Amjad Ali Khan: One world music

Oct 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm
Amjad Ali Khan: One world music
Photo by Suvo Das

Western ears may be familiar with classical Indian music through the sitar. Less well known is the sarod, described as a lute-like instrument, which shares the concept of primary and sympathetic strings with the sitar. When the player strums or picks the primary strings, the sympathetic strings will vibrate, causing a resonant sound.

Among the foremost living sarod players is Amjad Ali Khan, who will perform Friday with his sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, also celebrated sarod players. Amjad himself is the son of a well-known and respected player, Hafiz Ali Khan, and some historians of the instrument trace it back to his forbears.

He spoke between stops on a tour celebrating 50 years of public performances. During the interview, he demonstrated ideas by singing phrases. He was emphatic that there was a mission involved with his music, to help spread peace, tranquility, love and compassion through the world. “Musicians around the world are connected to the peace of the world,” he said.

Asked about the influence of family on his music and its presentation, Khan said, “In our system of training, everything is important. To play a solo is important, but also how to share your parts together. My guru, my father, often said that we are trying to become human beings. In our family, we have an oral tradition — that is the way I learned from my father. He would sing and I would follow, and this is the way I taught my children.”

Khan noted that while his music is improvisational, it is not jazz. “We don’t read or write music, we improvise. But the mission and culture are different.” He characterized one important element of his musical culture as “the sliding, gliding notes of our Indian music; it is so soothing, so peaceful, so graceful.” He proceeded to sing to demonstrate this, and then sang the same notes in more staccato fashion, as a jazz player might. “Every concert is a new experience, always fresh, I cannot repeat myself.”

Asked if he changed the presentation of his music when performing in the U.S., he said he performs in the same way all over the world. “In our country, sound connects you to God. Through music, we express our feelings. I feel embarrassed to say this is my profession. This is my passion, my way of life.”

Khan added that people who may be familiar with Western composers may try too hard to “understand” Indian music. He encouraged people to simply enjoy the experience. “The musicians of the world, we are one family. We are using the same 12 notes. We are so grateful to God that we are blessed with this music. Through music, I am trying to connect the whole world,” he said, suggesting music was the antidote to hatred and violence, as well as to ecological destruction. “Please go for healing music.”


Amjad Ali Khan

Friday, Oct. 4

Kentucky Center for the Arts

501 W. Main St. • 584-7777

$35-$50; 8 p.m.