Bengaluru: “India is the only country in the world which has two traditions of classical music those of the South or ‘Carnatic’ and the North or ‘Hindustani’. However, I prefer to call it just music,” says sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in the introduction of his new book. Called Master of Masters, it is one of the few books written about Indian classical music and its great musicians. The book features 12 legends of Indian classical music, both from North and South India.
“Musicians, if they write books on classical music, more than often it is about their gurus. Honestly, it was a big risk,” chuckles the musician as he prepares for his gig at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. “These 12 people were not only popular, but also interesting and appealing to me.” His voice grows nostalgic as he continues, “I grew up listening to them during festivals. I miss them… this is my tribute to the style they created and the times we spent together discussing our passion, our music,” he says. Ustad Vilayat Khan, Carnatic classical legend M.S. Subbulakshmi, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar are among the featured musicians. Khan adds that though writing the book only took him months, the stories behind it took many years to piece together.
Contrary to the popular misconception about Indian classical musicians, he says that he is actually quite fond of collaborations, but refuses to call it fusion music. “I also think that the word fusion today has a very negative connotation,” he says wrinkling his nose. “I have really enjoyed collaborations with musicians from abroad and I love how beautifully it plays out. We need to understand the difference between conventional and traditional. Traditional gives us room to evolve,” he says.
As a performing artist, he also expresses disappointment at the state of affairs for classical musicians today. “Praises and awards aren’t enough! They need more than that. I feel we should write to our Prime Minister Modi and ask him to start a pension scheme for these musicians. We are ambassadors alright, but we are unemployed ones,” he says. He adds that he is also saddened by the GST levied on performance art. “It is a sad state of affairs. We should learn from the West, we must appreciate our artists more,” he says.
Khan also revealed that an autobiography is on the cards early next year. The book will trace the journey of the boy from Gwalior who went on to become the most famed sarod player in the country. “My journey started when I was 12 years old. From then to now, it has been the encouragement of people from every corner of the country and the nurturing I’ve received. India has created Amjad,” he says gratefully...