Sarod virtuoso Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: ‘Music cannot be promoted, it is not a product’ | Art-and-culture News


Ustad Amjad Ali Khan — a name that resonates with the soul-stirring melodies of the sarod — stands as a luminary in the realm of classical Indian music. Born into the illustrious Bangash lineage of musicians, Khan is not merely a virtuoso instrumentalist but a custodian of a musical legacy that spans seven generations.

On conferring the ‘Sumitra Charat Ram Lifetime Achievement Award’ to Shobha Deepak Singh, the current director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Khan says that he has an old association with Singh and her revered mother Sumita Charatram, after whom the award has been named. “She (Singh) truly has taken the cultural heritage of India forward with dignity and grace. It’s a full circle to be presenting her with the lifetime achievement award,” he tells

So, on this special occasion, we speak to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan about the relevance of classical instruments in today’s age, his advice to younger musicians, and much more. Read the edited excerpts below:

Q. How do you manage to stay relevant?

While the pandemic did a lot of damage to the music industry, it allowed me a deeper connection with my music. Due to fewer distractions and no travelling, I was able to meditate with music in a much more profound manner.

Despite a lifetime with Sarod, I see so many fresh avenues opening up because I’m more mindful than ever. Apart from my daily musical sessions, I am trying to reinvent myself constantly. These are the opportunities the pandemic has presented me with.

Q. Do you see your musical legacy being carried ahead by your grandchildren? Do they also hold an interest in the instrument?

A wonderful and strange mystery of Indian classical music is the fact that one can spend a lifetime trying to attain knowledge and perfection, and still feel that one has only touched a mere drop of an ocean. There is an old saying — ‘Swara hi Eshwar hai’. In every culture, music has its roots in spirituality. Music has always been an intrinsic part of worshipping God.

Festive offer

My grandsons Abeer and Zohaan have been working hard and have been delightful disciples of the Sarod, despite their educational commitments. They gave me a surprise by recording a track called ‘Our Love’ for my birthday in 2020. They have taken very well towards music and recently performed with us at New York’s Symphony Space. They even made their Indian debut with a five-city tour earlier this year called ‘Three Generations, One Nation’. They need all the blessings they can get. I am also intensely teaching them along with their father — Ayaan.

Zohaan and Abeer are fans of celebrated Korean pop group BTS — a diametrically opposite genre to their classical roots. Whenever we FaceTime, they show me music videos and I ask them if it is of Justin Bieber and they say, “No, it is the BTS band!”. It is a new Korean group, which I wasn’t aware of.

Q. What can we do to ‘promote’ instrumental art forms?

Music cannot be promoted. Music is not Coca-Cola or a toothpaste (product) that you can promote — music grows on you.

Classical music today is very much at the peak of its power. This was always an art form that reinvented itself every decade. In 2023, concert halls are selling out in Maharashtra, West Bengal, in the South and there are thousands of people coming (to watch it), it is available on Spotify and YouTube. Hence, the future is bright, and we have no dearth of talent.

Q. What drew you to Sarod?

I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember. Indeed, I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life. Life itself was music and music was life. Music is a celebration of life. Since my childhood, I always wanted my instrument, the sarod, to be able to express the entire range of human emotions — to sing, shout, whisper, and cry.

Q. How has your approach to your craft changed over the years?

It has been a long journey so far and by the benevolence of the heavens, the Sarod has become far more expressive than it was 25 years ago. Over time, music has also become a way to connect to the supreme power that we have never seen.

Q. Which classical musicians have inspired you the most?

Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Russia’s Tchaikovsky. Our renditions are often compared with jazz, which is not misplaced. There is scope for improvisations in both the disciplines, but in a different manner.

Q. What is your advice to younger musicians?

Practice, be patient, and have perseverance.

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