AN EQUAL MUSIC

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 4.02.11
  •  

“Aur bolo, kya chal raha hai subah se?”

With these words, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan put an affectionate arm around his first-born. Then, he and Amaan settled into a large sofa at ITC Sonar Calcutta for a heart-to-heart with t2. Play on...

Amaan, you’ve cut yourself off — from the cell phone, Facebook and Twitter! Why?

Amaan Ali Khan: Yeah, people are going digital and I chose to go analogue (laughs). It was just getting a bit too much for me. It reached a point where I felt I could either keep myself updated on music or with all the worldly things. So now I have a number which only a few people who I’m in touch with have.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: You were getting some wrong calls, ha? (Smiles.)

Son: No, nothing like that! I was just getting a bit too tied up with all kinds of formalities.

Father: So, now you can pick and choose your friends…

Son: No, just be in touch with people who I’m associated with or those…

Father: You mean people who you like now or people who you love? (Mischievous smile.)

Son: See, he’s very happy that no one is in touch with me!

Ustadji, do you approve of this?

Father: I don’t think there’s any need to check on every step of your child, especially when he’s no more a child, he’s a grown-up man. But it’s nice to be exclusive. Classical music itself is not for everybody.

Son: Why do you say that?

Father: Because it’s only for those who have respect for classical music. It’s not for masses who are running after people who entertain them or dance for them.

Son: I don’t agree with Abba on this point. I think music is for everybody. Our duty towards music is to make it more popular. When my father is performing at the Dover Lane Music Conference, there are around 3,000 people in the audience who are masses too. Music has to be presented in a manner that it is appreciated and respected. Yes, our music is classy, with due respect to all other forms of entertainment. It has a niche market but is not competing with anything. It’s like sushi, not butter chicken!

Father: You see, the younger generation of Amaan, Ayaan and their age group have that capacity and commitment to reach out to everybody but I’d still like to say that I’m only available for those who have respect for Indian classical music and our tradition. I’m not for sale.

Son: What about those who have never heard classical music, will you be available for them or not?

Father: I’m always available for those who have respect for music.

Son: If we want the form to live you have to pass it on to the next generation and you have to present it in a way that is appealing to younger people. They can then associate themselves with it.

Amaan had told us three years ago that he was a bit “formal” and he would start “shivering” when with his father. How has that equation changed over the years?

Son: For certain reasons I now believe that parents are your biggest well-wishers. It’s not like I’ll do exactly what Ma (Subhalakshmi Khan) and Abba tell me to do. I do challenge their decisions about certain things but overall there’s a blind faith and trust in parents today. I know they’re out there to enhance your personality and existence in this world. The more I get into music the more I feel intimidated by my father’s presence and what he is to this music world. My aim is no longer about popularity or earning a lot of money. It’s about no one pointing a finger to say that I’ve brought down the standards of my father’s teaching.

Father: So this is the greatest blessing of God and a great satisfaction for me and my wife that he’s committed to art and music. It’s a reward for me that my sons are on the right track.

Son: I very consciously put in around six hours a day now. Earlier in interviews I’d say I practise for six to seven hours, which I never did! I was just trying to talk big. Now I genuinely do that (practise). Everything else is on hold. The only thing that I’m looking forward to is excellence. I need to go down in history so that 300 years down the line if there’s a book on sarod, I want just that one mention of Amaan Ali Khan who played maybe a pattern like no one else. That’s my dream.

Father: Sabse badi baat yeh hai ke I have suddenly seen a great change in Amaan. I think people who have attended his recent concerts, too, have realised the degree of change and commitment. This should grow every day.

How do you distinguish between Amaan and Ayaan as students?

Father: I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I think it’s time listeners should talk about it. I can only say that both are committed, their approaches are different and when they play together they complement each other.

Son: I don’t think it’s beautiful to say I’m doing something different because I want my own sound and be different from my father. That’s rebellious. It’s about an extension of your family tradition.

Father: The best part is they haven’t become stereotyped. To play alone is a challenge but to play together is a greater challenge. You have to know how to be cordial to each other on stage and collectively produce beautiful parts.

Son: We started as solo musicians but a lot of people started thinking we’re twins and they wanted to see us perform together. We also did it for the money but then Ayaanbhai and me have decided to be selective about the shows we take up.

Father: It’s god’s blessing that he is not my carbon copy.

Son: Well, I’d like to be your carbon copy but I’m not that talented.

Father: No, no I don’t want him to be my carbon copy. His playing should have his own touch.

Did you ever have the choice of pursuing a different career?

Father: No, I had no choice.

Son: It was like a bread-and-butter situation in our family. When my grandfather Haafiz Ali Khan was very old and they needed an earning member in the house, my father started playing and also took his father’s dream forward. I had a choice. I wanted to become a commercial air pilot or a cricketer. My brother was a reason why I took to music so seriously. Ayaan was very receptive to music as a child.

