World Music Day Special – An Interview with Amaan Ali Khan And Ayaan Ali Khan

Happy World Music Day! 🙂

Here I am on this joyous occasion, with an exclusive interview – an interview I am going to cherish for a long time to come! Despite them keeping a very busy schedule, I couldn’t help but feel luck being on my side, when the amazing opportunity came my way to interview the two very talented musically gifted brothers – Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, sons of Sarod maestro – Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. What better way to celebrate this day, right? 🙂 Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan
TGLP: What does it feel like to be an Indian Classical Music artist in this day and age?
Amaan: It’s a blessing to be on stage with my father. I make humble suggestions but it’s entirely up to him to agree or not. Though, he’s very open to it. It’s different with my brother. Any form of music is individualistic and till you play solo you’ll never know what is good and what is bad. We both started off as soloists. In time, a lot of concerts and tours started, TV happened back in 1999 and before we could realise what was happening, we got clubbed together. In fact, we became a club sandwich. However, when we play together, there’s a lot of interaction. That said, it was not a pre-planned thing to become this ‘sarod duo’ that we’ve ended up becoming. It just happened; perhaps something destiny had planned. However, even today there are many presenters who come to us and say that they want a solo performance.
Ayaan: Music is our life. From the time we were born the language spoken was music, the air that we were breathing was music. We took shape of the vessel like water. Though our father has been a very strict traditionalist, he’s always believed in adapting to change. In all honesty, Indian classical music has no rules about how it should be presented or executed. That’s very individualistic. Over the years we have tried our best to make the Sarod reach out to a new audience, to listeners that perhaps would not be at a classical concert!
TGLP: In the documentary film that was showcased at the Indian Classical Music workshop, we noticed how young both of you were, when initiated into music. At that age, what did your friends have to say?
Amaan: We were very blessed to have got a lot of love and warmth from music lovers so we did get that extra attention however our friend always understood that we were ‘different’.
Ayaan: Our friends of course were kids too so they of course saw us at concerts and television, but they understood the seriousness of the field in the years to come.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

 

TGLP: Please share some early childhood memories of your father as a Guru.
Amaan: Initially I was conditioned into music but now it’s a passion and a reason for immense happiness in my life. Being Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Saheb’s son, it’s a matter of great honor and I feel highly privileged that God gave me the opportunity to be born into this family. My main concern is not to just get popular but the fear of embarrassing my father God forbid, if I am unable to make good music. Abba as we call our father is more of a father to us. Of course the change in role for us and for him to guru to father and back to guru is somewhat effortless; however, it is a relationship with two people, like Batman and Bruce Wayne! He has been the most patient teacher and the most loving father. Abba’s teaching and philosophy is beyond music. It’s a way of life. The mantra taught by our parents has been to be a good human being first and good music will follow. Music is who we are and our nature reflects in our music. Therefore as siblings we know each other’s mind on stage. There is no rehearsal!
Ayaan: It did take me time to draw the line as to when he was a father and when he was a guru. This realisation obviously happened as I grew older. I feel ecstatic to think and realize from time to time that my guru is my father. As a classical musician, music for me was not just a profession but a complete way of life. Abba is an old timer with regards to many things. For one, even though he is a dear friend to me, a certain protocol in the relationship is always maintained. Abba is God-loving and a very religious person, however, his religion is music. His intuitions are scary; in fact, it’s indeed very surreal at times. He is most of the times correct in what he believes in. For as long as I can remember, the first mantra taught by my father, and in my case my guru as well, was to be a good human being and to be a symbol of etiquette and manners (Tehzeeb and Tameez as we call it). This was pretty much the code even during school days. Bad marks were acceptable but any bad behaviour was not taken well. Abba, as I call my father, is a complete disciplinarian. In fact, I feel proud to say that I have contributed to his elegant silver hair! In spite of being the monumental icon of music that he is, he continues to be an individual full of humility and a complete simpleton. In recent times, I often question his imparting of humbleness to me and my brother especially in the world that we live in. It’s almost become a bible for people to walk over you or take you completely for granted. However, Abba is man of his principles and says that God watches every individual in this world and takes care of everything.

Amaan Ali Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan

TGLP: We all know about your father’s contribution to your musical journey… Please share a bit about your mother’s role in moulding you both into the individuals you are today.
Amaan: Our mother’s role has been immense in our lives. Being an artist herself who learnt from the great Rukmini Devi Arundale, she sacrificed her career for the family. Today what we are, who we are is all her contribution. As our father says, a mother is every child’s first guru.
Ayaan: Both my parents have influenced me on a personal, emotional and spiritual level and they continue to be my epitomes of inspiration.

TGLP: Besides being inspired by your father’s musical style, which other artiste from his generation, influences your musical approach?
Ayaan: Our book 50 Maestro’s 50 Recordings that we co-authored for Harper Collins pretty much answers this. From Begum Akhtar to Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Enayat Khan to M S Subbulakshmi, Ustad Bismillah Khan to Pt Kishan Maharaj, Indian classical music is as varied as it can be, from the pure traditional gharanas to more recent blends and fusions. We have grown up surrounded by music and musicians. In this tribute to the masters of Indian classical music, both instrumental and vocal, as we lake readers through our encounters with fifty musicians from the twentieth century, exploring the world of both Hindustani and Carnatic music.
Amaan: Filled with personal anecdotes and musical appraisals, and accompanied by a CD selection of some of the finest recorded performances, this book takes you through the best of Indian classical music. Interspersed with some rare photographs from our personal collection as well as descriptions and details of every recording we have discussed, this book is a keepsake for the connoisseur and a comprehensive introduction to the beginner.

