Ustad Amjad Ali Khan calls for innovation in traditional music

By Neeru Saluja

Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan to perform at Womadelaide Festival along with his sons, Ayaan Ali Bangash and Amaan Ali Bangash in sarod “Samaagam” with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

When it comes to music or religion, legendary sarod player Ustad Amjad Ali Khan does not believe in convention. His belief for innovation has made him one of the undisputed masters of the music world as he reinvented the technique of playing the sarod.

He is now coming to Australia for Womadelaide 2019 in March to perform the acclaimed concerto for sarod “Samaagam” with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. He will be accompanied by his sons Ayaan Ali Bangash and Amaan Ali Bangash.

This piece has been presented by orchestras through Europe and the US including the Orchestre de National, London Philharmonia, Britten Sinfonia and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and is a work that creates a seamless and exhilarating bond between East and West.

The Indian Down Under was privileged to have an exclusive conversation with the maestro where he opened up on his views on music, religion, tradition and innovation.

Australia is looking forward to your upcoming performance for Womadelaide in March. How do you feel performing ”˜’Samaagam’ with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra?

It has been a long gap since we last visited Australia and this is the first time I’m coming with my sons. Indian music has gained so much popularity and we have further improvised music. Nowadays, even a child can improvise music so this is nothing great. Jazz musicians are very good improvisers as they have freedom of the 12 notes to play with. But we don’t have that kind of freedom. Our freedom is within the discipline. More than improvising, we have slides and glides. This is not in any music all over the world but only in Indian music. We believe in oral traditions, we don’t believe in writing music. So when we perform on stage, it is spontaneously created for the particular audience. That is our innovation in the world of music. After performing worldwide, I’m looking forward to collaborate with the Australian orchestra and perform in Adelaide.

With your experience, how does music create a bond between east and west?

Historically, there are seven musical notes on the chromatic scale with twelve musical notes or pitches that are used by the West. Any music from any country is based on these notes. Music does not belong to any religion. Like flowers, air, water, fire they don’t belong to any religion. But when you impose the language of the music, it becomes a song. The language is ruling the world as people understand it. But I don’t live in a world where music is dominated by language. I live in the world of sound. The sound connects you to God. Through language people can manipulate. So as long as there is no language of the music and it is not imposing, it is a universal language and bonds the east and the west.

You are a part of a living tradition and you have passed this to your sons. What future does sarod have according to you?

Sarod has become very popular in today’s world just like the sitar. There are around 500 sarod players around the world. My sons are the seventh generation in our family. My father who was my guru told me when I was young that we have a common God. I wish this message was conveyed by priests of every religion. But every religion has their own agenda. We are still killing each other in the name of religion. We should instead focus on the future of our children. I respect the tradition and have passed this on to my next generation and if this continues, the future is bright.

How have you adapted yourself to the changing music scenario?

This depends on how you present your music. We have tried to present our music in a more appealing way. In music, I don’t believe in convention, I believe in innovation. As long as we give importance to composition and presentation, the ragas will become more interesting. Every musician should have the liberty to do their own performance in the stage.

For more information on the concert, go to

Short URL: