Celebrating Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

On the Capital’s Shri Shankar Lal Live performance Corridor inside Trendy Faculty, Barakhamba Highway, California-based sarod participant Alam Khan opened the headlining act with Chandranandan, a raga created by his father and guru Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. “Smaran”, the live performance, organised by SRF Basis, with industrialist and music impresario Arun Bharat Ram on the helm, was the finale of the two-day competition in December to rejoice Khan’s centenary. In an area that may often maintain 1,000 folks on any given day, there have been about 75 folks in attendance, largely comprising those that had heard Khan till he handed away in 2009, and had been interested by his 40-year-old “half-American” son and if he may dwell as much as the illustrious legacy.

Alam sat quietly, his head bowed down, eyes shut, as he entered a meditative alaap of this luminous night raga, bearing a reminder of Khan’s manner. With the strumming of these first notes, Alam was residence. With no acrobatics — the brand new regular in sarod live shows in the present day — he targeted on the raga with intricate taking part in and the meends (slide of the notes), so delicate and tender, that it reminded one of many musical instances which have now change into the stuff of lore. “That is the baaj (taking part in) of the outdated instances. That is the blood speaking,” mentioned Anita Singh, vice-chairperson and director, Indian Music Society and member of Government Committee and Governing Council, INTACH (Indian Nationwide Belief for Artwork and Cultural Heritage), after the live performance. This was one of many yr’s finest live shows and it was unusual the way it was probably the most under-attended. Probably as a result of the heavyweights had already carried out and never many knew about Alam, Khan’s son.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan along with his son, Alam (Courtesy: Alam Khan)

“I’m positive he (Khan) could be blissful that we are attempting to hold on his fashion. It’s our job to keep up that ethos, that feeling behind the notice, that love, regardless of new developments in classical music. We attempt to discover magnificence in these one or two notes. I’ve come to understand that it’s higher to play a few notes in tune, with feeling, than a thousand with out,” mentioned Alam, earlier than diving into Chandranandan.


The story of Chandranandan’s creation goes again to the Nineteen Forties and to the HMV recording studio in Mumbai’s Fort the place well-known musicologist and the corporate’s legendary recording government, GN Joshi, threw a curveball. He requested Khan, then an rising sarod participant, to report one thing he hadn’t heard earlier than. “I felt he was insulting my guru, my father (Ustad Allauddin Khan), by asking me to play a raga that he had by no means heard earlier than… However he meant it one other approach…perhaps my father taught me one thing that (he) hadn’t heard. He wished one thing distinctive for the recording. I used to be offended, however I used to be additionally in a very good musical temper. So, I used to be nervous for a second, then I remembered my instructor, my father, and mentioned I used to be able to report. I performed a number of notes, little alaap, little gat (melody),” Khan mentioned, in US-born music historian and musician Peter Lavezzoli’s e book The Daybreak of Indian Music within the West (Bloomsbury, 2006). He spawned a brand new raga, created by mixing notes from the household of the Kaunsi ragas (Maalkauns, Kaunsi Kanada, amongst others). At a time when a raga was carried out for hours to search out its color and nature, Khan gave the sensation of a brand new one in three minutes (the time Khan had on the disc). The idiomatic framing was majestic and but sombre. “If you mix a raag collectively it’s essential to mix the flavours like a punch… you’ll be able to’t style the person flavours, however some new style is there,” Khan provides within the e book.

In between the recording, Joshi and Khan took a cigarette break and stepped out of the studio; the moon was shining brightly. Khan would thus name the raag, Chandranandan (that means moonstruck). Within the years to come back, that recording would go on to search out a lot consideration and affection amongst rasikas in India such that the viewers would holler for it at Khan’s live shows. “However I had forgotten which notes I’d used… I had to purchase the report and hear for six months to know the ascending and descending line,” Khan had mentioned.

Years later, in 1965, after immense reputation, a 22-minute rendition was re-recorded for the LP titled “Grasp Musician of India”, which nonetheless stays one among Khan’s most important recordings.

ch222054 1 Instrumentalist Composers Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (left) and Ustad Vilayat Khan

In accordance with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, 77, who, moreover Khan, accompanied a protracted record of artistes together with Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee for many years, recollects how he’d typically get misplaced in Khan’s alaap on stage. “All our senior musicians are nice in their very own approach and their fashion of music is completely different. However for those who take a look at Khan sahab’s fashion, there’s something very haunting and magnetic. It type of grabs you, is devotional, melodic, sentimental and meditative. I’d typically overlook that I used to be taking part in with him. It’s the identical story with different accompanists. You’ll change into a listener in that second and would wish to imbibe that studying expertise. A raga was by no means repetitive. Each time the identical raga confirmed a special path,” says Chaudhury, who divides his time between Kolkata and California.


It’s compelling how Khan’s musical story is so aligned with that of the part when Indian classical music went international; he was a serious contributor to that. However it is usually a narrative that obtained overshadowed by charismatic personalities in music, widespread rivalries and vibrant private lives. On this, Khan grew to become the “emperor of melody”, one of many most interesting, however by no means the preferred.

