This article was first published in The Times Kuwait on November 11, 2012

Padma Vibhushan Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, one of world’s foremost exponents in sarod, was recently in Kuwait to perform at a live concert, ‘Magic of the Strings’, organized by Al Mulla International Exchange Company.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has won admiration of audiences around the globe for his mastery of the sarod, a Hindustani classical music instrument, and the innovative ways in which he can stretch the limits of its strings to evoke hauntingly beautiful melodies. In this exclusive interview, the sarod maestro speaks about life, love and his musical legacy.

“I have held concerts in Kuwait before, the first was in 1978, then again I was here in 1998 and now in 2012; the interval between performances is clearly too long. In fact, the next time, I would like to perform here with my two sons, Amaan and Ayaan, who are the seventh generation of sarod players in our family,” said the maestro beginning the interview.

“Audiences in Kuwait have always been something special for me, their appreciation and empathy for the music being played on stage is inspirational to any musician. When you come to think about it, this is not really surprising.Musical instruments in this area, like the oud, for instance, have a sound quality and timbre that complements the sounds of the sitar, sarod and other Indian classical instruments.”

“I have always enjoyed creating melodious symphonies by innovating traditional musical instruments and techniques. Three years ago, I worked with Iraqi oud musician and composer, Rahim Al Haj, considered by many to be the finest oud player in the world today, to produce an album. We blended the rhythmic styles of the oud and sarod to create a duet recording under the title ‘Ancient Sounds’, which was nominated for a 2010 Grammy Awards, vindicating my stand that music overcomes boundaries of borders and languages to truly unify people.”

“I feel saddened at all this violence in the world today, whether in the West, Middle-East, India or anywhere else. Today, people are more educated and prosperous than any previous generation in the history of the world, and yet we have more incidents of violence in the name of religion, sect, politics, borders and languages. Human beings despite all their education and economic progress seem to have lost their sense of compassion and kindness for each other. And
this is a very sad thing, not only for our generation but also for the future of our children.”

“It is quite surprising to me that despite our many similarities as human beings, we always tend to fight over our dissimilarities. For instance, we are all born with a first breath and die with the last; in between we all cry when sad, laugh when happy and enjoy the juxtaposition of the same seven basic musical notes which form music anywhere in
the world. My father and guru, the late Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, always believed and taught me to believe, that people are all of one race, the human race, and they all have one God.

This deity may be known by different names in different places, but manifests the same universal values of truth, forgiveness, peace, love and compassion. I believe that the sooner we realize this fundamental truth, the better for all of us.” Elaborating on his music, the maestro said, “The sound of music, like color and fragrance is a precious gift of God, ‘Swar hi Ishwar hai…’ sound is a realization of God.” My relationship with audiences is formed through pure sound. I speak to them through the strings of my sarod.”

Looking back on his controversial marriage in 1976 to Assamese Bharata Natyam dancer Subalakshmi Barooah, Ustad Khan said, “My music, my fans and India made me my name — Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the sarod maestro — just as they made other Indian musical luminaries, like the late Ustad Bismillah Khan. But it is my wife who made me who I am — Amjad Ali Khan, proud father, loving husband and life-long devotee of music.

It was in Calcutta, while attending a cultural program that I first saw my future wife; she was giving a Bharata Natyam recital on stage. Her beauty and poise while performing the intricate dance moves and sculpture-like poses took my breath away.”

“I immediately knew that this was the woman with whom I would like to spend the rest of my days. I soon set about attempting to woo her by wowing her; but it didn’t seem to work. She was not easily wowed, and moreover, there were too many opposing factors at work — she was a Hindu from Assam, I a Muslim from Gwalior, her family couldn’t accept me and mine couldn’t accept hers.

But I never gave up, I kept pursuing and proposing until I probably wearied her, and everyone around us, down. She finally consented to marry me and luckily God too blessed our union; last week, on September 25th, we celebrated our 36th anniversary of married bliss. I believe that life is all about trusting one’s feelings, believing in yourself and in taking chance; it is about losing and finding happiness, about giving, being grateful for memories and about learning from the past.”

Recognizing the need to preserve the legacy of classical musicians and their art, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan took it upon himself to set up a classical music museum. “Believing that I have a responsibility to preserve our traditional musical heritage, I have converted our family’s ancestral home at Gawlior into a Museum of Musical Heritage.

Named ‘Sarod Ghar’, this museum displays several Indian classical music instruments used by my forefathers. Many others have also donated instruments belonging to their ancestors to the museum, which has now become a repository for Indian classical music. Acknowledging the legacy of his family to popularizing the sarod, Ustad Khan said, “Ten years ago, my sons published a book on me titled ‘Abba — God’s greatest gift to us’. Now, I have also written a book about my father and guru, Ustad Hafiz Ali, titled ‘My Guru and our Fraternity’.

In the book, I have attempted to enlighten and inform people about my father’s contributions, and those of his contemporaries, as well as many present day musicians, to the world of Indian classical music.” Padma Vibhushan Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is no stranger to awards and adulations. Most recently while bestowing a Lifetime Achievement Award on him the chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit said, “Such personalities are assets of any nation. Through them society’s future becomes more bright and enriched.”

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