Picking up Sarod was as normal as having a glass of water: Ayaan Ali Bangash

Radhika Dhawad | May 23, 2017 14:14

Ayaan And Amaan Ali Khan - Darshan Bagwe
Ayaan And Amaan Ali Bangash (Photo by: Darshan Bagwe)

Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Bangash, whose family claims to have invented the musical instrument ‘Sarod,’ has enthralled the world with his raags for decades now. Similarly, his sons – Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash- too have held the audiences captive with their power play in the world of Hindustani classical music on Sarod. The Khan brothers attribute their success to their abba (father) because for them, unlike others, learning Sarod came naturally. In a candid chat with Nation Next, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash share with us why they feel that a part of the younger generation is still interested in classical music and how reaching the audience is important for an artist.


Your father said a wise man doesn’t allow his son to become a classical musician because of the uncertainty and insecurity of a livelihood. Despite coming from an illustrious background, what made him say this?

Amaan: It’s (success) all because of him! Had we not been his sons, whatever little we’ve got would’ve taken a lot of time. Unlike us, a lawyer or a doctor knows how much he’s going to earn. Musician, actors and artists do not know what will happen. Either it would be too good or too bad. I agree with my father but agree to disagree a bit too. We keep discussing the same with our father. He’s had an unfortunate relationship with most of his disciples and he somewhere feels that it’s a waste of time because one expects a lot from his disciples. Before Ayaan bhai and I came into the scene, musicians who are elder to us faced the problem of uncertainty of future. Abba now feels that everyone should have a backup plan so that if their work is not successful, they have a fallback plan.

Ayaan: I think what he (abba) means is entirely from the practicality of the financial perspective. There is no assurance of what will happen tomorrow. A youngster recently told me that he wants to play Sarod so how shall he go about it? I asked him to keep working hard and start performing. I told him to get his educational degree in hand so that tomorrow he doesn’t blame his parents or Guru if things don’t work out. Unfortunately, we Indians end up blaming our parents for our failures.

Somewhere youngsters do not appreciate classical music. Do you feel worried about your followers?

Ayaan: Amaan bhai and I have been extremely fortunate. We have been playing Sarod for so many years and for some reason, the two of us never faced this issue of youngsters not coming to our concerts. We’ve always had a large number of students as our audience. We’ve also performed at IITs and IIMs. We cannot paint everything in one brush and assume that the youth is not interested. There’s a section of youth that likes Yo Yo Honey Singh but there’s a section that does not like him. They prefer AR Rahman. When you talk of lounge music or trance, technically if you hear it, it’s totally instrumental music. It’s not that such music has lyrics that people would understand. At the end of the day it’s about the pleasure, which music gives to your ears and soul.

Musicians today seem to be very passionate about musicians’ rights, the anti-piracy battle and now the insurance for musicians. What do you say about this?

Amaan: All this will still take some time because it’s not a planned industry yet. I feel Shubha didi (Shubha Mudgal) is the person you should be asking this to.

The history of Sarod is synonymous with your family’s legacy since generations. Growing up, was there an expectation that you were supposed to carry on the family tradition or did you make a conscious decision to dedicate your life to music? 

Ayaan: Music and Sarod have been the greatest wealth, which abba wanted to share with us and that’s why for us, picking up the Sarod was as normal as having a glass of water. Words such as ‘legacy’ sound good but eventually what matters is how you perform on stage. At the end of the day, if you aren’t taking your work seriously and people don’t love you, then words like legacy have no relevance.

Amaan: Legacy doesn’t belong to you. You put your hard work and who ever works hard, everything belongs to that person.

Do you prefer any particular genre of music? Which artists are we likely to find in your playlist? Do you listen to your own recordings for recreation?

Ayaan: I listen to every genre. I do listen to a lot of my recordings because I can point out my own mistakes and learn from them.

With this generation, there is a hefty amount of irreverence. Since you belong to this generation, you must be identifying with that as well. How do you deal with this irreverence with that kind of discipline?

Amaan: What matters is one’s code of conduct. You have to take your audience like a challenge. Even in a movie theatre, with the biggest of actors today, they cannot take their audience of granted because the audience walks out if they don’t like the movie. Problem starts when artists take their audience for granted. The moment you take everybody seriously, that is when things start falling in place. Don’t play something, which the audience won’t understand. Rather, try to explain what is being played. I don’t like to use the word ‘entertainer’ because it’s not the right word but that’s the truth. We have to entertain people. The audience has bought tickets so, when they go back home, they should feel it was worth the money.

