music we created was stronger than our individual abilities. It was a spiritual experience to play with the Khans. And it’s not just me who felt that way but everyone in those sessions felt elevated. It’s those moments we chase as musicians.
Q) When did you two decide to dedicate the EP for a cause?
Joe Walsh: By the time I got to work on these tracks in the studio we were in complete lockdown pandemic mode. And the more time I spent with this music the clearer it became that these tracks had healing properties and needed to be shared as a gift. So, in honour of all the frontline workers who continue to be of such incredible service and courage to us all during these horribly challenging times I’m donating my proceeds to IntraHealth International, whose vital work for healthcare workers around the world aligned perfectly.
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Amaan Ali Bangash who was part of this project says, "We were in the company of legends. It was a blessing to just be there, observe and learn. To be a part of the process was truly an unreal experience for which we only have the deepest gratitude. Musicians and listeners of music have been communicating with each other across all barriers through this ‘vibration of music’ from time immemorial."
Brother Ayaan Ali Bangash reiterates, "This was the most unique, uplifting musical journey I ever had! To be in the company of two gurus and icons of music was a priceless gift. Blessed and honoured to be a part of it. I thank the universe that this happened. An obvious connection featured in this album is that the sarod and guitar are both leading plucked stringed instruments of their respective traditions but yet so very diverse!"