Khan was born in Shibpur (present-day Bangladesh) to Ustad Allauddin Khan — the founding father of Maihar gharana and court docket musician within the palace of the Maharaja of Maihar — and Madina Begum. Ustad Allauddin was an exacting father, who would tie Khan to a tree and beat him if the notes went flawed.

Khan’s debut was at 13, in 1936, at a music convention in Allahabad. Although a strict guru, Ustad Allauddin was additionally a doting father. After one among Khan’s early live shows, he got here again residence and sat quietly in a nook. His scholar and well-known sarod participant Sharan Rani requested him what occurred. He didn’t say something however welled up and mentioned, “Aaj kya kar diya isne (how he performed in the present day!)”. He was happy with his son’s music, the bent it had acquired, and the route it was taking. A few years later, Khan gave his first efficiency at All India Radio (AIR), Mumbai.

At residence, Khan would study from his father, parked at his ft, as he sat on his wood takhat (day mattress). There have been different musicians, too, together with the opposite well-known scholar, the gifted Pandit Ravi Shankar, who would marry the opposite musical genius in the home, Khan’s sister, Annapurna Devi. Khan and Annapurna had been all the time shut and had a really comparable strategy to music.

Shankar and Khan left Maihar in 1944. Whereas Shankar moved to Bombay, Khan joined AIR, Lucknow, changing into its youngest music director. Khan was additionally appointed because the court docket musician within the palace of Umaid Singh, Maharaja of Jodhpur. After the Partition, Khan moved to Bombay and started working within the Hindi movie trade. He composed for Chetan Anand’s Aandhiyan (1962), Satyajit Ray’s Devi (1960) and Tapan Sinha’s famed Kshudhita Pashan (Hungry Stones, 1960), which received him a lot acclaim. The story goes that Lata Mangeshkar, who sang the title track for Aandhiyan, didn’t take a payment as a mark of respect to Khan.

Not like Shankar’s acclaim, Khan was seeing a slower rise. He taught Mickey Hart, drummer of the Grateful Useless; opened the “Live performance for Bangladesh” with Shankar in 1971; and carried out on the Museum of Trendy Artwork, New York, on the invitation of legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1955. Menuhin known as him “an absolute genius… maybe the best musician on the earth.”

“Ravi ji was an extrovert, whereas my father was this quiet one who was informed what to do. However when he performed, it was like, ‘oh my god, this was classical’, and he wished to proceed instructing Dadu’s work and make it possible for the legacy was alive. Whereas he collaborated with a number of good however lesser-known artistes, he additionally shied away from many others,” says Alam.

In 1956, Khan based Ali Akbar Faculty of Music in Calcutta adopted by one in Berkeley which later moved to San Rafael, California, USA. Khan spent the final 4 many years of his life there, instructing, taking part in, with performances that had been few and much between. By the point he had turned 50, Khan felt that he had lastly touched the tip of the iceberg. “They (musicians) are performing, making a living they usually desire a title… These days, to take my instrument and play is a punishment. I hate to play after I suppose that I’m taking part in for you. After I see the viewers, after I stroll in the direction of the stage, it looks like a punishment… I feel I’m a rat or a rooster… However after I begin the music, I personally change into the viewers. I get pleasure from that,” Khan informed Lavezzoli in his e book.

When he wasn’t bent over his sarod, eyes closed in give up to the Almighty, he was reticent and quiet, by no means commanding an interview or a dialog. Actually, one needed to goad him to speak. His reticence most likely got here from his relationship along with his father, one which was run with an iron hand.

Nevertheless, Khan made positive that he was mild along with his personal youngsters. “He was clear about one factor — he didn’t need that life with me, the type he had along with his father. He by no means pushed me to study. He would inform me to do issues that made me blissful. It will definitely grew to become my very own calling. I got here to it,” says Alam.

Khan married 3 times and had 12 youngsters. Alam, his brother Manik and his sister Madina are the youngsters of Mary Khan, Khan’s third spouse. His different youngsters Ustad Ashish Khan and grandson Shiraz Ali Khan (son of Dhyanesh Khan), additionally play the sarod. However the comparisons with Alam are inevitable. “There is no such thing as a getting away. If you play nicely, folks say ‘oh it’s anticipated’ and ‘it’s the genes’. For those who play badly, ‘it’s your fault’ they usually say that the apple has fallen removed from the tree,” says Alam.

Alam Khan Alam Khan on the sarod (Courtesy: Alam Khan)

After affected by kidney illnesses for a very long time, Khan handed away in June 2009. His centenary yr, which ends in April this yr, additionally glided by fairly quietly, like he would have wished — with none fuss — with a number of live shows organised by his college students and cultural organisations who celebrated the genius of an artiste, who discovered a lot affection and appreciation amongst musicians, rasikas and people who worth classical music, however not from the plenty. He was averse to turning the highlight on himself.

“For him, music was the final word. He by no means even considered fame or headlines, or what folks considered him. I keep in mind clearly, on so many events, the place he’d be in such a deep reverie that you simply’d see tears falling down his face. He was having fun with himself. That music he had was sufficient for him,” says Chaudhuri.

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