Amaan Ali Khan
TGLP: What are your thoughts on cross-cultural or collaborative music?
Amaan and Ayaan: We have been very fortunate to have received so much love and adulation from music lovers all over the world. It is such a long journey and the sky is indeed the limit. The main mantra is that we have never taken any concert for granted. You are as old as your last concert and every concert is the first concert of your life. We have done many collaborations in the past with Allman Brothers band guitarist Derek Trucks, American Folk song writer Carrie Newcomer, Grammy nominated Oud player Rahim Alhaj and also with the National Youth Orchestra of UK, London Philharmonia and the Avignon Philharmonic Orchestra. Every field has its low and high phases.

TGLP: Both of you are globetrotting artistes. Any specific city or concert hall you like performing in? If yes, then why so?
Amaan: Today, classical concerts sell out all over the world. We need to understand that this has been a very intimate art form, initially not meant for masses. It was only post the aristocratic era that it opened its doors to the masses. Like one can’t compare cricket and chess, you cannot compare Bollywood to Classical music. It’s like comparing sushi and chicken tikka! Today there are innumerable number of youngsters learning music and also performing at all levels including posting themselves on YouTube.
Ayaan: We have been fortunate to have played all over the world in some great venues. The ones I love are Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Sydney Opera House and so many in Europe.

Ayaan Ali Khan
TGLP: Can you share with us some memorable moments, musically or otherwise?
Amaan: When we were growing up, our father would always be very happy to see us listen to music, not just practice it. Not just his own music, but the music of an entire range of artistes from the era of our grandfather to the contemporaries of our father. We were never asked to listen or not listen to a particular artiste, to listen only to classical music and not other styles and form like that of the West or even Bollywood. The choice and the freedom was entirely ours. But it is only natural to be influenced by the music that your guru speaks of or refers to when he plays. We thus became engrossed in the world of Indian classical music that our father had grown up with, along with our own contemporary choices.
Ayaan: To be a musician is in itself a blessing as you are really not answerable to anyone but yourself. 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 realize that something special happened up there on stage that day.  It’s a blessing to be in a profession of what you love doing.  It is also a non debatable factor that music is indeed the best way to connect to that supreme power that we have never seen. Be it any religion, music has always been the pathway to spirituality.
TGLP: Thanks to both your gorgeous looking parents, both of you have inherited their genes. Being young and good-looking, did either of you consider acting or modeling as a profession?
Amaan: I always like to chase excellence. To excel in music is not a journey of one lifetime but many lifetimes.
Ayaan: Music is who I am so it is best I stuck to that.
TGLP: Your favourite:
Amaan:
  • Raga ~ Saraswati, Marwa Desh, etc
  • Holiday Destination ~ New York
  • Cuisine ~ Italian & Chinese
  • Movie Star ~ Al Pacino
Ayaan:
  • Raga ~ Bageshwari, Darbari Kamod, etc
  • Holiday Destination ~ London
  • Cuisine ~ Chinese and Italian
  • Movie Star ~ Julie Andrews and Amitabh Bachchan

TGLP: Share 3 non-musical facts that describes each of you best, which might not be known to your audiences (hobbies, language skills, etc).
Amaan: I love driving, horse-riding and gymming
Ayaan: Gymming, writing and listening

TGLP: What is the most unique aspect about the sarod and enlighten us about the relationship you share with the instrument.
Amaan and Ayaan: Although we automatically assume Indian music and its instruments to be ancient, the Sarod is one example of an instrument that evolved from other structurally similar Indian and Afghan lutes around the middle of the nineteenth century. The Sarod as we know of today, traces its genealogy and origin back to Rabab of yore. All music evolves because of certain factors which makes it sociological reality rather than simply an aesthetic function. So it was with the Rabab, the folk instrument of ancient Afghanistan, Persia and several other countries, each with a variation giving it an identify of its own. The Pathan Bangash family who were from Central Asia pioneered the task and contributed to the evolution of the present day Sarod. It was the quest of Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash for something more that resulted in the modification of the Rabab with certain additions – the new element of melody being the high point of change (largely made possible with a metal chest on the finger board along with metal strings instead of those of gut). It was this concept of melody, which gave the instrument its name SAROD – being literally a derivation from “Sarood”- meaning melody in Persian. These innovations won Ghulam Bandegi Bangash great acclaim which was further perfected by his son Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash. They were all our forefathers. Having said all this, you eventually are what your music is. Your legacy should show on your work not on facts and history alone!

Amaan and Ayaan

TGLP: Amongst your contemporary musicians, who is your favourite?
Amaan: All doing great work.
Ayaan: Wish them all the best!

TGLP: What relevance does ‘June 21 – World Music Day’ hold for you?
Amaan: For us, every day is Music Day, however the fact that you have an official day for music is great!
Ayaan: I wish we had a day for Indian Classical music but it is indeed wonderful that we have a day assigned for music. Though personally, all days are musical days.

TGLP: A few special words or tips that you’d like to share with the readers of The Good Life Potpourri, especially to those who are musically inclined.
Amaan: Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. However, often in the race for cultural superiority we pit one order against the other. The impact of this conflict phenomenon is called fusion music, a rage among the current generation of music-lovers, which sees the world as a global village. Every collaboration has a vision and a concept. It’s not about just playing alongside each other but more importantly, the music should be like a bouquet of flowers – complimenting one another and only adding to the beauty!
Ayaan: The universal concept of togetherness and unity has a beautiful message through the world. Today, the audience knows what they like and also what they don’t. You cannot impose an artist on anyone.
Find them on Twitter:
Amaan Ali Khan (@AmaanAliKhan2) | Ayaan Ali Khan (@ayaanalikhan)
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