Veteran musician and sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan writes a deeply personal book about the lives and time of some of the greatest icons of Indian classical music. Having known these stalwarts personally, he recalls anecdotes and details about their individual musical styles, bringing them alive.
Twelve eminent musicians of the twentieth century appear in the book—Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Begum Akhtar, Alla Rakha, Kesarbai Kerkar, Kumar Gandharva, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Bismillah Khan, Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Kishan Maharaj, In writing about them, Amjad Khan transcends the gharana and north—south divide, and present portraits of these great artists that are drawn with affection, humour and warmth.
About the Author
Amjad Ali Khan is one of the undisputed masters of the music world. Born to sarod maestro Haafiz Ali Khan, he gave his first performance at the age of six, and is credited with reinventing the technique of playing the sarod. Over the course of a distinguished career spanning more than six decades, he has won numerous accolades, including a Grammy nomination, the Crystal Award by the World Economy Forum, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and all three Padma Awards. He has performed at venues the world over, including Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, as well as at the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2014 in Oslo, Norway. Samaagam, his first sarod concerto, has been performed by the Britten Sinfonia, Orchestre d’ Auvergne, London Philharmonia, Golbenkian Orchestra, Welsh National Opera and Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
India is the only country in the world which has two traditions of classical music-those of the south or ‘Carnatic’ and the north or ‘Hindustani’ However, I prefer to call it just music. The basic of all music in the world is the same –seven notes. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni in Indian classical music and Do Re Me Fa So La Ti in Western classical. If we include the half-tones that are the sharp and flats, we get a total of twelve notes. Music connects the whole world; it does not belong to any one race or religion.
The future of Indian classical music will always be bright. We are fortunate to have had such strong pillars of music as Swami Haridas, Swami Purandara Dasa, Swami Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Swami Thyagaraja, Swathi Thirunal, Miyan Tansen (from whom my family gets its musical lineage) and Baiju in our country. They are responsible for the solid foundation of music in both north and south Indian. With their blessings, there are a large number of talented music has always been, and will continue to be, an integral part of our identity. It does not belong only to the world of entertainment; it is a way of life based on dedication, surrender, faith, trust, spirituality, religion, and rigorous practice and discipline. No matters which gharana or guru a student of Indian classical music belongs to, they must surrender completely to their guru and to the hope of seeing the sun someday. It might sound impractical, but this is how it is. There is no formula here. Many times, people ask me if their son or daughter will ‘makes it’ as a classical musician. I have no answer to this question because there never was and never will be a magic mantra.
Over the years, I have seen a change in the attitude of disciples. While some are epitomes of dedication and grace, others want to becomes superstars overnight and, in the process, shift their focus away from their path to the extent of disagreeing with and questioning what the guru has to say. Classical music is not for someone who is in search of glamour and overnight fame. Hours and years of practice and dedication go into the making of a classical musician.
Today, electronic and social media are largely encouraging the kind of music is not classical. But true classical musicians are not created by the media. The listeners of our country are fairly selective. Nobody can impose an artist on them. The only way for a young musician to succeed is to work hard, practise rigorously and maintain strict discipline. This is not restricted to music alone, but extends to Indian rules of etiquette (tehzeeb and tameez) as well.
I disagree with those say that Indian classical music is a dying art from. We must understand a few things here. It was never for the messes to being with. It was originally performed only in private mehfils, with concert hall performance being a recent phenomenon. Today, classical musicians perform at venues like Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House to packed auditoriums. You are talking about an audience fighting against the countless television channels at home! Likewise, in India, when I see huge venues filling up, I don’t think we can really complain. It is the responsibility of the artist to make the youth relate to their music. The kind of attention that Bollywood and the fashion industry are receiving today from mainstream media, Indian classical music got three decades ago! In the 1960s and ’70s, musicians would play ragas for two to three hours. Frankly, after maybe an hour, it was all repletion. However, due to this attitude of artists who perhaps wanted to prove a point, a section of listeners drifted away to eyes to easy listening. One must keep in mind that no book or shastras ever mentioned how classical music should be presented. By brining it in sync with the times, one cannot be faulted for diluting it at all.
I believe in being traditional, not conventional. In the early 1980s, I had recorded an album of short pieces around ragas. At the time, I was criticized for not going into too much detail of the range, but I am happy that today this has become a trend, I see the great legacy of Indian classical music being carried forward by brilliant young musicians who have a ready-made repository-painstakingly put together repository—painstakingly put together by my contemporaries and me through years of hard work and research-to build on. Thanks to the Internet, websites like YouTube, gadgets like iPods, and DVDs and CDs, we can be in every home in the world. It makes me happy to see dedicated young musicians who are also committed performers. I wish them a bright and successful future and I am sure that our classical music and legacy will flourish not only in India but all over the world. I am also heartened by the response of the rest of the world to our country and its musical tradition.
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