How important was it for Amaan and Ayaan to carry forward this tradition?

Father: It was because it’s our family treasure and I wanted to share my treasure with them. Amaan as a young boy was drawn towards music.

Son: No Abba, I wasn’t drawn towards music. I was quite ziddi, very negative. Ayaan was the one who was always more serious and had more depth. I was carefree.

Father: But you could reproduce what you heard from me. Two years later Ayaan also showed interest and then both started to grow together. For anybody to become a classical musician now is god’s wish because it’s so much against the current tide. Everybody wants to be in Bollywood or in fashion.

Son: I was very good with my music till 26 or 27. Then suddenly with too much of limelight and glamour, I got sucked into Bollywood and started shooting a film for J.P. Dutta. That was the worst decision of my life. I’m so glad it got shelved. I think I was using my music status to get more work in different areas. People do those things when they’re not secure about one thing. I’ve been criticised for not being as good as my father which I know I can never be. But now I try without being worried about the results. I have a lot at stake — of living up as an older son or an older brother.

Talking of fashion, not only are you very fashionable in a classical way, you have even walked the ramp...

Father: It happened once in Calcutta just to help the designer.

Son: I don’t go to fashion shows anymore because those clothes I don’t wear and I have a problem with sitting and staring at girls! As far as walking is concerned, it’s more like a profession for me. If I’m paid, I’ll walk, otherwise not.

Any favourite fashion designer?

Father: My designer has been my wife for all these years. All the kurtas I wear on stage, or what I’m wearing right now, she buys or gets them made.

Son: He only likes designer Subhalakshmi Khan! (Smiles.)

Father: I think for Ayaan’s wedding, I wore some designer clothes?

Son: Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna...

Father: Oh yes, but I’m not brand conscious.

Son: I like Sabya’s (Sabyasachi Mukherjee) work and I like Rohit and Rahul’s stuff as they make suits at a discounted rate. I’m not willing to dish out a lot of money for designer clothes.

What is that one thing you’d like to change about each other?

Father: Amaan is very open. If he doesn’t like something he’ll go and say it. I would like him to be more diplomatic, tolerant and patient.

Son: That’s something I can’t be. I think you should let people know you don’t agree with their views rather than putting up a front…. Oh, and one thing I don’t appreciate about my father is the way he takes care of his hair! I keep asking him to brush his hair but he doesn’t!

Father: (Laughs) He’s lucky that he can still see some hair on his father’s head!

What about marriage, Amaan?

Son: (Smiles) You should ask god! I’ve always been the type who wanted to settle down but I guess god has better plans for me. I feel the need to brush up much more before I get committed to take care of someone else in my life. I don’t think I’m a complete musician yet. Maybe god wants me to enhance my skills, practise more and come up to a certain level when he’ll provide me with an extension. I’m just trying to make up for all the lost time so that marriage happens soon.

Father: We have never forced him for any particular girl and we’ve never objected either. We want him to be happy and I hope he finds a nice girl.

What would make a nice girl for Amaan?

Father: I learnt from my father that the greatest ibadat, the greatest prayer is for two people to live and adjust to each other. One has to be tolerant and patient. In a relationship, somebody talks more somebody talks less, there’s a lot of give and take, so I hope he finds a like-minded person. He has waited long but in that waiting he has received so much through art and music.

Son: Basically, what my father and mother’s concern is that I find somebody who will respect the art form I practice. I agree. Of course there’s a lot more to it than that but a lot of people actually don’t understand the concept of being a musician. It’s not like a nine-to-five job.

Father: We can recommend someone for him or he can choose somebody he likes.

Son: Abba, this is not shaadi.com! I’m not desperate to get married…

Father: Generally parents say, I hope my son finds somebody to take care of him but I’d like to say I hope he finds somebody he can take care of.

Son: That shouldn’t be a problem but I’m really not in a rush because then the chances of tripping and falling are higher. She’s around the corner, I’m sure, because I have finally found myself. Had I settled down earlier it would have been a complete disaster because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. Today my priorities are sorted out.

How much do the father and son influence each other?

Son: I don’t think I can influence you.

Father: It is very natural that while teaching, a teacher can learn little things from his student if he wants to. Nowadays, I get inspired seeing Amaan or any disciple perform well. I feel happy and satisfied that the parampara is continuing.

Who are your biggest influences?

Father: My parents and my father’s contemporaries like Abdul Karim Khansaab, Faiyaz Khansaab.

Son: Apart from my father, I also like listening to Ustad Amir Khansaab, Pandit Bhimsen Joshiji, Vilayat Khansaab. Among contemporaries I like Rashid Khan a lot and Rajan Sajan Mishra.

