They are not your conventional classical musicians. For one, they look like guitar-yielding rockstar front men of some full-power rock band. Or at towering heights of six-feet-plus each, with trendy haircuts and bulging biceps that would give any model a run for his money, they could easily be superstar actors. Then, their careers are overflowing with such eclectic choices, that you might just see them in either avatar soon! But at heart, brothers Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan remain the Bangash family’s seventh-generation torchbearers of the sarod — an instrument, which, at times, is identified by the legendary skills of their father, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.
Seeped in old school (but not outdated) traditions and values, there’s a deep-rooted sincerity in their words, an earnest humility in their actions, and above all, a profound love and respect for the sarod, which clearly defines their identity and gives them a sense of purpose.
Love for sarod
“We would be nothing without a sarod,” smiles Amaan, the older of the two. “So, no matter whatever else we do, we will always be sarod players first.” So, even if they are starring in a Bollywood movie, are showstoppers on the ramp or writing books, they will refer to that only as an “extension of their creativity.”
Explains Ayaan, “All that we do, is an offshoot of the creative medium we dabble in. We want to explore all forms of art.” Amaan adds, “And the truth is, if we generate a wider appeal and connect with today’s generation in different spheres, it will encourage them to come to our concerts and check out what we do best.”
Be it their electronica-take on the raagas of the sarod (with albums like Reincarnation, Truth and Mystic Dunes), or collaborations with musicians across the world, like cellist Matthew Barley at Carnegie Hall, or guitarist Dereck Truks at the Savannah Festvial, or composing for the Hollywood movie, American Daylight, the Khan brothers have done their best in giving the sarod a contemporary feel.
“But we never compromise on the integrity of the sarod,” Amaan points out. “We’ll never create a new form of the sarod or hold it like a guitar. We treat it with due respect and at the same time, we try to make it trendy.”
Bridging the divide
“It’s important that the sarod finds its place in contemporary music as it is,” adds Ayaan. “So even when we are experimenting with it, we need to make sure that the sound of the sarod does not get drowned by the other instruments. That’s why we do select fusion concerts.”
The brothers also take pride in the fact that their father, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, encourages them to take the sound of the instrument to new horizons. In fact, the trio is taking their admiration for the sarod a step further with an album, in which the brothers will individually collaborate with their father, for the first time.
“For the first time, you’ll see his influence on us individually, as his students,” says Ayaan. When asked if they ‘jam’ with their father, Amaan laughs, “No, he’s our father at home, but when we play the sarod with him, he’s our guru — and at that time, each note has a design to it. Even our behaviour is cautious then!”
Taking the stage
The brothers are in full spirit now, because they are back to live performances. “We were under contract and were not allowed to make public appearances for an year, while we were working on JP Dutta’s movie,” says Ayaan.
“But now that the movie is on hold, we are happy to perform again,” Amaan smiles, and adds for good measure, “We’ve realised one thing through this experience — we’re never going to let ourselves be bound by such contracts again. We’ll never give up playing the sarod for any amount of time, no matter what we are involved in.”