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Hope Floats Through Khan Sahib’s Notes

November 2005
Hope Floats Through Khan Sahib’s Notes

An exceptional concert featured the legendary sarod maestro with his sons, on the eve of his 60th birthday

October 9 was Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's 60th birthday. And an audience, comprising music lovers and fans (including this writer), was treated to some celestial music on the sarod. Khan sahib performed at Emory University's Glen Memorial auditorium as the finale of his eight-city Asha for Education concert tour. Khan sahib and his children, Aman and Ayaan, have now been associated with Asha for many years.

Khan sahib began by introducing the unique features of the sarod to first-time listeners and also to those who may not have realized how difficult it is to play this fretless string instrument.

The maestro then began the evening with Sandhya, a raga featured in his latest album, Moksha. The evening raga, according to the maestro, has been endowed with special notes to bring one closer to God and all that is pure and sacred. It was followed by Vaishnav Jan Toh and Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, two renditions based, as he pointed out, on Mishra Khamaj and Gara ragas, respectively. Then there was raga Durga, with its deeply moving notes. When he said he would play the raga, an audible gasp of excitement echoed throughout the auditorium.

Once again, the artist's finesse evoked all that was pure and divine in music. According to Khan sahib, compositions are created to preserve the raga and every raga, or composition, doesn't have to be several hours long to create an impact. He felt that when played in the right manner, even a five-minute composition could convey its beauty and richness.

Khan sahib explained that most of the ragas evolved from folk tunes and often the music of the mountains. The 12 notes added diverse elements to the various ragas as they traveled through different parts of India. And on several occasions the beauty of that very diversity got captured in the classical melodies that have made Indian classical music such a treasure trove.

Accompanying the sarod virtuoso was Sandeep Das on tabla. A disciple of the legendary Pandit Kishan Maharaj, the doyen of the Benaras gharana, he matched his playing with mood that Khan Sahib was trying to evoke. For some teenagers, Das "rocked" with his tabla playing.

The second half of the evening belonged to the Ustad's children, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. They gave a wonderful rendition of Raga Bageshari with Das on tabla.

In a departure from classical music's protocol, the children took to the stage after their father. Ayaan mentioned that as per tradition they were not supposed to play after their elders, and especially after their guru and father. The program was planned by Khan sahib, and so they had to honor his wishes.

Amaan and Ayaan have studied under their father, but have evolved their own unique styles of play. Amaan has a more vigorous style, while Ayaan retains his father's elegance and softness. Yet, both can switch with ease. The highlight of their performance was the jugalbandi between them and Sandeep Das. Jugalbandi is improvisation which takes the form of what could be considered a musical conversation between two or more artists.

Amaan and Ayaan then welcomed their father back on stage for the grand finale. Khan sahib who had dedicated the concert to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in South Asia, said that he felt his two disciples had left the best for the last. According to him, his sons had played their best concert of the tour in Atlanta.

As the music continued through the evening, the audience was treated to solo performances by the elder Khan. He played two folk songs, Ekla Chalo Re from Bengal and Behu, a song from his wife Subhalakshmi Khan's home state Assam. Khan sahib acknowledged her contribution to music and art, calling her their sons' "first guru." Subhalakshmi Khan was an accomplished Bharata Natyam dancer before she married the sarod maestro.

The father-sons trio then performed Raga Kirwani. Though a shorter rendition, it retained its essence as Khan sahib played Raga Hansadhwani as an aalap (gradual unfolding and development of a raga through monosyllables and without a fixed composition), and then played taans (musical notes rendered with speed, weaving different patterns) which Amaan and Ayaan reproduced. Despite the elder's improvisation, his sons managed to read him well and kept pace with him.

Atlanta's very own Kumud Savla accompanied the Khans on tanpura through the four-hour concert. Savla later said she was so lost in the music that she didn't feel the length of the concert. Sandeep Savla took care of sound, which is a tough call in a cathedral with high ceilings and echo.

The concert ended with a standing ovation and a rendition of the Happy Birthday song by the audience after Subhalakshmi Khan let out a not-so-well-kept secret.

- Kavita Chhibber

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