Thursday, November 21, 2013

Masters Of The Sarod

I have never paid much attention to the sarod, I don't know why.  This is a musical string instrument which probably originated from the Afghan 'rubab' and has been modified considerably since. The last time I heard the sarod in a concert, some years ago, it sounded a bit laguorous and didn't capture my attention.

Last week, when we were invited to a concert featuring Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Amaan and Ayaan, I was not sure what to expect.  There is so much publicity surrounding these artists (and the queue that we had to stand in, even though it was a concert by invitation, was so long) that I began to feel fretful and wonder why I had come.

But it was wonderful - a beautifully explained and presented set of tunes and ragas by Amjad Ali Khan and an inspired performance by his sons and the accompanying percussionist on the tabla.  It opened my mind to the incredible range and depth of this string instrument and the very different style of playing (strings were plucked using only the finger nails).  Amjad Ali Khan's expertise lies in understanding and expressing the mood or emotion of a composition; he displays a certain gentleness and involvement in the process that emanates to the audience.  I attach a link below showing an excerpt of his concert with Zakir Hussain (which he dedicates to great musicians and the memory of those musicians who are no longer with us).

Amaan and Ayaan are very skilled and intense players, each with his own style.  Speed is one of their strengths and they went back and forth, effortlessly, with increasing tempo, the tabla player adding his bit, keeping the audience mesmerized.  However, I personally preferred Amjad Ali Khan's music and the way he could express all kinds of things with his instrument.  The link below (showing all three in a concert) gives an indication of this.

This family (the Bangash gharana) is only one of several families of music (gharanas) of the sarod.  Amjad Ali Khan's ancestors migrated from Central Asia to India.  Amjad Ali Khan's father, Haafiz Ali Khan, an iconic musician, settled in Gwalior, under the patronage of the royal family.

Ali Akbar Khan, another incredible sarod player (no longer alive), of the Maihar gharana, has left behind wonderful recordings.  His father, Allaudin Khan, left home and moved from Bangladesh to India when he was a child, to learn music.  He eventually became also a royal court musician, an eminent teacher - and could play 200 instruments!  Of these, he selected to teach his son the sarod (which he had structurally modified considerably) - an instrument that he felt could produce the sound of many instruments put together.

I had unwittingly heard Ali Akbar Khan many times over while listening to 'Concert For Bangladesh' - a recording of two incredible benefit concerts held for Bangladesh, by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar in 1971.  The Indian section features Ali Akbar Khan along with Ravi Shankar, but somehow, much of the attention is focussed on Ravi Shankar, perhaps as he was co-organizer.  However if you listen to this folk song (a tune called Bangla Dhun), it begins with Ravi Shankar on the sitar and subsequently Ali Akbar Khan joins in on the sarod, adding a depth and richness that the sitar alone would not provide.  Unfortunately, I could not find a video recording of this and am attaching an audio link.

A couple of these recordings are over ten minutes, but you need only to listen to a few minutes of each, if you wish, to get an idea of the sounds.  Steeped though I am in musical ignorance, I feel I have learnt much by attending the last concert and I am glad I impatiently stood in line to do so!

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