Amjad Ali Khan to perform set of morning ragas on sarod at EIF 2011

This article is from 2011

Amjad Ali Khan to perform set of morning ragas on sarod at EIF 2011

Edinburgh 11am concert accompanied by Ravi Shankar's evening ragas

Amjad Ali Khan, one of India's greatest musicians, is to play a set of morning ragas on the sarod. He tells David Pollock how each of his improvisations on the stringed instrument is one of a kind

The sarod may not be as familiar an instrument to western audiences as the sitar made famous by Ravi Shankar, but virtuoso player Amjad Ali Khan is happy to establish its proper context. 'Ravi Shankar's teacher was a sarod player,' says Khan on the line from his home in New Delhi, 'and he was also my father's teacher.' Both instruments have equal prominence in India, and for Khan the sarod is in his blood – legend has it that one of his ancestors invented it, while he's passed on the techniques of playing it to his sons Amaan and Ayaan.

'The sarod is a stringed instrument,' says Khan, 'but if you compare it to a sitar, a sitar has frets. Whereas a sarod is plain metal, there are no sign of any notes. So when you press the string you slide your hand, like [sings] “daaaa-aaa-aaa”, and also there are staccato sounds, like [sings] “da-da-da-da-da-da-da”.' Even just singing the notes, Khan makes them sound mesmerising and hypnotic.

'It's a human expression,' he continues. 'So when I play the sarod it's like writing a letter, it's whatever comes to my mind, and when the concert is over I cannot play identical again. If you record the concert you can hear it again, but every concert is essentially different. It's so fresh. Some compositions I play for two minutes, some for ten minutes, some maybe for half an hour. It depends on the mood of the concert and the audience.'

These improvisations are informed by a lifetime of playing. Khan's father and teacher was the eminent Indian sarod player Hafiz Ali Khan, and the younger Khan played his first sarod concerto at the age of six. 'When I was 25 years old, on my birthday,' he recalls fondly, 'I played from 9pm until 7 in the morning. Of course, this was in Calcutta. They're a very knowledgeable audience there.' He's now an international ambassador for the instrument, having played before the United Nations in New York and earned a Grammy nomination in the traditional folk category. He also toured Samaagam, the world's first sarod concerto, around India alongside the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Here he will be performing a set of morning ragas, to accompany a series of evening ragas played later on by Ravi Shankar. 'The way you play a certain raga is a convention,' he says, 'but one which allows innovation and interpretation. Which is good, because I don't have much time for convention.' The way he describes it, it sounds almost spiritual. 'Yes, music is a spiritual activity. When I'm practising I feel closer to the God almighty.

'There are only two types of music in the world. One has no words, just vibration, and anyone can appreciate it. The other kind has words and language, and this language creates barriers. So in my music, you might not be able to understand my word of mouth, but you will understand my vibration.'

Amjad Ali Khan

Age: 65
Instrument: The sarod.
Originates from: Gwalior, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. Now lives in New Delhi.
Awards include: The Padma Vibhushan (India’s highest civilian award) and a Grammy nomination.
Celebrity friends: Khan has performed for Prince Charles, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Talented progeny: His sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan both also play sarod and are television celebrities in India.
Playing: A series of morning ragas at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 24 Aug.

Ravi Shanker

Age: 91
Instrument: The sitar.
Originates from: Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Now lives in California.
Awards include: Three Grammys and an Academy Award nomination.
Celebrity friends: George Harrison; Richard Attenborough; Philip Glass. John and Alice Coltrane named their son Ravi in tribute.
Talented progeny: His daughter Norah Jones is a multi-million selling, Grammy-scooping star in her own right.
Playing: A series of evening ragas at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 22 Aug.

Amjad Ali Khan, Queen's Hall, Clerk Street, 0131 473 2000, 24 Aug, 11am, £8–£29.

Ravi Shankar

  • 4 stars

Now aged 91, Ravi Shankar has led a unique career as the man responsible for almost single-handedly popularising Indian sitar music among new audiences around the world. A meditative musical form, the sound of the raga is tranquil, and this programme of 'Evening Ragas' has a fitting serenity for a performer in the evening…

Amjad Ali Khan

Performing Indian classical music on sarod with tabla accompaniment.