Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Didn't want to impose music on you

Updated: Feb 24, 2020, 11:15 IST | The Hitlist Team | Mumbai

Their musical heritage aside, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan tells sons Amaan, Ayaan he nudged them to take up the art after noticing potential

Amjad Ali Khan, and Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Pic/ Atul Kamble
Amjad Ali Khan, and Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Pic/ Atul Kamble

During our multiple interactions with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan saab, the veteran musician would make his displeasure over issues plaguing society evident. While, in a previous interaction, he had lamented the increasing unrest in the country, he discusses matters about religion and art in this one. It's only fitting then, that when drawn into a conversation with sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash, Khan express concern about their lives too. He seems particularly inquisitive about whether they are happy musicians, or if their chosen path wasn't entirely one that they desired.

Ayaan to Amjad: What do you think of classical music in India today?

It is satisfying. There are talented musicians [playing different instruments], especially the sarod. I think, there are 500 sarod players all over the world. Also, there's a big audience [for classical music].

Amaan to Amjad: What made you teach us music? Did you want to see us play the sarod, or did you think we truly had [the calibre]?

Since music is our wealth, I wanted to share it with the two of you. I never thought about whether it would be good or bad for your future. I just wanted to share what I had inherited from my forefathers. Also, I didn't want to impose. I tried to create interest, and saw positive responses. Both of you were drawn to it. It was a natural growth, and, hence, you became responsible about it.

Watch the full interview here:

Amjad: Are you happy playing the sarod, or did you want to become perhaps a pilot, or something else?

Ayaan: I wanted to play the sarod. But I am not happy because there is so much more that I need to do as a musician. I don't like [the way I] play; there's ample scope to improve my craft.

Amaan: I enjoy playing the sarod. [Becoming] a doctor or a lawyer [would have been] the easy way out. I would have been satisfied to be in a secure job, because creative art is not secure. You can be an actor, and deliver many hits. But [if you deliver] two flops, you're out. You can be a musician, lose your arm, and [never] do a show again. But, you can't take a doctor's knowledge away. People who play safe [are] doctors, lawyers or chartered accountants. [You take to] a safe journey. Being a musician is not safe. Also, when you have a father like Amjad Ali Khan, it's not easy.

Amaan to Amjad: You have promoted a lot of tabla players, many of whom have not been very nice to you. Do you think you did the right thing?

Promotion doesn't make a difference to the Indian audience. I may have promoted many, but where are they today? I gave them [a helping hand], financially and emotionally. But, it's difficult to digest fame and success. All the tabla players that I [promoted] are not to be seen. People of India are choosy. You can't impose anybody on them. Historically too, people have chosen few musicians.

Ayaan to Amjad: How would you explain classical music to a millennial, who has no idea what it is?

It is our identity, it is rooted in India's history. It is because of the contributions of our great masters that classical music [exists]. But, listeners must choose [to listen to music] that appeals to them. Every human has a different [taste]. If you listen to music that appeals to you, and do so [contentiously] you can reap the benefits.

Amjad: What is your life's mission, through classical music?

Ayaan: To play in a way that appeals to me. I want to reach out to music lovers and give them peace and solace. I hope I can be part of interesting collaborations. Music is a spiritual quest.

Amaan: [Mine is to] make a lot of money. It's my profession.

Amjad: Is it a profession or a passion?

Amaan: Profession should also be a passion. If it's not, one can't be successful. The only difference between a tutor and a lecturer is that the [latter] is passionate about reaching out to more people. I want to be a loved musician. I want to travel the world, and not take myself too seriously. Money means a lot [to me], since it [brings] happiness. It is important, if I want to save someone's life in the hospital.

Amjad: Do you agree with me when I say music has taught us that we belong to every religion?

Amaan: Music doesn't teach you that; upbringing does. There are a lot of radical musicians, and also some who are not nice. So, upbringing is the important part.

Ayaan: Also, individuals are not who they are because of music alone, but also because of what they imbibe during their journey.

Amaan to Amjad: Why do we hear more of your father than your mother in articles?

This is unfortunate. Even in schools today, they only ask the name of the father. We say, [India] is Bharat mata, but mata doesn't get the kind of respect she needs. Every school should ask names of both parents. A lady who gives birth is the child's first guru. Your mother is Subhalakshmi [Barua Khan], mine is [Rahat Jahan] and so, we belong to every religion.

Ayaan to Amjad: Do you think it is justified for a student to be disappointed in the guru?

Everyone has the right to be disappointed. I taught many students for free. Unfortunately, many students come with their own agendas.

Amaan to Amjad: According to you, why did someone like Pandit Ravi Shankar have more students than Ustad Vilayat Khan saab, even though both were great musicians? Why do some gurus make great students, while others don't?

Ravi Shankar ji was fortunate. I hope you believe in destiny. Ravi Shankar ji became the face of music, all over the world. Sometimes, the guru is a wise person. It also depends on the determination of the disciple. Students, if they are well-wishers of the guru, achieve their goal. The blessing of the guru is important. Few students wish well for the guru; most come to them with an agenda of reaching out to someone [famous].

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