It’s been 26 years since the then-governor of Massachusetts, Michael Stanley Dukakis, declared 20 April as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Day, after being overwhelmed by a live performance by the sarod maestro, but the Ustad remembers it like it was yesterday.
“The governor had come to watch me perform at a concert in Boston, and was thrilled by its success,” he recalls. “He felt that my music enriched the audience and declared it as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Day.”This isn’t the only honour that USA has bestowed on the maestro.
He’s received honorary citizenship of Houston, Nashville and Tulsa, and a doctorate from the New York University.But Khan doesn’t measure success by awards. In fact, the Grammy-nominated sixth-generation musician feels that nothing matters more the audience’s appreciation.
“My greatest award is when my concert is well-received, and when the crowd gives my music a standing ovation,” Khan smiles. At the same time, Khan points out that it would be a “huge incentive” to young Indian musicians, if the government appreciated their contribution to the arts. “Our government should encourage musicians when they are young, so it gives them inspiration to perform better,” Khan says.
“For example, in sports, by the age of 25, sportsmen get awards and make money, whereas, artistes sometimes get recognised after they’ve become too old to perform.” Khan reveals that he’s been trying to get a road in New Delhi named after his father and guru, renowned sarod player, Haafiz Ali Khan, but the government’s not obliged him yet.
“I’ve been requesting the Prime Minister, and the Chief Minister of New Delhi, to dedicate a road to his memory, but they’d much rather have roads named after politicians than creative people,” he sighs.The disappointment in his voice is apparent when he talks about the respect artistes get in India, as compared to West. “The way the West has preserved Shakespeare, we haven’t preserved Kalidas; the way they have preserved Beethoven, we haven’t preserved Tansen,” Khan laments.
“We have our limitations as a country, but the love of the people makes up for it.”And it is this love, Khan insists, that means more to him than winning a Grammy. Khan was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music Album category for his album, Ancient Sounds, along with Iraqi oud player, Rahim Alhaj, but lost out to Mamadou Diabate’s Douga Mansa.
Grammys don’t matter
“I don’t make music for the Grammys or any other award,” says Khan, who has also won the Japanese Fukoka Asian Culture Prize, which is given by 5,000 cultural organizations across the world. “India has made Amjad Ali Khan and gradually, the world has recognized me.
The Grammys give awards to music released only on foreign labels. I don’t know if my label sends my albums to the Grammys but personally, I wouldn’t send them myself.”But Khan agrees that these awards help create more awareness about the sarod. “It’s taken a long time for the world to recognise the sarod, because unlike the Beatles who played the sitar, no popstar has played it,” he says.
He recalls an instance when something similar almost happened. “After I completed a two-month tour of the US in 1984, Michael Jackson’s representatives approached me,” he smiles. “They wanted me to stay on for another week, so MJ could meet me and work something out. But it had been two months, and I was missing my children and family, so I left for India. “My children told me later that I should have stayed!” he laughs. “But I do hope some day, with our efforts, the sarod will become as popular as the guitar.”
Incidentally, Khan’s sarod, which got damaged on an Air India flight in January and caused a media furore, has now been repaired, . “It now sounds even better than before,” he says.Just back from a tour of Europe and USA, Khan is now writing symphonies for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, while his album, Music Room, is making its presence felt on the charts. Music Room features the Ustad, collaborating individually with his sons, Ayaan Ali Khan and Amaan Ali Khan.