If lighting a fire is what the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) achieves in the broadest of scores, then the unbroken teacher-student lineage between Miyan Tansen, the legendary 16th-century singer, and Amjad Ali Khan and onward to his sons Ayaan and Amaan will certainly stoke that fire.
When asked to comment on the guru-father-shishya-son relationship, Khan said, “Teaching my sons, Amaan and Ayaan, was quite an experience. It was the first time that I was able to hold a student on my lap! I remember when I first held Amaan, I sang into his ear.
“I did the same on Ayaan’s arrival two years later. In essence, the taleem (training) started from that point on.”
Older son Amaan is the recipient of Provogue Society’s Young Achievers Award for Performing Arts, and beyond playing the sarod, anchored Top Drive, the Indian TV series on “Star World.” He also took part in the relay for the 2004 Athens Olympics in New Delhi.
Young brother Ayaan holds the Bharat Shiromani Award for instrumental music in 2007 and MTV’s Lycra Award for the Most Stylish Person in Music in 2006. The mayor of Tulsa, Okla., recently awarded him the key to the city along with an honorary citizenship.
The brothers have performed internationally, including at prestigious venues such as the Carnegie Hall and Chicago Symphony Center, and have collaborated cross-culturally at events such as at the Savannah Music Festival with the Derek Trucks Band.
What inspires you, as father and guru?
Amjad Ali Khan: Since childhood, I always wanted my instrument to be able to express the entire range of human emotions … to sing, shout, whisper and cry. I treat every raga like a living entity. I feel a raga has to be invoked. I personally admire and respect the beautiful poetry, but I live in the world of sound. It is only through sound that I feel the presence of the supreme being.
In the course of Amaan and Ayaan’s training (which is an ongoing process for a classical musician), I never encouraged them to copy my style. As they developed and matured as musicians, I was relieved to see both boys developing a rather different approach to what was taught. This I feel is only natural as the music is a reflection of an individual’s mind and soul.
Over the years, as a father and as a guru, I have a very unique equation with Amaan and Ayaan. I feel happy to think that perhaps our personal equations get showcased in our musical explorations.
How would you describe your own father and guru, Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan?
Amjad Ali Khan: My father lived for music. Today, a wise man does not allow his son to become a classical musician, because of the uncertainty and insecurity of a livelihood. That is why in the past, only sufi saints could dedicate their lives to music or to God. For my father, though, there was no question of a life outside music. Life itself was music. And music was life. And so I came to inherit from him the legacy of five generations of musicians as naturally as a bird taking to the air.
What does it feel like, growing up with a music living legend?
Amaan: It did take us time to draw the line as to when our father was Father and when he was a guru. We feel ecstatic to think and realize from time to time that our guru is our father.
When you are born into a home where the language spoken is music, it is only natural to get completely absorbed into it. Father would always be happy to see us listening to music—even from the era of our grandfather and contemporaries; even Western and Bollywood. The choice was entirely ours.
We thus became engrossed in the world of Indian classical music that our father had grown up with, along with our own contemporary choices.
Is there conflict between your personal and professional worlds?
Ayaan: We often question father’s imparting of humility to us, especially in the world that we live in. In spite of being the monumental icon of music that he is, Father continues to be humble and simple individual.
Growing up, it wasn’t easy to balance our music and our studies. We were practicing and performing while our school would be on and there were not many teachers who understood where we were coming from. The expectation, the pressure, the journey had already started then.
What does being a musician mean to you?
Ayaan: To be a musician is in itself a blessing as you are really not answerable to anyone but yourself. For those few hours when you are onstage, you are in a creative frenzy, sometimes supernaturally unreal. There are times when you get off stage only to realize that something special happened up there on stage that day.
It is a fact that music is indeed the best way to connect to the supreme power.