Indian Music – Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Renowed Sarod Maestro

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is famous sarod maestro


One lady journalist met me just now and asked me, “What are you talking on, what is your subject?” I said, like my music, when I come on the stage I am absolutely blank, I don’t know what I am going to perform. What raag, what taal – everything happens on the stage, unlike the European musicians compositions written by Beethoven, Bach etc. In western classical, the orchestra rehearses it a 100 times; that is their culture. I admire the discipline of their music, their way of life. They write music, they read music, they prepare and they maintain discipline which we lack unfortunately.But in my life, in classical music; the preparation is not allowed. You just decide Raag Malkauns or Raag Yaman and just pray to God and I hope our messages are well received or our music is well received. Everything is unrehearsed, unplanned when I perform on the stage and everything happens on the stage, whether I play for 10 minutes or 10 hours.We are little different than rest of the world especially when you belong from the family of musicians and your commitment is music. That is our life and there are no shortcuts. Shortcuts are not allowed. It is just a long journey. So it is almost like walking into dark tunnel with the hope of sun rays some day. There is no competition, no logic. There is no logic for success in any field but just hard practice, a very disciplined life and tremendous belief in ‘ashirwaad’, the blessings of parents, blessings of seniors, blessings of your teachers. This is most important in our culture and it really does help. If we can’t love somebody we should not hate. If we can’t respect somebody we should not disrespect and if we can’t honour somebody we should not dishonour.

All of these are very simple things because your goal should be very high, your mission should be very high and nothing should stop you on the way and my father often said that to achieve your goal of life you must be very patient and tolerant. Whenever there is a fight the first thing I get to hear is, you don’t know who I am, how dare you to talk to me like this? We should control our anger. We are nothing.

Even today I don’t know who I am. I feel I am just a traveler, a hard working student. I am searching for something and God is very kind that he has been granting me, blessing me with music. Whatever kind of music I am trying I get it and recently I have new musical flirtation in my life that I have just written a symphony for the Scottish Chamber of Orchestra. This was something I didn’t know I could do, but I tried and I worked hard. I had done it earlier for Hong Kong Symphony orchestra but this time I had to go to Edinburgh many times and I met the musicians there in Scottish chamber of orchestra and again I would like to say they are very disciplined and once they write music they perform so beautifully.

It is always said in classical music we improvise. Improvisation is not a great thing even a child can improvise within a set rule of ascending and descending. But more importantly, the best part of our music is the grace. Slides, glides of our music that you might have experienced, that is the greatest blessings of God we have in our Indian music.

Western classical is played in a different manner. Technically they call it Staccato. But in our system we can slide – this slide is so peaceful, so beautiful. They can’t reproduce that because that is not in their system. They can play everything. They are fantastic, they are versatile but personally I felt that our way of life, our culture, our way of doing namaskar – this is our strength.

Our country has faced so many mishaps; in every state right from partition in 1947. I was told that at the partition time all the Muslims used to shelter, they used to go to Bhopal or Hyderabad. My father sent everybody to Bhopal but he himself didn’t leave Gwalior. I was 6 months old at that time. We came back to Gwalior house – the house that I was born in. My education was completed in that house before we came to Delhi because the meaning of education varies from person to person. By achieving degrees and diplomas you don’t become educated person or you don’t become a very kind human being. I often feel that education could not create compassion and kindness in human being. Education could not make us better human being. It is good. Education is good for your own enhancement. You get a job, you become a big businessman or great scientist but our life is different. So this achievement what our country has of the surrenderness, all over the world wherever I perform I always do Namaskar. In my own country I don’t feel comfortable to say ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen’. I feel much happier to say ‘Namaskar’. I always do Namaskar because that is me, that is India, and I am made by India. This achievement of surrendering that has affected our music also this graceful gesture in our day to day life.

I feel there are two kinds of worlds. One is the world of sound as I said “Swar hi Ishwar hai”; and other world is based on language, text, story, lyrics. Through language you can abuse, you can manipulate. In election through language you can win or lose the election but through sound I cannot lie, I cannot manipulate.

When I am playing the Sarod, if I am out of tune it is very obvious, I am very transparent. I can’t manipulate that. I live in the world of sound and the sound connects you to God. Sound connects you with the whole world and music doesn’t belong to any religion. Like flowers, water, air, fragrance, colours they don’t belong to any religion but every religion needs that. These are my thoughts because I don’t read, I don’t write. I think, I play music and music has given me courage, music has helped me to realise God.

I feel very strongly that all of you who are still studying, still struggling, you must try to receive blessings from your elders. They really count and they really have strong power. Your hard work definitely is most important but and trying to see that this hatred is removed from people. This is what we must try and otherwise what we are seeing day by day all over the world after 9/11 and 26/11, there are so many places, so many states we keep hearing so many inhuman acts, so we have to work together, we have to work hard so that we don’t have our younger children or younger generation see this kind of unhappiness.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is famous sarod maestro. This is an excerpt from his speech during AIMA’s Shaping Young Minds Programme held in 2009 at Ahmedabad.

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22 thoughts on “Indian Music – Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Renowed Sarod Maestro

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  3. Contemporary Indian music is a blend of classical music, pop music, and the popular Indian film music. Several genres of music exist in India. Let us have a look at some of the contemporary music genres in Indian music.

  4. Indian Classical music is now basically dividend into two broad categories namely the Hindustani music and the Carnatic music. Both the streams of classical Indian music rest on two basic elements which are the raga which refer to the melodic formulae made up of constituent musical notations, and the tala which are the rhythmic cycles in Indian classical music. The Carnatic music has its roots in the musical traditions from the southern part of the Indian subcontinent.

  5. The Indian film industry is a humongous industry producing thousands of movies in various languages round the year. Indian films have always been popular for their song and dance sequences. Music has been an inseparable part of Indian movies right from the beginning.

  6. Indian pop music is a blend of almost everything starting from folk, classical, and even western music beats. Much of Indian pop music is a part of the Indian film music however there exist bands and singers that have individually ventures into pop albums and singles.

  7. Music is the purest form of art… therefore true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music… The singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside. ~ Rabindranath Tagore

  8. Music is truly one of the most expressive art forms, which has a universal appeal. As long as you can feel the rhythm and the harmony of the beats, you can comprehend and enjoy any type of music around the world. Indian music inherits a rich musical culture, and is replete with rhythm, harmony and emotion.

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