Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: Musicians represent India world over, it’s sad we aren’t even considered for pension
Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan calls musicians unofficial brand ambassadors of the country and he adds that it’s painful to see how many of them are suffering during this ongoing pandemic.Updated: Oct 26, 2020, 12:59 IST
With the pandemic hitting every sector, the music industry too has taken a huge blow. Singers, composers and lyricists have been out of work for months now. While one is holding up and staying strong, sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is hopeful that the government will think about helping suffering musicians. Even when many are finding solace in online gigs, Khan feels the virtual concert will never match the charm of live performances. He also talks about favouritism in music industry and his grandsons Zohaan and Abeer releasing their debut music piece commemorating his 75th birthday.
Musicians have been in distress and worried about their future amid this pandemic. Do you think virtual concerts are the way ahead?
It’s a strange situation. The last few months have been difficult. We also keep getting invitations for virtual concerts and have done a few, but nothing matches the charm of a live performance. Musicians are really facing problems, there are many who’ve taken up other professions to survive. Sadly, some have taken their lives, too. It’s time our government consider ways to help musicians who’re out of work for last 7-8 months. We are unofficial ambassadors of India, we represent our country everywhere, we perform around the world but sadly we aren’t even considered for pension, which would’ve helped many during this crisis. I’m sure Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have something in mind for artistes.
But, would you agree that the online boom is helping our music reach more people world over?
Yes, but then there’s too much is happening online. Dukan khol ke baithe gaye hain log. Everybody is playing musical instruments, singing, and it’s very confusing for listeners. Unfortunately, everybody wants to perform but not many are trained. And many are inspired by reality shows on TV, parents want their children to earn fame, win trophy and money. But, in last 10-20, years how many of these reality show stars have achieved much?
When it comes to classical music in India, do you feel it demands more recognition? Also, is the flourishing independent music anyhow helping classical music create its space?
Historically, in every era, there has been a different atmosphere. Like Emperor Akbar encouraged classical music and revered Tansen, but then Emperor Aurangzeb didn’t like music and even destroyed all the instruments. Classical music isn’t meant for everybody like film music. We aren’t available for all. Classical music is for those who love and respect for our art and culture.
Your 8-year-old grandsons, Zohaan and Abeer Ali Bangash, made their musical debut with the track, Our Love, on your birthday (October 9). What was your first reaction when you saw them perform?
This is the greatest gift of my life. In fact, this is one of the rare blessings of the lockdown. Their schools are shut so apart from studies, they could sincerely and happily practise the sarod. Credit goes to their parents Ayaan (Ali Bangash) and Neema. They call me Dada Abba. Along with (my sons) Ayaan and Amaan. and I also teach them (my grandkids) at times. This is a natural way of life in our family. I’m grateful that our legacy is continuing. Music might be entertainment for the rest of the world but for Indians, swar hi ishwar hai. God willing, soon, me, Amaan, Ayaan, Zohan and Abeer will be able to perform together.
There are talks about how children with a background in the industry are favoured over those who come from the outside. How do you look at this debate?
Kala ek khusboo ki tarah hai, agar khusboo achhi hai toh usko fahelne se koi nahi rok sakta. Indians understand art better and they won’t accept anyone as an artiste. I’m talking about classical music and not Hindi film world. We don’t launch our children like big stars, producers or musicians. As gurus, classical artistes don’t impose their children on the audience. At the same time, there are thousands of talented musicians, but people want to listen to children of pandit Ravi Shankar, pandit Bhimsen Joshi, pandit Kumar Gandharva, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Amjad Ali Khan — that’s very natural and emotional attachment. But that doesn’t mean other talents get suppressed.
There were reports around musicians buying fake likes, views online to get visibility. Any comments on that.
Everybody wants to be famous overnight. But this doesn’t happen in classical music. Here, you’ve to keep working with dignity and grace. It isn’t easy to be a classical musician. It’s like entering a dark tunnel hoping that there would be light at the end of it. While many have found that light, there are others who’re still walking.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
My album Strings of Peace with guitarist Sharon Isbin has released, now I’m collaborating with guitarist Joe Walsh.
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Author tweets @Shreya_MJ