Musical connect

Soothing

The Dr Mallikarjun Mansur Award is a singular distinction honouring the spectacular contribution of an individual artist  to music.

Accomplished Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

This year’s proud winner is the much deserving and well-known sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who is a recipient of several awards and distinctions from around the world. At first glance, the current award instituted by Dr Mallikarjun Mansur National Memorial Trust, Dharwar, might appear as merely adding to the list of honours conferred on the master. But this award is an astute recognition of an artist’s service to music and for Ustad Amjad Ali Khan it is a recognition of the fact that it is he who has single handedly worked towards getting sarod the recognition it now enjoys worldwide. If Pandit Ravi Shankar is the beacon that enlightened the world about sitar, then Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is that luminous star in the musical horizon who has made sarod an Indian icon in world culture.

Another aside that makes this award unique is the fact that this award is an acknowledgement of his musicianship from an Indian source. The Padma Vibhushan that Ustadji was given in 2001, for instance, is the highest civilian honour. For a musician, to be felicitated by his countrymen merits greater triumph and thus becomes special. Of course, international honours for his art have come his way with unbroken regularity.

Most recently, in 2011, he was conferred the Bangla Vibhushan. Over the years, he has been a regular performer at the International WOMAD festivals held in Adelaide, New Plymuth, Taranek in New Zealand, and the UK, to name a few. The Edinburgh Music Festival that is awaited with great excitement by the international fraternity of music lovers was privy to his concert as well. The World Beat Festival included his performance in its programme. Of course, concert platforms across the US have held several shows of his art form and at prestigious places such as MOMA, Carnegie Hall and others.

In the nineties, so popular were his concerts that cities in the US began to confer on him the title of Honorary Citizen. Beginning with Houston, Texas, the other cities that fell in step were Nashville Tennessee, Tulsa and Oklahoma, where he was honoured in 2007.

Going a step further, the city of Massachusetts in the US had even allocated a special day as Amjad Ali Day, in 1984, after his spectacular performance. But till date, his most talked-of concert is when he performed before the world community on receiving the Gandhi UNESCO Medal. He had composed the melody, Bapukauns, to keep the event etched in the world’s mind. What few of his listeners are aware of is Ustadji’s rapport with the young. Despite his tremendous stature as a master musician, he volunteers to teach children from varied backgrounds in sing-alongs where he either composes special numbers for them or sings and plays the traditional Gandhian homage, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram… His capacity to gel with specially challenged children at the Spastics Society of India, or with members of the Blind Association, goes far beyond polite connectivity.

In a forthcoming engagement which begins in April 2012, Ustadji will be going as Visiting Professor to the University of Stanford, USA. Making it very clear that his time during the semester is not about teaching music but making music into a means of reaching out to the innermost self within each individual, Ustadji will be laying emphasis on the true core of Hindustani music. After all, this form of music is not about perfecting just techniques and rattling off a musical score in the best light. It can only be classified as music when it tugs at the heart and who but a maestro like Ustadji is capable of bringing home this fact to an interested audience of student listeners? “Of course, I insist that students come on time to class, but I welcome music buffs of all genres,” he explains to specify how he will enrich minds and souls with his art form.

That he has already succeeded in this endeavour is clear from his recent performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Together with his two sons and disciples Amaan Ali Khan Bangash and Ayan Ali Khan Bangash, he created history by playing what music critics termed as touching the ‘commonality of mankind’. Even in Stanford, his attempt will be to impress on the students that music is ‘a way of life’ that any individual is privy to and which every performer must aspire towards.

It is this characteristic to play to the individual through the sarod, which has enhanced the cherished tradition through the creation of several unique ragas. Several of them have been created for special occasions, such as Raga Priyadarshini to commemorate late Indira Gandhi, and Raga Kamalashree, dedicated to Rajiv Gandhi. Several others that are enjoyed for their melodious intricacies include ragas Shyam Shri, Haripriya Kanada and Lalit Dhwani. Known for his amiable mannerism on stage and his ability to engage with his audience during his concert, he has set a new benchmark for Hindustani music performers worldwide.

His disciples and accompanists regard him as a guru with a spiritual approach to music and learning sessions with this guru are a harmonious exchange on the raga and its special moods, its playing techniques and its difficult but exhilarating interludes. As he regards music as a form of spiritual homage, his mode of dress on stage is meticulous and becoming. The very best of craftsmanship is on view in the cut and colour of his silk kurta and the shawl that he wraps around himself so that the artiste on stage is not just a performer but a picture of the real India, the India that connects with the listeners’ souls and exudes peace all around.

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