Musical instruments are the face, soul and the sound of a lineage. The sarod, in its form, spirit and music lies beyond that description. It reflects the hardships and hurdles Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan Saheb, the Gwalior gharana legend faced while handing over the golden musical heritage to his son, the world renowned maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan’s tryst with Delhi changed Indian music for eternity. He not only transformed Delhi into the heart of “Gwalior”, but also left an impact on his contemporaries by living a life that became synonymous with music. In 1960, after the investiture ceremony where Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan received the Padma Bhushan, then President Dr Rajendra Prasad walked up to him at the Mughal Gardens to know if there was any help or favour the great musician expected. Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan said, “Save the Darbari Kanhada, please. People are taking too many liberties with the raga and it is in grave danger.” Such was the maestro’s commitment to art.
Today, at the riyaz room at Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s residence in South Delhi, where one is led by a series of Ganesha images painted by Ayaan Ali Khan, the sarod sits royally by a grand portrait of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan. “My father, Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb was, by example, completely devoted to the purity and sanctity of music, which permeated every aspect of his daily life. He also taught me the lessons of love, compassion, humility, forgiveness and the strength of faith. I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember. I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life. Life was music. And Music was Life,” says Khan.
Music and musicians have changed with time. But Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, with his strong belief in tradition and tehzeeb (humble mannerisms) has preserved the ragas. He has made sarod the sound of world music. His disciples and sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan are part of this beautiful journey. The three great artistes are the milestones of raagdaari and orchestration.
Says Amaan Ali Khan, “We have never taken any concert for granted. You are as old as your last concert and every concert is the first concert of your life. We have done collaborations with Allman Brothers band guitarist Derek Trucks, American folk song writer Carrie Newcomer, Grammy nominated Oud player Rahim Alhaj and recently with the Avignon Philharmonic.”
His brother Ayaan Ali Khan adds, “God has been kind and people love us and like what we do. It’s all the blessings of our parents, elders and the Almighty. We are doing our best to keep this age old tradition of India alive. We have served traditional music on a platter with our albums like Reincarnation and Truth. Today, the sarod is popular and is a trendy instrument. Traditions passing on within families has been an age old thing. Legacy or no legacy, what matters is work. There are many great stalwarts today who don’t belong to traditional musical families but they are superstars in their field.”
Amaan gives Khan Saheb the credit for their success as musicians. He says, “I have been very fortunate to have a father of the stature of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Saheb. To perform with him and even by myself for me, is a dream come true. Although not much is left for me to do in terms of the technicality of this instrument as Abba has left (us) nothing more to do (musically). We are trying to make sarod heard in a space of music where it wasn’t heard before.”
Ayaan adds, “Our father has toured extensively with his students all over the world, including to concerts at the Ankara Festival, the Adelaide Festival, Moscow Festival to name a few. Sarod festivals were organised to present young artists from both musical and non-musical backgrounds to promote talent.”
A road named after Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb was inaugurated by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in 2011. “I am happy about this. This is the first ever road named after an artiste in New Delhi,” adds the senior maestro.