The Sarod Project: A Message From Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
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. 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. Those moments are a profound reminder of the blessing it is to be in the position of loving—and living—your life’s work. Without doubt, music is the best way to connect to the supreme power that we have never seen. Across cultures and faiths, music has always been the pathway to spirituality.
The development of Indian classical music should be understood in both spiritual and scientific terms. The earliest version of classical music was the Vedic chants, which date back to the Samaveda period (1700 BCE). Interestingly, the effect of all the twelve notes on our body, mind, and soul are very scientific. If we sing out all the twelve notes with concentration, the human body receives all its positive vibrations. In fact, studies have demonstrated the positive effect of these vibrations even on plants and animals. The first and most important element of Indian classical music is the raga. A raga is made of a set of ascending and descending notes within a certain discipline. But it is much more than a scale as it also refers to the set of notes. A raga has distinctive features with prominent notes, and combinations of notes that correspond to periods of the day and cycles of the season. A raga traditionally opens with a slow elaboration of its notes and movements. This unaccompanied prelude, which is called the alaap serves as an introduction and is made up of very slow movements. The alaap is usually followed by the gat, which is a composition accompanied by the tabla. A crescendo, or jhala, is commonly used to conclude the raga. It is a fast rhythmic style of instrumental music characterized by a constant plucking of the drone strings. Various permutations and combinations of the scales give shape to a raga. However, a raga is much more and beyond. A raga has to be invoked, understood and cared for, like a living entity. People might find it amusing, but in the past, and even now, some artists would say, “Don’t mess with a raga, it can curse you!” It is hard for an Indian classical musician to mention the Ragas or the Taals (rhythmic cycles) beforehand because the decisions are made very near to the concert date, perhaps on the day of the concert itself! Since we don’t have a written score, it also has something to do with the accommodation of moods and emotions of an artist on that day.
Like cosmic divinity, music knows few barriers or boundaries. However, often in the race for cultural superiority we pit one order against the other. The effect of this conflict is called fusion music, a rage among the current generation of music-lovers,which sees the world as a global village. I have always admired and enjoyed listening to European classical musicians like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Russia's Tchaikovsky. Our renditions are often compared with jazz. This comparison is not entirely misplaced. There is scope for improvisations in both the disciplines, but in a different manner. The message of Indian Classical music is freedom within the discipline.
Todays’ concert will be in three segments. The first half will feature my Sarod Solo where I present music from different regions of India and the Middle East. After the intermission, there will be a Sarod Duet by Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan. I feel it’s very important to have a personal rapport with any artist that one performs with as natures reflect in music. In this case, the coordination and sink of the two brothers adds a lot of flavour. They will perform a traditional Raga. The last segment will be a Sarod Trio, where I am assisted by two Sarods. This segment is an example of a living tradition that has been passed on from father to son for generations. Music is the greatest wealth in our family. For this performance, we are honored to be joined by two brilliant percussionists, Issa Malluf, on the Arabic/Middle Eastern percussion and Anubrata Chatterjee on the Tabla. An interesting aspect of Indian Classical music is that here you have five people on stage, who do not know what the other is going to do and yet have to perform like a rehearsed orchestra. In truth, our role as performers is really that of three people: performer, composer, and conductor. Three in one! Along with sarod and tabla, you will hear the tanpura. The tanpura is a drone instrument tuned to the true tonic that provides the harmonic foundation on which the music rests.