BY KAVITA CHHIBBER
Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's sons 28-year-old Amaan and 26-year-old Ayaan are in the public glare as they strive to live up to the formidable reputations of their father, who has dominated the Indian classical music scene for the past half century.
Intense and emotional, Amaan, who along with his brother became an icon for the younger generation by hosting the popular musical show Saregama, and performs to sold out concerts, carries the mantle of being the older son of Sarod legend Amjad Ali Khan, somewhat heavily on his shoulders. Amaan recalls he was a very restless child and could not stay in one place for long, was not very inclined toward music, except for singing. "Till the age of 13-14, I really didn't know where I was heading and what Sarod really meant in my life. But then suddenly overnight I realized that people were waiting and watching, and looking forward to seeing children of the great Amjad Ali Khan perform. I also realized that the expectations were sky high and it motivated me to work harder. Just because I was born in his family, I couldn't take things for granted."
Ayaan, an accomplished painter, and a replica of his father, says that he, on the other hand, was always passionately interested in music and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a Sarod player. "The house always resonated with music. Either it was abba who was constantly playing or one of his disciples would be playing. I used to hero-worship abba throughout. I would draw sketches of him all the time and imitate him and place a cloth over my foot just as he placed the shawl on his, while practicing. In fact he made this album with HMV called Amjad Ali Khan's Sarod Plays with Children to initiate us into music. It had a lot of kids singing and he would play songs like "Old MacDonald" and seeing those songs being reproduced on the Sarod really excited me. We also sang in that album." Ayaan adds that what started as a fun thing became serious practice in the teen years. "By the time we made our first trip to USA in 1991 I was totally immersed in playing Sarod."
By 18, Amaan's career had taken off and apart from accompanying his father he had started giving solo performances. "Abba felt very strongly that we should perform on our own and showcase our caliber as individuals. When you are accompanying your father, the packed houses you play to are because of him and not you. Playing solo gives you an idea where you really stand." Aman admits that being the son of a popular artist is a big boon in the beginning as people give you an opportunity to showcase your artistic ability just because you are a famous performer's child. "So the initial struggle to make it is not there, but then after that you are on your own. The tough part is you really cannot afford to be below the standards your father has established. Being the older son, it became very tough for me because at the tender age of 15-16, I was being compared to other Sarod players in their late 40s and 50s."
Ayaan agrees that as kids, things were easier. "But as we grew older, I realized that we were not the only ones, that there were so many young talented Sarod players all over India, all over the world and because you are so and so's son you can't get by with that." Aman says it's easier to perform abroad because the standards are less stringent. "In India even if they don't understand the complexities of music, people still know good music from bad instantly because they are brought up in that culture."
While Amjad Ali Khan remains a purist and does not like the concept of fusion music or improvisation that is not within the traditional boundaries, the boys are more adventurous willing to explore and to carve their own style and create a persona that is different from that of their parents.
Amaan says that in the initial stages he too was of the traditional mindset. "I felt I had to give the works, alap-jod-jhala and then play the composition; it used to get really long and arduous, but then I saw the criticism that Amaan plays too long, and I started understanding that you have to compromise to suit audience taste. It took a while. My grandfather and father never approached music the same way and neither do I. I have done fusion music with Sivamani and Taufiq Querishi, my father hasn't."
Amaan adds: "I am living on music and living for music. I will have a family to support tomorrow so I have to be a star performer to attract people in a way that they look forward to see me perform." Aman continues to look at modeling, film offers and cutting albums.
Ayaan concurs: "It is so important to create your own niche, and yet be different. There are so many instances where the children sound just like their parent and then people prefer to hear the parent. My grandfather and my father sound totally different from each other, as do my brother and I. We play together because we are brothers, but we argue all the time, because musically it becomes difficult to connect with each other since our personalities are so different even though we have learnt from the same guru. In fact, whenever we play duets though it looks exciting and is a good marketing strategy, in truth, as musicians we are compromising all the time."
Ayaan feels their hosting Saregama also created a younger market for Sarod. "A youngster will want to come and see an artist close to his age group to be able to identify with him. Our doing Saregama has attracted a lot of young people who now come to see classical music concerts on a regular basis."
Amaan insists he is very different from his father. "My father is more soft and subtle and melody oriented. I also focus on melody now, but I'm more excited by speed. Music must harmonize with the personality of the musician; only then can a man and his music be one. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has taught me but I cannot be Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. I am born to my father but I am not his replica."
The brothers have played before Prince Charles in his Highgrove estate for Temenos Academy on a special request by the Prince of Wales. In October 2002, Amaan received Provogue Society’s Young Achievers Award for performing Arts. In November 2002, the brothers co-authored a book titled Abba-God’s greatest gift to us on their father’s life published by Roli Books, Lustre Publications under the family pride series.” I have to say that Ayaan did all the writing work. I would give suggestions. We did argue about what would go in the book but the end result has been really good,” says Amaan. ‘ We just wanted to shatter all the myths about our father being larger than life. He is as human as all of us but a wonderful human being as well. And we have nothing to hide really. We consulted with Ma. She is the one who has the memory for dates and incidents. Abba is quite hopeless at all that.”
Amaan, beyond playing the Sarod, also anchored Top Drive, the all-new television series on Star World that was aired from January end 2003 for five episodes. His latest solo released early 2005 is called Veneration, which is a tribute to his grandfather Hafiz Ali Khan. In addition, he has over ten recordings including five solos and others with his father. Over the last year, the duo have performed at the Symphony Hall in Fukuoka, New York’s Town Hall and in a concert with Guitarist Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers band at the Savannah Festival. The brothers have also given a musical score for Oscar winning Director Roger Christian for the movie American Daylight. Apart from the original soundtrack by Amaan and Ayaan, the album features tracks by Sir Elton John, Joan Baez, TNT and others. Ayaan has over eight recordings that include three solos. His recent recordings include Sarod for Harmony- live at Carnegie Hall, Strings Attached with Cellist Matthew Barley, along with his brother, recorded at Royal Festival Hall and his latest solo, Sonata. He has also recorded for the forthcoming 2 Giant Leap.
Amaan and Ayaan say they love to perform with their father, but the tough part is that their performances are almost always improvised on stage. "The very basic crux of his teaching was to focus on the spontaneity of the moment," says Ayaan. "So many times we are on stage and we are about to play something when he suddenly changes his mind and will say, No, we'll play this instead. It's just the power and the meticulousness of his training that we are able to go with that easily. We never rehearse a concert, because one day you are playing at Carnegie Hall and the next in Rohtak. You have to make sure that whoever listens to you comes back even if it's an audience that is removed from classical music."
Amaan adds, "Playing with abba is a constant lesson in music. I am learning all the time. Some time back, at a concert when we played 'Purya Dhanashri' I was very happy that I could pretty much follow everything he was playing, but then he started playing 'Zila Kafia,' a very mature raga that you master with age and I just smiled and stayed still. I didn't even want to pretend that I knew a little bit." Amaan adds, "People like my father are not born every day. They come once or twice in a lifetime, create new innovations on their instrument and set the standards the world follows. If you listen to any Sarod player today, it does not matter where they are learning Sarod and from whom, somewhere down the line they are trying to do what Amjad Ali Khan has done. I know that until I reach the standards where I can play the way my father does I can never call myself a complete Sarod player. "
Amaan and Ayaan Bangash are currently on an 8 city tour with their father Ustad Amjad Ali Khan to support Asha for Education, a secular organization dedicated to change in India by focusing on basic education in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change. For more information on Asha go to