Due to the immense patience and rigorous training involved in playing the instrument, one would think that the number of Sarod players in India are waning. Do you plan to provide online lessons for the people who find training inaccessible and unaffordable?

Amaan: There are many skilled Sarod players who are coming up now. They are extremely talented. At times, I hear them on YouTube and feel that we are gone now! (Chuckles) As far as moneymaking is concerned, it’s not a problem with classical music. Some or the other way, you do manage the money part of it.

Ayaan: We do plan to open some institutions in South India and other parts of the country where we can teach music as a way of life but it’s not falling in place as of now. We are usually travelling so sometimes for a performing artist, to get into the administrative parts of an institution is not possible. But, we intend to do it soon because nothing is right or wrong. Everything is as per convenience. Sarod is not an instrument, which can be taught online unlike vocal music. But, there are people who are teaching people across the world. Everything is much more accessible today.

Since you are young and savvy, how do you plan to rope in technology to promote Sarod? What more can be done to educate the youth?

Ayaan: I think it’s very important to do an outreach. In abroad, when we perform, it’s a part of the contract that we would be performing in a huge auditorium. A day before our concert, there’s an outreach programme in prominent universities. Suppose you are going to perform at San Francisco, Stanford University would have a workshop a day before. These kinds of activities don’t happen here. Like for Kalidas Festival, I wish Nagpur University had done a workshop a day before our concert. We would have loved to perform.

Amaan: There was our father’s generation where we had musicians like my father, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ravi Shankarji, Ustaad Zakhir Hussain, Shiv Kumar Sharmaji, etc. They existed because they could connect with the audience because they would reach out to the audience. Post that generation came a generation, with all due respect to all the talented musicians, who couldn’t connect with the youth (growing audience). That’s where the problem started. For e.g. After Jagjit Singhji or Pankaj Udhasji’s work, ghazal khatam ho gaya! Having said that, it (ghazals) didn’t come to an end, rather, there are no musicians left today. They are not being able to attract audience towards themselves.

What do you say about online lessons available on Internet?

Ayaan: Sarod is not an instrument, which you can teach through an online class to be honest. You need to sit and learn. Though there are many passionate people across the globe who are eLearning music. Earlier, people use to secretly listen to Gurus while practicing. If you YouTube classical music today, the number of musicians you see now are much higher than they were previously when my father was growing up. Thanks to the platform, people are able to share music but there’s no quality control. Having said that, this generation is lucky to have such heavy access to variety of music over a click. Initially, even procuring reference recordings was difficult. No book ever conveyed how classical music should be presented because it was an oral and not a written tradition. So, everyone did what he or she thought was right. So today, if you are repackaging classical music without compromising on aesthetics, there’s nothing wrong. You have to make sure that you are initiating your craft to a new audience and they should come back to hear you. You can’t intimidate your audience with one raag for hours. Not that we haven’t done that but you should know what to do where and the idea should be to get maximum interested people. You have to make your music presentable.

Father and son by blood and Guru-Shishya by tradition, what is it like when your father is also your guru?

Ayaan: I always say that our relationship is like Bruce Wayne and Batman. The change is so instant and effortless. When we were younger, we would be puzzled at times when abba’s students would get up and greet him while we were sitting because we were pampered kids. But eventually, when you become mature, you realise the difference between the music room and the living room. Gradually, you pick up the right thing to do and even today, I would share a guru-shishya moment on stage with abba. If I get two minutes in between the performance, I would share a father-son moment too. No doubt it’s an effortless dual relationship.

Classical music is more about being spiritual. There’s one more aspect that is the business aspect, which is always tension oriented. Can you afford to remain calm about it all the time? There must be highs and lows in the business…

Ayaan: You should not been an extremist.

Amaan: Sometimes, there is one concert and sometimes there are 10 concerts in a month. One has to be patient and has to believe in his talent and God. One has to keep working hard; things fall in place. If you get frustrated, then you are ruined. Abba always gives us an example that when an ant tries to climb a wall, it keeps falling but it never gives up. One should always believe in himself.