What else do you listen to?

Father: Any appealing music. Could be film songs or folk songs. I love to listen to European classical symphonies of Beethoven and Bach.

Son: I like trance music. I missed the Prodigy show in Delhi which I wanted to go for. I like Bollywood songs. I love Mika, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal... Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams.

Your favourite performance venue in the world?

Father: Sometimes I enjoy small halls like the Wigmore Hall or Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Also Carnegie Hall in New York and Kennedy Center in Washington.

Son: Citywise I like Bombay, Calcutta and New York. Thanks to my father, Ayaan and me had the opportunity to sit with him and play at the Carnegie Hall when Ayaan was 16 and I was 18. For any young musician, it can be a great source of encouragement and the sound of the applause was intoxicating.

Father: In Calcutta, I miss the pandals. There was a time when there used to be puja-like pandals for classical music festivals. Woh aisa aur nahin hota hai. Everything has concentrated on Nazrul Manch now. Emotionally I feel attached to Mahajati Sadan, Kala Mandir and Rabindra Sadan. So many historic moments — of playing my younger-day concerts in Mahajati Sadan, an all-night session in Rabindra Sadan when my wife was about to deliver Amaan. She was also in the audience! I feel very emotional about these places.

How different is the Calcutta audience?

Father: Calcutta has a very demanding audience. They are more involved and more emotional. Aisa hua tha ekbaar, I heard someone in the audience telling an artiste, ‘Eta ki hochhe, ektu mon diye bajaben’! So people are demanding but I always admire Calcutta for balancing everything. There’s an audience for sports, for cinema, for classical music, for plays. I don’t think any other city in India is so balanced because of the obsession with Bollywood. Western audiences on the other hand are very tuned into Indian classical music and respectful towards it.

A must-do in Calcutta…

Father: We all are fond of good food. When my wife comes she likes having chaat and…

Son: Chingri Malai Curry and Shorshe Maachch.

Father: Aajkal yahaan Arsalan ka bahut naam suna hai. I used to like Shiraz and Nizam’s and some of my disciples bring us typical Bengali food prepared at home. As children, Amaan and Ayaan would go on tram rides and fight so much! The city brings back a lot of memories. But food has been a very important factor. Especially the nalen gur sandesh and nalen gur dahi!

Son: I’ve been trying to control my diet so I haven’t had the Arsalan biryani. I like visiting my father’s sarod shop (on Rashbehari Avenue) where I also get some lovely lemon tea. Many times I get off the car and go on a walk around Park Street.

A song you both cherish…

Son: I feel nostalgic about Barkha aayee... jo bachpan mein Ayaan aur main aapke saath gaaya karte the

Father: Yes, there were some songs that I had composed for them when they were very small. I felt there were no birthday songs in Hindi. Everybody sang Happy Birthday! So I composed Barkha aayee, which Amaan sang and then both sang Thumak thumak chali Radha which were all recorded for an album.

Finally, a word of advice for young musicians…

Father: Not just for musicians but for any young achiever — if you want to achieve your goal, you have to be tolerant and patient in life. That’s the only mantra.

Son: My funda is hard work and humility. If you see the downfall of any musician, it’s for the lack of these two things.

FATHER & SON

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: It’s nice to be exclusive. Classical music is not for everybody. It’s only for those who have respect for classical music. It’s not for masses who are running after people who entertain them or dance for them. I’m not for sale.

Amaan Ali Khan: I don’t agree with Abba on this point. I think music is for everybody. Our duty towards music is to make it more popular. Yes, our music is classy, it has a niche market.... It’s like sushi, not butter chicken!

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: I listen to any appealing music. Could be film songs or folk songs. I love to listen to European classical symphonies of Beethoven and Bach.

Amaan Ali Khan: Apart from my father, I like listening to Ustad Amir Khansaab, Pandit Bhimsen Joshiji, Vilayat Khansaab. Among contemporaries I like Rashid Khan a lot and Rajan Sajan Mishra.... I like trance music. I like Bollywood songs. I love Mika, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal. I also love Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Sabse badi baat yeh hai ke I have suddenly seen a great change in Amaan. I think people who have attended his recent concerts, too, have realised the degree of change and commitment. This should grow every day.

Amaan Ali Khan: I very consciously put in around six hours a day now. Earlier in interviews I’d say I practise for six to seven hours, which I never did! Now I genuinely do that. Everything else is on hold. The only thing that I’m looking forward to is excellence.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Generally parents say, I hope my son finds somebody to take care of him but I’d like to say I hope he finds somebody he can take care of.

Amaan Ali Khan: That shouldn’t be a problem but I’m really not in a rush because then the chances of tripping and falling are higher. She’s around the corner, I’m sure, because I have finally found myself.