In a Q&A, Sarod-playing siblings Amaan Ali and Ayaan Ali also dwell on the need for blessings, or dua, in order for the craft to ‘have some fragrance’
Sarod playing brothers Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash are back with a new album–this time to support a social cause and create awareness for child abuse. Titled “We for Love” the Bangash siblings created this album to support Kailash Satyarthi’s “Justice for Every Child” campaign, proceeds of which will go to the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. The album was unveiled at ‘Icons of India’ by The Leela, an initiative aimed at recognising India’s finest and the brand announced sarod virtuosos Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash as one of the icons. Edited excerpts:
You are the seventh generation of sarod players. Did sarod happen organically for the two of you or was there the hidden pressure of taking your legacy forward? Was opting for this profession driven by your own choice or by compulsion?
Amaan: There is hidden pressure too, and that’s a term very nicely used. But somehow, we were always comfortable with playing the sarod because one is born in that scenario. Not hearing the sarod or playing it could be a bit of a weird feeling. Unknowingly, we got into the habit of playing it. Moreover, for me, it was very important to see my parents happy. They used to get very excited to see me play. My father would be thrilled to see me practice. Even if I didn’t want to, I would, just to impress him. But then it became a habit, then love and I became so involved. I started at age 4 or 5, but mentally at age 11 or 12 because I had started understanding music. One approach is that of a parrot where you produce whatever you’ve mugged up. But when it comes from the heart, not the head, is when your music actually starts flowing through you.
Ayaan: You see, the feeling of responsibility cannot be inculcated. It has to come from within. It’s a realisation – like my brother was mentioning, the atmosphere at home was such that there was music in the air all the time. Someone or the other was playing in the music room. Even if my father was travelling, some students would come and play. We grew up like that and before we knew it, one was already playing. There was this phase when both my parents said we were free to do what we wanted but by then, we were already performing. One did feel that this is where one belongs. I was not some child prodigy and had to find my way.
To be born in a home where music has been there for generations, where decisions have already been made for you, is also not easy. I remember when I was just 8 or 9 years old, very senior people would meet us at concerts and say: “Ab to apka hi intezaar hai (we were all waiting for you). We heard Hafiz Ali Khan saab, we heard your father and now we will hear you.” It’s a relationship that the family has built with the music lovers for a few generations. But at the end of the day, your legacy and everything has to speak through your work. Agar apka kaam nahin bol raha hai (If your work is not up to the mark), you can even have 12 generations of musicians in your family but it still will not work.
Let’s talk about the youngsters today. Many prefer to listen to BTS Korean pop than a piece of Indian classical music or traditional music. What would you say to them?
Amaan: You can’t tell youngsters what to listen to. The question comes down to us. It becomes more important for people of our generation to make music more interesting for youngsters. A youngster listens to some other art form and not our art form because the art form is failing them. It’s not that he is going wild and so he is listening. It’s just that he derives more energy from that. Back in the day, when elders were growing, they had stalwarts in front of them. For instance, it isn’t as if ghazal has gone down from then on. But Jagjit Singh is not there. The art form starts declining when the performer is not up to the mark and fails to make that connection. So, if classical music does not appeal to youngsters today, it’s my fault.
Would a blend of east meets west or fusion work–like the recent collaboration between your father and Joe Walsh or with Sharon Isbin? Is it the era of blending and do purists have a problem there? What is the future of classical music?
Amaan: See, purists may have a problem with anything. But I feel dilution is very important. If you drink pure alcohol, the liver will rot quickly. That is why it is diluted with water or soda. Lassi mein bhi aadha pani hota hai (Even buttermilk is half water). I am open to the fact that we need to dilute- we should try to be pure. But then don’t create a problem with it. If I am sitting in college and start playing dhrupad, kids will simply run away. It’s my job to keep the audience entertained. I am an entertainer, not an educator. If I am being paid to play music, my biggest duty is to entertain people in a good way, to captivate the audience. That will be my achievement. I have to customise and I would even say I have to date my audience.
Ayaan: I feel the future of classical Indian music is extremely bright. Today there are way more performing artists than you had in the 1960s. The millennials who are performing and the generation even after them are fortunate that they have so much content available. With one click, you get five generations of research available. There was a time when one recording would change the life of a musician-“this recording made me get into music”. There are any number of artists but what is that X factor that connects one artist to the audience? That is in the hands of God. Even today this field requires blessings. For the craft to have some fragrance, you cannot do away the blessing or the dua quotient. These things sound funny and silly but it’s a very big part of classical music.
Riyaaz is everything in classical Indian music. What is the right way to go about training in playing the string instruments and how does one know about one’s aptitude for instrumental music?
Amaan: First and foremost, you should decide which instrument you want to play. Once you have decided, focus on it and don’t think about anything else. The first step is to choose the instrument you want to play and second is to find the teacher you can connect with. Focus is very important. If you want to take up classical music as a profession, then being a jack of all trades and master of none does not work. Also, in our industry, it’s a big thing if are you remembered by anybody. Do people value and hero-worship you? Have the vision and play to become a performer who will be remembered by the industry. Finally, have humility, because attitude is one reason for the downfall of many talented artists. I’d say riyaaz and mizaaz are equally important for one to become a successful professional classical musician.
Ayaan: People have adapted well to online classes. Incidentally, we haven’t done many online performances and are happy to be back on stage. We look at the stage as an entity with its own emotions. We find that people want to go back to experiencing physical shows after the audience has had an overkill of watching things on their laptops and phones, and they are craving social interaction now.