Asian Music and Dance

Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan

Let’s be honest, it’s not often that a stalwart of Indian classical music will make it beyond London when they do visit our little island. However, when news spread that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons were coming to Leeds, a dedicated community of music-lovers arrived full of anticipation. What followed was an electrifying evening that displayed the pristine expression and raw power of Indian classical music on one of its finest instruments, the sarod.

When Ustad Amjad Ali Khan steps onto the stage, the room is transformed into a royal court. Gracious and composed, the renowned maestro is sixth in line of an illustrious lineage of sarod players, but it seems that possession of a pedigree blood-line, one of India’s highest civilian honours (Padma Vibhushan) and international acclaim cannot sway the focus of this musical master: “Music for me is a way of life. It’s not a profession, but a passion. The love and the pull were in-built. I really didn’t have to work on that bit.”  Music may be Khansahib’s one and only love, but in his senior years he seems to take a back seat when it comes to performance. His solo in the first half guided us politely through a neat presentation of various moods, with strong tabla accompaniment by Tanmoy Bose. First came the playful and innocent melodic creation of raga Ganesh Kalyan that Khansahib ‘received’ himself. Then Zila Kafi, iconic, moody and melancholic, and Bahar, touchingly rendered through Khansahib’s own voice; and finally, a Tagore poem adapted to the sarod, as peaceful as a lullaby. All were very nice, but not all listeners were satisfied. The compositions preserved the ragas beautifully but the simplicity and short format failed to really hit the spot. Little did we know that something more was yet to come. 

Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan are now the two torchbearers of the ‘Bangash’ lineage but the audience were curious as to how they would follow their father. Khansahib explains: “In the course of Amaan and Ayaan’s training, which is an ongoing process for a classical musician, I never encouraged them to copy my style. As they matured, I was relieved to see that both of them were developing an approach that was distinctive and rather different from what they were taught. This I feel is only natural, for the music that an individual creates is a reflection of his or her mind and soul.” And they delivered without a doubt. A deep and personalised elaboration of the majestic raga Malkauns was created with all the key elements of Hindustani classical instrumental music. Gripping, emotive phrases, technical prowess and creative elaboration were all elements the audience wanted. In both the lengthy 14-beat time cycle of dhammar and lightning-fast teen taal, Tanmoy Bose was sharp and alert to the spontaneous melodies that the sons would execute. Amaan had a flair for precise, fast and virtuosic phrases, while Ayaan enjoyed experimenting with mathematical patterns. Both the sons blew the audience away with their powerful rendition. 

A classic Kirwani with father and sons together was a perfect way to bring the concert to a close. Although Amjad Ali Khan may prefer to take a back seat, the final item confirmed that he really is the driving force of the performance. In an intense ‘question/answer’ session, each of the sons was grilled as if there was a lesson live on stage. Khansahib led with melodiously complex and strikingly simple phrases that tested both sons and audience alike. The pace was kept up and a final crescendo was brilliantly orchestrated with all instruments in unison. 

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s contribution to music must be celebrated and his poise, eloquence and grace both on the sarod and in person will be remembered. He is tirelessly active on the scene but it seems that he is now proud to place the future of his music into the capable hands of the next generation. The future will certainly hold change but it’s clear that the heritage of the past won’t be forgotten.



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