Sons of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, sarod players and brothers Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash released a new album Infinity on September 6, 2019. Neha Kirpal spoke to the duo about music, their family’s rich legacy of the sarod, and how Indian classical music is perceived abroad.
Tell us about your new album Infinity.
Ayaan: Infinity is our collaboration with the versatile artist Karsh Kale. We’ve known Karsh bhai for a long time, and of course, we follow each other’s work. We’ve been wanting to do something together, and we finally decided to move forward when we met at the WOMAD Festival in the UK in 2015. But because of all our busy travel schedules and concerts, it took a long time to complete the album. When we started, there was a lot of emailing of files back and forth, and a ton of work went into each and every track. I’m glad it has all worked out. Here we are now, ready with Infinity.
Amaan: The most exciting part of the album is that this is the first time that we’ve worked on something in which the sound is very raw, metallic. It took about three years in the making, so fingers crossed, hope it does well.
Ayaan: The texture of the instrument in each track is different. It has something for the lovers of music of various genres—classical music, the sarod, as well as electronic music. We have two very important artists featured in this album. First is my father (Amjad Ali Khan) who has played in a track called ‘JourneyMen.’ This is the first time he will be heard in this space—electronic sound—which is almost the opposite of what he usually sounds like. And second, we have the very talented duo of Pavitra Chari and Anindo Bose who perform in two of the tracks, called ‘Darkness’ and ‘Shadow Between.’
As Indians, we are trying to ape the western culture. We need to be more proud of our own heritage – Amaan Ali Bangash
What is it like being young musicians in a traditional art form? Do you feel this is a trend that is catching on among today’s youth?
Amaan: Definitely. I think it is a wrong notion that classical music is not being taken on by youngsters. The simple logic is that not every musician goes down well with everybody. There are movie singers, pop singers—one may know about ten of them—but there are thousands of names out there. That doesn’t mean the genre is not working. Tomorrow, God forbid, if I’m not working, it doesn’t mean that classical music is going down. Coming from a family of this great heritage, I’m just humble, because it takes a lot to live up to our father’s standard. We both are trying very hard. The aim is to be focused, humble, hardworking, not take oneself too seriously, and just have a good time, enjoy oneself.
Ayaan: I think classical music has this amazing ability to reinvent itself very organically. The way even great stalwarts that we hear today have progressed and reinvented their thinking has been just so brilliant. Every two, three, or five years, even we as artists, find that one’s ideology of music, way of taking the journey forward changes.
After a very long time, my brother and I have revisited the electronic world with this new album. We had done an electronic album almost 15 years ago called Reincarnation, after which we ventured into the classical world where we wanted to bloom. A lot of our collaborations then had been with western classical musicians and operas. But it’s been wonderful to revisit the electronic world, and that too with Karsh bhai who is also classically trained. We’ve done almost four to five shows together.
A lot of young people are learning classical music across the world. What are your views on Indian classical music being practiced abroad?
Amaan: Both of us are very blessed that we have been going abroad, accompanying our father for concerts from a very young age.
Internationally, classical music is very accepted. We have played at some of the best venues—from Carnegie Hall to Albert Hall to the Chicago Jazz Festival. People in general are very welcoming to an Indian art form. As Indians, we are trying to ape the western culture. We need to be more proud of our own heritage—whether it’s our heritage sites (which are kept in such a pathetic condition these days), music, or other things.
Ayaan: I think the west has been wonderful to Indian classical music. Before chicken tikka masala became a global favourite, Indian classical music was already doing its rounds at the biggest of festivals and venues. Thanks to all the legends who have been travelling all these years, today we’ve got a readymade industry that exists abroad. Because of the western classical tradition coming out of Europe, people are far more traditional in their approach. In the US, of course, it’s a more open-minded kind of approach to accepting cultures.
In terms of audiences, we have concerts happening in the biggest of venues and lots of orchestras forming with western classical musicians as well. We just need to give dignity to the grace of this art form in our lives, because musical fireworks and dynamics is one thing; but the grace and elegance that comes with it, is more important. We should not let that bit down.
According to you, how is the sarod growing/transforming over the years?
Amaan: There have been great performers and legends of the sarod over hundreds of years—from the time of our ancestors—who have contributed a lot to the technique of the present-day sarod. Then, the new generation comes and makes more changes to it. So, just like the human race, musical instruments are also evolving.
What are you working on next? What are your upcoming tours? Anything specific coming up in the US?
Ayaan: We have a two-month long US tour called “Sarod Trilogies” coming up with our father, this month. Apart from that, we recorded an album called Strings for Peace with the brilliant classical guitarist Sharon Isbin in New York earlier this year. That will, hopefully, release early next year.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com